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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - El Golfo de Santa Clara, Sonora, Mexico

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El Golfo de Santa Clara, Sonora, Mexico
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Registered: November 2014
City/Town/Province: Rancho Palos verdes
Posts: 1
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I stumbled across the Nicodemus Wilderness Project serendipitously. I was simply perusing scholarship websites hoping to fund my education: as a third year graduating early and a sister in college, I found it my responsibility to fund my education.
However, the Apprentice Ecologist project is unlike others. Rather, by researching into the project, I found that I highly respected and identified with each component that makes up NWP’s ideology. As an undergraduate at University of California, San Diego, majoring in Marine Biology and minoring in Science Education, I gravitated to the project both emotionally and academically. Apprentice Ecologist Project was something that I had unintentionally started before I even discovered its existence simply for the sake of learning and urge to assume a more active stance in environmental conservation.
In 2013, I figured that since I was majoring in Marine Biology, it was time to explore hands-on experience in a lab to see if I truly loved the subject. The renowned Scripps Institute of Oceanography was optimal in proximity and prestige, a trove begging to be explored of its wonders. As such, I perused the list of researchers and projects of Scripps and sent roughly out 15 e-mails. To my surprise, replies carrying potential opportunities alit in my inbox and I found my way into the Gulf of California Marine Program lab. This lab focuses in the conservation and management of biodiversity and fisheries of the Gulf of California region. There I learned basic lab protocol and otolith processing of the gulf corvina before I found myself standing on the shores of the Gulf of California in El Golfo de Santa Clara, Sonora, Mexico.
In the lab during 2014, I focused on the aging of otoliths, fish ear bones, of Cynoscion othonopterus by using dual diamond edge precision saws to cut one micrometer width of the bone at the nucleus. Because the otolith grows with the fish, one can determine the age of the fish through counting the annual rings similar to the methodology of aging a tree. By preparing and aging hundreds of otoliths as well as combining this data with previously obtained data, my team and I were able to construct a growth model and write a research paper summarizing our results. This is paramount because very little is known about the gulf corvina, one of the key species that the community of Santa Clara depends on. This piece of knowledge that we constructed can be used as a cornerstone to understanding the life stages of Gulf corvina, which in turn leads to more sustainable fishing methods that can better support the town.
To learn more about the fish and the community that it supports, I was granted the opportunity to travel to Mexico and experience every step of the process. The town of El Golfo de Santa Clara is a small fishing village near the mouth of the Gulf of California. With a population of roughly 15,000, the humble community largely bases its economy on the ocean through various fisheries, mainly shrimp and Gulf corvina. However, the current methods of fishing are highly unsustainable: in the case of the corvina, if it was to be fished to extinction, the economic skeleton of the community would be greatly fractured and the welfare of the entire town would lie in jeopardy. To illustrate how little we know of this species, the physical whereabouts of the fish are only known for roughly four months of the year—the rest of the year is a mystery. The population size and life history are mostly speculated and far from detailed. Thus, I worked directly with the fishermen to understand the dialog that they have with the fish and to assist in building towards a sustainable livelihood.
First I dissected the corvina with the fishermen, collecting all of the data on the fish necessary to map its life history: total length, weight, gender, gonad weight, reproductive stage and otolith extraction. This required me to get down and dirty—I was up to my elbows in fish blood and guts and I loved it. It was slimy, but it was exhilarating and gave me a sense of how to gut fish and identify the very organisms that we study. We then went out on boating excursions for the latter two days. Recordings of corvina sound, salinity and temperature, and mapping corvina aggregations were the activities that I was informed of: rocking in a boat in the sweltering sun for 8 hours, battling the vicious winds, and urinating in a bucket as the boat bobbed was also included. Regardless, gazing out over the waters and observing sea lions hunt the corvina made it all worth it. It’s funny—watching fishermen pull up their nets and hearing the corvina purr would have mistakenly given me the impression that the fish were beyond abundant. One vessel even asked if we wanted fish because they couldn’t pull up their net: any more fish and they would have sunk their boat!
Beyond doing the field work of mapping fish aggregations and recording the environmental and physical parameters of the ocean and fish, I was able to experience firsthand what it means to depend on fisheries as the sole economic source and to understand why overfishing is such a titanic issue. The current conservation strategy in play is quota-based: the underlying issue is that the fishermen don’t know when they have reached their quota until after they have fished and taken their catch to the market. Even if they have yet to reach their quota, the bountiful amount of fish all at one time floods the market and drives the price down, often shutting the market down. Thus, the fishery of Santa Clara exists in a market that defeats the current conservation methodology in play through a vicious cycle of economics. This demonstrates that the balance between economics and environment is tricky to strike and even more difficult to identify. The gravity of overfishing didn’t quite dawn on me until this trip and allowed me comprehend the significance of research and activism such as the Gulf of California Marine Program.
As such, I found that understanding the economic and political factors surrounding marine biology would help clear the fog that shrouds it and allow advancement. Moreover, these disciplines are forever intertwined and interlinked: without understanding the relationships that cross between them, one cannot possibly effectively engage forward and reach operational solutions. With this trip, I was better able to grapple with the environmental crises and build long-term solutions that enhance the relationship between humans and the environment. It has also helped fuel my passion for the subject and encouraged me to understand the various perspectives surrounding an environmental issue.
Moreover, this trip has encouraged me to further my education by applying to Scripps Master of Advanced Studies program which targets Marine Biodiversity and Conservation in the political, economic, and educational fields. In conjunction, I am volunteering at the Birch Aquarium and teaching at various middle schools to increase the marine education and enthusiasm of all ages. As such, equipped with my degree in Marine Biology and Education and my experience with the Apprentice Ecologist Project, I hope to use my knowledge to not only educate the public about the marine realm, but also to strive towards cultivating soldiers of research and political defenders of the environment—I aim to be an activist both indirectly and directly, to be the flame that sparks a movement. Now that I have dealt with the issues firsthand, coupled with my education, I will be able to effectively convey challenging concepts, highlight the significance of the subject to those with little background knowledge, and relay my experience. Thus, having different perspectives, like education and research, will train me to become an activist that can connect with the public and breakdown the complex connections between the worlds of humans and ocean.
Date: November 10, 2014 Views: 5293 File size: 17.3kb, 1474.3kb : 3456 x 4608
Hours Volunteered: 400
Volunteers: 4
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 19 & 20 to 26
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