By Reef Check California Director Craig Shuman
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One of the most rewarding parts of Directing the Reef Check California Program is the opportunity to engaging a diverse constituency in the collection of subtidal data. I have always been excited about the prospect of engaging the fishing community in our data collection efforts to be able to tap into their tremendous knowledge about subtidal resources. Nothing exemplifies this more than our work with the Buzos y Pescadores (fishing cooperative) on Isla Natividad, Baja California Sur. The purpose of my quick 5 day trip was to recertify the 6 fishermen and COBI staff members we trained last year to prepare them for their annual sampling of the fishing zones and newly created marine reserves. Joining me from Reef Check was Mary Luna, who is here to develop a detailed monitoring handbook specific to the program on Isla Natividad, in addition to acting as my personal interpreter (it is pathetic that I still fail to speak enough Spanish to teach).
After a long day of travel (you always know it is going to be a good trip when your boat ride is almost as long as your plane flight), we spent the first evening refreshing the group on invertebrate and seaweed survey methods and target species. After a long somewhat sleepless night (mixture of a snoring roommates whose name I will not mention here (Jorge) and anticipation of a quick sunrise surf session) I awoke to flat seas and offshore winds. While this did not bode well for our surfing plans, I knew the diving was going to be spectacular. Led by the intimate knowledge of the local divers, we did our first dive at la Guanera on the east side of the Island. I jumped in to lay our transect lines and was immediately overwhelmed by the a amazing beauty and incredible biomass. Even though I knew what to expect, I still could barely comprehend the huge vieja (sheephead) and cabrilla amarilla (kelp bass) that immediately circled me, likely thinking I was a fishermen here to stir up food while harvesting the abundant populations of abalone, pepino (sea cucumber), or caracol (turban snail). My shock of the species abundance (16 lobsters and 3 abalone on a single transect) was only trumped by how well the data collected by the fishermen matched the data I collected.
We returned to a late lunch of lobster and fish tacos and then launched straight into fish and substrate survey review and testing for invertebrate and algae species. The Reef Check California species tests consist of a slide show of indicator organisms with numbers that must be recorded in the appropriate position on the survey data sheet. This helps us ensure that trainees can both identify target organisms and know where to mark them on the data sheets. The trick, however, is to do it quickly (most fish are not kind enough to sit still while you count them and record their numbers) so we only show each slide for 3 seconds followed by a 3 second pause. Once again the fishermen proved their merit by doing an outstanding job on the tests.
La Dulce is an offshore reef that reminds me of Naples reef (Santa Barbara) on steroids. Like the dive the day before at Guanera, everything here was big. Once again, the fishermen showed the scientists how to get things done by effortlessly completing the surveys with remarkable precision. What impressed me most was their attention to detail when reconciling their data sheets immediately upon their return to the boat, a very important step that many trained scientists overlook.
With the recertification completed, my last day of diving was spent completing surveys in the Pt. Prieta marine reserve. Under Abraham and Mario’s (COBI field staff) guidance, we spread out across the reef and completed our sampling. The fishermen and COBI staff will spend the next couple of weeks completing all the sampling around the island. While I was disappointed to be leaving after such a short trip, I left with a high degree of confidence in the ability of the group to collect high quality data.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Buzos y Pescadores and community of Isla Natividad for their tremendous hospitality and dedication to this project, especially Sapo, Cejas, Mikey, Grosso, and Toshi for repeatedly showing up the scientists with their skills in the water and for their patience with my pathetic Spanish. I would also like to thank COBI for all their efforts in this region and their professionalism in all their endeavors. I am greatly looking forward to integrating the Isla Natividad data into our California database and recertifying the divers again next year.