By Reef Check California Director of Science Cyndi Dawson
Greetings Reef Checkers – I have just returned from a very productive trip to Isla Natividad, Baja California Sur. It is an incredible project that we are fortunate to be involved with as partners with the Mexican NGO Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI).
To give you some background, fishermen in Mexico can form cooperatives and gain access to exclusive fishing rights or concessions to a particular area. In this case, the Cooperativa Buzos y Pescadores de Isla Natividad owns the concession around Isla Natividad. More information about the Coopertiva and the Isla Natividad Marine Reserve Project is on COBI’s website.
In partnership with COBI, the members of the Cooperativa voluntarily closed two areas to extractive fishing in 2006. They provide 24-hour surveillance for the whole island to ensure there is no poaching both inside and outside the reserves. Their main fisheries are abalone, wavy turban snail, sea cucumber, and lobster. The idea is to truly test the notion that reserves can serve as sources to seed the surrounding fished areas. Invertebrates are a particularly good candidate to test this hypothesis as they are relatively sedentary, and it is much easier to ensure a significant portion of the population will remain within the boundaries of a reserve.
Mary Luna (Reef Check’s IYOR facilitator) and I went to the island to recertify local fishermen who were trained last year and to train four new divers or “buzos”. Thankfully, Mary speaks Spanish fluently so she was able to teach the course with me chiming in when needed in my very bad Spanish! Our host on the island was Dr. Andrea Sáenz-Arroyo, COBI’s Director of Science. We were also fortunate to have three amazing field techs from COBI — Arturo, Mario and Paco — who ensured everything ran smoothly. The Cooperativa has not only invested in their resource by closing areas, but they also are paying their divers to be trained in the Reef Check California monitoring protocols. These “buzos” then conduct comprehensive surveys of the reserves and control sites each year.
This was a very productive 10 days, with eight divers from the Cooperativa now trained and ready for surveys. The recertified divers — Alonso Ramirez, Abraham Mayoral, Alonso Grosso, and Roberto Vazquez — and the new divers — J. Alberto Zuniga, Jhonatan Castro, Jesus E. Flores, and Sergio M. Aguilar — made us all proud with their hard work, dedication, and attention to detail. After training was completed, we were able to start a survey and the Baja divers collected data at Punta Prieta, one of the new reserves. We also made significant progress on the Training Manual for the project, and will be sending it out to our Science Review Team in the next month to approve some protocol modifications for the purpose of adapting it specifically to Isla Natividad.
Reef Check California is tentatively organizing a live-aboard dive trip leaving from San Diego to the island in August 2009, so pencil it in. The trip would include surveying our way down to the island along the mainland coast with plenty of time for recreational dives. The trip would culminate with diving on the island with the fishermen, collecting data in the reserves, and having them show you around the incredible underwater habitat of Isla Natividad. The water temperature was mid to high 60 degrees Fahrenheit and really was the most beautiful kelp forest diving I have ever done!!!
Please check out all the cool photos on the gallery! http://forum.reefcheck.org/gallery/main.php?g2_itemId=16753&g2_navId=xc54c1353