By Reef Check Program Manager for Baja & Outreach Mary Luna
The fishermen's Cooperative on Isla Natividad along with the Mexican NGO Comunidad y Biodiversidad established 2 marine protected areas and 4 control sites in 2006 to study the effects reserves may have on species they fish commercially, including abalone.
Every year since then, Reef Check staff have recertified Coop divers so that they can carry out monitoring at these sites. The 2009 team was lead by California Program Director of Science Cyndi Dawson and consisted of Coop divers Abraham Mayoral, Roberto Vazquez, Alonso Ramirez, Alberto Zuniga, Jhonatan Castro, and Sergio Aguilar; Mario Rojo and Arturo Hernandez from COBI, and myself.
The first day was spent in the classroom reviewing the methodology. On the second day we dove La Guanera where our first practice consisted of laying out fish transects, holding the slate chest-high, and staying close to the bottom. This is easier said than done and proved good practice even for the 6 men whose average work day is spent underwater. Diving with a scuba tank and staying horizontal is a whole new challenge for these divers. Typically they are vertical in the water column and use a hookah rig supplied by a compressor on their boat. Once that first equilibrium dive was out of the way, we moved on to indentification of algae and inverts. We really enjoyed the warm water (74°F)! In the afternoon we went back to the classroom to review the day’s transect results, fish and UPC (substrate Uniform Point Contact). On the third day we went back to La Guanera and practiced laying out the 30m transect while counting and sizing fishes in a window 2m high by 2m across. This was challenging given the abundance and size distribution of the fish; lots of adult males and females with juveniles were encountered. During the second dive divers did a full transect consisting of fish, invertebrates, algae and UPC, and then were evaluated.
On day four we were ready to start monitoring; the first dive took place at El Triangulo, an offshore reef colder and deeper than La Guanera. Our second dive took place at La Dulce (Spanish for The Sweet One); a spot where the current was fairly strong and the visibility great. Here the ocean floor was covered with giant keyhole limpets, anemones, and some sponges that grew in large, rectangular shapes. Large male California sheephead and the fattest kelp bass I’ve ever seen persistently blocked progress on my algae transect, to the point where I wondered if they’d ever heard of personal space… Simultaneously, a chubby harbor seal swam by slowly, observant, as it disappeared into the kelp forest. This was most likely the same seal that pulled on Cyndi’s fins at the other end of the transect line. On Saturday we dove at the reserve of Punta Plana/Las Cuevas. It was a real pleasure to see Toshi, the expert abalone counter, return from his timed-survey with a high count of healthy abalone patches.
Sunday was a day off for most on the island. Some went to Tortugas Bay to watch the baseball game; others stayed with their families and grilled their favorite meal with an ocean view. Cyndi and I went surfing and had a great time; my only regret is failing to photograph Cyndi’s longest wave of the day. The joy of this day was topped by an exceptional meal of fish and lobster at Mary’s, our local chef.
Natividad welcomes visitors with open doors, and this fall we want YOU to experience its magic above and below the water. From October 29 - November 5, 2009 we invite you to travel to this mysterious place. You will be flown directly to the island where knowledgeable divers from the cooperative, along with marine biologist Cyndi Dawson, will bring you to the best dive spots around the island. Don’t wait too long, spots are going fast! For more information on the trip please click here.