By Anna Neumann, Reef Check California North Coast Manager
In July, Reef Check’s California Program Director Jan Freiwald and North Coast Manager Anna Neumann, along with PISCO (Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans) diver Corianna Flemming, headed down to Baja California, Mexico for two Reef Check trainings.
Reef Check and the non-profit group Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI) based in Mexico teamed up again this year to train groups of divers in Baja California to monitor local reefs. COBI and Reef Check have been working together since 2007 in three locations in Baja California- Magdalena Bay, Isla Natividad and El Rosario. COBI was established in 1999 and has programs throughout Mexico; they work to promote marine conservation through community participation.
The group met up with COBI personnel Rodrigo Beas in Vizcaino, Mexico and started the journey to Natividad, where the first training would be held. “Only two types of people go to Natividad,” Rodrigo laughs while speeding down dirt roads, “stubborn scientists and people with private planes.” He’s referring to the group of professional surfers who frequent the island’s surf spots.
As they traveled, Rodrigo filled the group in on what COBI has been doing with the local fishing cooperatives. Many fisheries along the Baja California coast are organized into fishing cooperatives and COBI works hand in hand with three cooperatives in El Rosario, Isla Natividad and in Magdalena Bay. The cooperatives organize small groups of local fishermen and have exclusive fishing rights for several commercially important species of invertebrates. Because these exclusive fishing concessions are an area-based approach to resource management and a relatively small group of individuals is exploiting a common resource, they are an ideal place for involving stakeholders in resource monitoring and management. The cooperatives, with the help of COBI, have developed voluntary no-take zones focused on the recovery of a species of interest. This participatory management approach has extended into participatory science that will assist in future management decisions. Reef Check trains fishermen and local community members in scientific survey methods to monitor the status of exploited species and the local reef ecosystem as a whole. Community members, in conjunction with research scientists, then collect data that are used to not only inform future management, but also to help understand ecosystem responses to impacts other than fishing. Directly involving the fishermen in monitoring and research is contributing to a general understanding of the resilience of these coastal ecosystems and supporting local environmental stewardships.
The first training went off without a hitch and by the end of the week the divers were all certified and checked off on all four survey types, happily eating tacos around the barbeque recounting survey stories. The second training took place in El Rosario and despite enthusiasm and great ocean conditions, the group was waylaid by everything from oil contamination in the air compressor and tanks to sinking panga boats. They pulled out all the stops and after a week of hard work, the trainings were back in full swing; they completed the training just in time to start ten days of monitoring. “The men here are so dedicated,” comments Anna Neumann. “They continue to show up day after day to help us clean tanks, fix the air compressor and will do whatever needs to be done. It is amazing to see the community that the cooperative creates, all the men pulling together and laughing along while they work. Even in the water they are helping each other. You can tell they take pride in being a part of this program and it is amazing to see and to be a part of. It gives me hope for the future of their reefs and fisheries.”