September 12, 2012

Fisher-divers and First Group of Women Get Trained to Assess the Marine Reserves of Isla Natividad


By Mary Luna, Reef Check Program Manager, Mexico

“A kelp forest on steroids,” or so has the Natividad marine environment been described by visiting divers. This comes as no surprise given Natividad’s remote location and the conscious management of the marine resources that the local fishing cooperative Buzos y Pescadores (ByP) has implemented over generations. Fishing cooperatives on the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula are granted fishing concessions that are renewed every 20 years. These are geographically specific areas in the ocean where a cooperative has the exclusive right to harvest invertebrates, such as lobster and abalone.

ByP closed part of their concession to all types of fishing in 2006. They worked with the marine conservation organization Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI) to implement a monitoring system that would allow ByP to evaluate the recovery of key commercial species for 6 years. This test period ended this year and after the ByP members assessed the benefits versus the costs they voted to continue implementing the MPAs for 6 more years. It has been an honor for Reef Check (RC) to work with ByP and COBI since 2006, when we were invited to adapt the Reef Check California (RCCA) monitoring protocol to the Natividad conditions and to train their fisher-divers on how to do the underwater surveys.
Colleen Wisniewski, RCCA’s Southern California Regional Manager, and I returned this past July to perform the annual recertification of the fisher-divers. During that time of the year the fishers are generally harvesting sea cucumber and wavy turban snail and they had not yet finished their quota when we arrived. We started the training by conducting the classroom sessions in the afternoons when they came back from fishing and the field training was postponed until they finished their quota at the end of the week. We had no complains though; Natividad is considered a world surfing destination and a healthy south swell fueled our sessions at the local breaks.
Jhonatan Castro, Jesus Flores, Abraham Mayoral, Sergio Mendoza, Alonzo Murillo and Roberto Carlos Vazquez are the fisher-divers who completed the recertification and collected data in the two reserves after our training was complete. After that they worked with Arturo Hernandez from COBI to obtain their Dive Master certifications. We are very proud of these men for continuing to dedicate their time and effort to monitoring their MPAs.
We also had the honor to introduce the first two members of the women’s dive team from the island to the RC Baja methodology. These divers obtained their scuba diving certification from Arturo Hernandez from COBI last summer and we just wanted to get them familiar with some of the species and survey methods that comprise a Reef Check survey.  The offshore winds that characterize the island are a blessing for surfers, but can certainly make an afternoon dive session challenging for new divers. Add to that the thick kelp canopy and colder water temperatures, which only increase the level of difficulty. Elsa Cuellar and Esmeralda Albañez persevered and did a great job as they completed their first intro RC dives in spite of these conditions.  Elsa and Esmeralda, as well as the other scuba certified women on the island are logging more dives to get fully certified next year so they can eventually start collecting data.
I’ve had the honor and pleasure of working with the fisher-divers of Natividad and of interacting with the local community for several years now. Through them I’ve learned about discipline, dedication to work and family and the importance of community. After 7 years of working with RC, mainly with projects in Baja, I am leaving to pursue a graduate degree at the Bren School at the University of California, Santa Barbara. My goal is to learn practical business and science skills that will allow me to have a greater positive impact on the sustainable development of coastal communities. Thank you to all the people at Reef Check, COBI, ByP, the Magdalena Island fisher-divers, their families and many others who, by allowing me to work with them all of these years, have taught me more than any formal school will ever be able to teach.