By Reef Check California’s Southern California Manager, Colleen Wisniewski
During late July 2011, I returned to Isla Natividad on the west coast of Baja California to lead the annual recertification of members of the Fishing Cooperative Buzos y Pescadores. I was joined by fellow staff member Mary Luna. Instead of our usual mode of transportation to the island, this time we had a unique experience in being part of the inaugural live-aboard dive trip to the island.
I first got the chance to explore this island last summer when I worked with the Coop divers on their annual recertification. The diving was phenomenal – what I imagine Southern California may have looked like many years ago – lush kelp forests teeming with large fish and invertebrates. After my visit last year, I’d hoped to share the beauty of the island with other divers. Well, this was my opportunity. Mary and I met 13 passengers in San Diego and traveled on a charter bus to Ensenada where we boarded the Nautilus Explorer, which is a very comfortable long-range boat. We were joined by Johnny and Toshi, two divers from the Coop, who would act as dive guides once we arrived at the island. The Nautilus visit was part of a project developed by the Coop, Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI) and Reef Check. The goal is to develop small-scale sustainable tourism on the island to partially compensate for the loss of fishing area when two marine reserves were established by the Coop in 2006.
En route to the island, we did a full day of diving at the San Benito Islands, just north of Isla Natividad. In the evening, we did a few presentations about our work with the Coop and a preview slideshow of some of the critters they might encounter on their dives. Finally, we arrived at Natividad and spent three days exploring the amazing dive sites, both inside and outside of their marine reserves. Just as I remembered, the rocky reefs there are stunning and on our very first dive we saw a mola mola, or ocean sunfish, in the crystal clear water of the kelp forest; giant sea bass and egg-yolk jellyfish were also seen. What a great welcome to Isla Natividad! We were also able to go on land and and checked out the lab where they grow abalone for outplanting, saw their desalination plant and beautiful lighthouse, and were treated to a meal of fresh local fish before returning to the boat. I believe the passengers thoroughly enjoyed their experience both above and below the waters of the island. This expedition was a pilot project and we hope there will be future expeditions to the island.
Once the boat departed, Mary and I remained at Natividad to work with eight members of the Coop and two COBI staff to complete their annual recertification of underwater survey methodology in preparation for their annual surveys. The divers worked hard, as usual, during the classroom and field training and did an excellent job getting it all finished quickly and efficiently. After their refresher with us, the divers spent several days surveying fish, invertebrates, seaweed and substrate in their two no-take reserves and four control (fished) sites. 2011 marks the 6th year of data collection around the island, which is quite an accomplishment. The results of these surveys allow the Coop to track reef health in the reserves and sustainably manage fisheries outside.
We thank the Cooperative Buzos y Pescadores, the Natividad Community, Comunidad y Biodiversidad, Mike Lever and the crew and passengers of the Nautilus Explorer for making this a memorable field season.