By Megan Wehrenberg, Reef Check California North-Central Coast Manager
The first week of October marked Reef Check’s second year of training members of the commercial fishing cooperative of Isla Magdalena in Baja California Sur, Mexico. In 2010, with the help of the Mexican non-profit Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI), the cooperative set up a no-take marine protected area (MPA) within their fishing territory in response to population declines of their fished species. Since then a selected group of cooperative members are working with Reef Check to learn to scientifically monitor sites inside and outside of the MPA to measure how well it’s working.
Reef Check’s Mexico program manager Mary Luna and I traveled along with a few COBI staff to the remote town on Isla Magdalena, a peaceful community in a wild setting, free from the bustle of roads and electricity. The purpose of our trip was to spend a week conducting a scuba refresher and a recertification for the group to recalibrate their survey skills after almost a year hiatus from surveying. When we arrived in Bahia Magdalena we were met by a warm, sunny day, calm water, and a group of fishermen anxious to get in the water. A few of the guys regularly spend time underwater collecting invertebrates using hookah, however, most of them only dive during this annual training and monitoring so they were excited to get wet and refresh their skills. Even though the guys have very few dives under their belts they are all competent on and underwater, so we flew through the scuba refresher without a problem.
We spent the next three days in the classroom and in the water practicing species identification and our four types of transects: fish, invertebrate, seaweed, and substrate characterization. It is always a treat to practice in the waters just outside Bahia Magdalena. They are full of life, and a fascinating mix of organisms ranging from those found in the temperate waters of California to others from the tropical waters of mainland Mexico. We swam amongst green sea turtles, large groupers, several species of lobster, abalone, angelfishes, sheephead, and garibaldis. Our trainees did extremely well with all aspects of the training and readied themselves for the two weeks of surveys that would ensue once we left. These data will prove to be very important as future decisions are made about the MPA size and longevity.
It is always a pleasure to spend time in the quiet and friendly town on Isla Magdalena. We thoroughly enjoyed the diving and even managed to sneak in a couple hikes across the island among the coyotes and rattlesnakes to watch the sun set over the Pacific. We thank the Cooperative of Magdalena Bay and COBI for their support during this training.