In my final blog about “Expedition Vaquita”, I would like to address the next generation – the young people of the upper gulf.
Over past weeks, I conducted interviews with a myriad of people involved in the vaquita issue; scientists, managers, and conservation groups. In those interviews, there was very little talk about education. I did not witness any education programs in the local communities of San Felipe and El Golfo – “ground zero” of the whole vaquita issue.
Millions of dollars have been raised, and numerous experts have been called in to find a solution at a frantic pace. You have got to commend the Mexican government for taking the science seriously in the case of vaquita, with the recent extinction of the baiji being a catalyst in trying to find a solution now.
What I found in local communities is that education about the vaquita, the conservation issues, the fisheries compensation schemes (alternative livelihood projects) and alternatives in fishing gear is severely lacking. Sure, there are groups set up to promote eco-tourism activities like sport-fishing and such. However, what is being offered and what the local market can support is questionable, as raised in my interview with Miguel Reyes Franco entitled “A Fisherman’s Perspective“.
Most people think the vaquita is a myth. That is because there is no education about the animal in the region – it is akin to the lochness monster of the northern gulf of california. Ironically, it is this perceived myth that is now altering the very fabric of these local communities.
While in El Golfo de Santa Clara, Catalina Lopez Sagástegui and I visited the local high school to show video and photos of vaquita to students that I filmed only a few days earlier. The classroom was a tan shipping container stocked with computers along the walls. I plugged my Macbook Pro into a projector and away we went. Catalina served as a translator.
On other science expeditions and conservation projects around the world, my wife Genevieve and I conducted education presentations using multimedia to share unique wildlife encounters with students and inspire them about the marine wonders at their doorstep.
So I took the kids on a visual journey to share stories of whales and dolphins. I showed them images and short videos from places like Argentina, Greece and Australia. The aim was to put into perspective just how unique the vaquita porpoise is. After all, this was a Mexican animal, in a Mexican sea. These truly are their animals.
I felt this was one of the most rewarding and important experiences of the entire expedition. Unbelievably, this was the first time anyone had taken the time to visit the school and talk about the vaquita.
After the presentation we answered questions from interested students. They asked things like:
“Why hasn’t anyone come here to show us this before?”
“People like you should come and share with us what you are doing…”
I left images and video with the principal of the school to show students in the future, and to share with others in the town.
Throughout my journey in Mexico, I tried to record all sides of the vaquita story. Recently, many people in conservation and science have asked me my thoughts having had such a unique perspective. They want to know what I think the future is for vaquita.
Well, my answer is – the young people in this video . They are the future.
People could argue there may be no vaquita by the time these young people grow up, and I agree. But, this only serves to highlight the fact that the same problem occurs over and over again. People are generally unwilling to invest in education, saying it is too “long-term”, and they don’t see a fast enough return on their investment.
However, this kind of forward thinking could prevent such situations occuring in the first place. People knew the Baiji (the Yangtze river dolphin) was in trouble for decades. Yet, it went extinct with most of the world having never heard its name.
As with the baiji, we are now embarking on a desperate effort to save an animal when it is already on the verge of extinction; rather than utilizing long term education efforts to prevent us getting to this point in the first place. Perhaps this is what can be learned from “Expedition Vaquita”.
I would like to thank Ernesto Vasquez of CONANP and Catalina López Sagástegui of Noroeste Sustentable (NOS) for kindly transcribing and translating thes interviews.
I recently returned to Australia from Mexico after a 7 week journey throughout the northern Gulf of California. It will have a lasting impact on my life. I joined scientists on a multi-national expedition searching for the most endangered cetacean on the planet. I experienced first-hand what it is like to live in the upper gulf, an area frought with poverty and drugs, and the social and economic consequences that arise from each.
I spent time on the water documenting artisanal fishers setting gillnets from pangas in an epic desert sea brimming with life. I watched hundreds of shrimp trawlers dragging nets along the sea floor all over the upper gulf (including through the vaquita refuge and biopshere reserve), unregulated and out of control. And, I met face to face, the secretive porpoise everyone is talking about – the vaquita marina.
In the blogs I have written about “Expedition Vaquita”, the perspective of the local people is one I feel has not been adequately shared. In November, I spent time in El Golfo de Santa Clara. Members of the community kindly took me out on their boats, let me into their homes allowing this odd american-australian hybrid to examine their lives in close focus.
Miguel Reyes Franco was one of these people. Miguel is the President of the fishermen co-operative “Tiburones de Santa Clara”. A cooperative is a group of fishermen that organize themselves in order to maximize their benefits. A group of co-operatives can be represented by a federation. The federation ensures the co-operatives can access things like government funds.
I first met Miguel at the NACAP meeting in Mexicali in late October 2008.
Miguel was very personable and well versed on the vaquita issue. He was also someone keen to be part of the solution. He attended the event to find out first-hand what alternative lifestyles were being offered to the fishermen, and how the first-year of the government plan was affecting them.
For the past year, Miguel has been taking part in the alternative gear experiments in the region. The following interview takes place at his house in El Golfo. Miguel gave me a different perspective and insight into the issues surrounding vaquita conservation from those most affected.
Listening to Miguel, I felt that alternatives will only work if an even playing field is created for all fishermen. At its core, fishing is an extremely competitive business – if you don’t catch more fish, your neighbor will. This has led to all sorts of problems with fishing on a local and commercial level worldwide.
As in any fishing community, fishers in El Golfo want to catch as many shrimp ( and fish) as possible to make money. If alternatives do not generate the same amount of income as fishermen currently get using gillnets, ultimately they will fail. Miguel represents fishermen who want to see this program work fairly, and ultimately conserve vaquita at the same.
I would like to thank Ernesto Vasquez of CONANP and Catalina López Sagástegui of Noroeste Sustentable (NOS) for kindly transcribing and translating thes interviews.
Expedition Vaquita is over. The NOAA Fisheries research vessel David Starr Jordan returned to San Diego after an epic two month expedition to search for and document the number of vaquita in the northern gulf, the rarest and most endangered cetacean on the planet. Last week, the scientists concluded the research, left the ship and returned home. The David Starr Jordan made its way back down the gulf of California, around the Baja Peninsula, back to its home port.
Media was not permitted onboard the vessel during the expedition. However, NOAA gave us permission to film on the ship and interview scientists for our documentary. When I returned from El Golfo de Santa Clara, I joined the ship for a week in November.
I had the opportunity to spend time with and speak in depth to scientists Barbara Taylor and Tim Gerrodette of the NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California. I wanted to learn more about the purpose of the expedition in Mexico, the science behind the visual survey, and explore the new acoustic technologies they were assessing to monitor the vaquita population throughout the year.
Following is the latest in the series of short “rough cuts” produced about the expedition.
So what are the results of the survey? We are going to have to wait for scientists onboard to collate and publish the results about the estimated number of vaquita, which will assist the Mexican Government in modifying and implementing effective management strategies for the long term protection of the desert porpoise. However, the research is not ending here. The Mexican research boat, the Koi Pai, will continue to deploy and test acoustic buoys to collect data in the upper gulf to keep tabs on the species throughout the year.
Later this week, I will post my final blog in this series about how fishermen in the region feel about the Vaquita, and the conservation measures being implemented.
David Starr Jordan conducting the line transect survey. Photo - Chris Johnson
Now it was time to explore how people in local communities are affected by the management plan (“fisheries buyout plan”) put in place by the Mexican government in an attempt to reverse the decline of the desert porpoise. Through all of the talk of conservation and politics about vaquita presented at the NACAP meeting, the questions I most want answered is how were people really going to be affected in the grand scheme of this ambitious fisheries buyout, and can it work?
So for the next few days, I joined Catalina Lopez Sagástegui of Noroeste Sustentable (NOS), a non-governmental organization (NGO) that deals with conflict resolution in conservation. Their mission is to “construct and implement a long term vision for the region’s sustainable development through a political and social agreement”. She is also the co-coordinator of Alto Golfo Sustentable (AGS), an NGO that brings together all groups involved in vaquita conservation in the northern Gulf of California; often also referred to as the “upper gulf”. The group includes local fishermen, Ocean Garden (a Mexican distributor of locally caught shrimp to the United States) as well as a number of international and local NGOs.
So far, in all of my interviews with various people who work with conservation groups in Mexico, Catalina is one of the few people who really talks and listens to local fishermen. NOS are giving financial compensation to fishermen who participate in trials of alternative gear. However, according to Catalina, so far there has been no “magic bullet” to replace inexpensive, high yielding gillnets. Gillnets target blue shrimp in the upper gulf, the same nets scientists have identified as the primary source of vaquita mortality.
It is well documented around the world that porpoises and gillnets do not mix. In many ways, the model being implemented by the Mexican Government is being used as a test case for how governments may deal with this issue in the future, and in other parts of the world.
Last month, in an effort to look ‘outside of the box’, Catalina brought four local fishermen to Seattle, Washington to set up an exchange in knowledge and experience with fishermen from Seattle and Morrow Bay as part of an examination into alternative gear. Most importantly, it was a way for fishermen to share information with their peers in a manner that could not be filtered through government or non-governmental groups. Sometimes people need to do things the old fashioned way, sit down, talk, ask questions and share experiences.
Catalina arrived in San Felipe, and we sat down to film an interview. She spoke of her experiences working on vaquita conservation over the last couple of years, and the pulse of local community.
Early the next day, we visited with Alonso Garcia. He manages a local shrimp distributor in San Felipe. I asked the questions in English, and Catalina translated them into Spanish, and vica versa. Alonso has strong feelings about the buyout, and raised an important point about its implementation. “Many people are part of the shrimp industry here besides the fishermen”. In his plant, he employs people to clean and pack the shrimp, and drivers to export frozen shrimp to the US. Not to mention, most of the restaurants in the upper gulf region specialize in shrimp. Shrimp is the fuel that drives the local economy, employing many people beyond the fishermen deploying the nets in the sea.
After the interview, we filled up on fuel and jumped in the car for the 4-hour drive through the desert, via the fertile grounds adjacent to the Colorado River in Sonora. Our destination was El Golfo de Santa Clara.
The long drive culminated in the usual military checkpoint 15 miles outside of the town. “El Golfo” feels like a town on the edge of nowhere. It is the most remote of the three communities in the upper gulf, and the most reliant on the shrimp fishery. As we drove in, there was one paved road, the rest were sandy streets dominated by many of the fishermen’s 450 pangas pulled up in front of houses.
Catalina and I spent the day interviewing various people in the fishing community of El Golfo, and even gave a presentation in the local school sharing images and video of vaquita. At the moment, I am getting these interviews transcribed, so I will be in a better position to share the thoughts and experience of locals very soon.
El Golfo de Santa Clara. Photo - Chris Johnson
Although we only spent a couple of days there, I was able to get a better sense of the ‘buy-out’ plan, how it is structured and what it means to the local people.
We are currently in year one of a two-year ‘save the vaquita’ conservation plan. But as scientist Lorenzo Rojas Bracho pointed out in recent papers and in my interview with him, “in order to take care of the vaquita, we have to take care of the fishermen”. Local fishermen are permitted to fish one of three species, shrimp, finfish or shark and ray, but all use the same type of gillnets.
The buyout as most people refer to it- the buying back of gillnets, engines and boats, is a bit more complicated than it first appears. There are actually three components, a buyout, a rent-out, and a switch out. All of which are entirely voluntary.
In 2007, the buyout consisted of two programs.
Alternative livelihoods (Buy-out)
Alternative gear (Rent-out)
The alternative livelihoods program (also known as the ‘buyout’), meant fishermen were required to turn in only their fishing permits if they wanted to set up a new business. This means that although permits were taken, the boats and their gear were still in the fishermen’s possession, meaning that there was a high probability of fishermen now using those same boats and gear to fish illegally.
Another characteristic of this first program was that alternative livelihoods were restricted to tourism related activities and other fishing related activities (working in refrigerated rooms, aquaculture, etc). Fishers had to apply to the government to participate in the buy-out program.
According to Catalina, the lack of control over the now “illegal” boats and the restrictions in viable alternative activities were not well received by local communities. Fishermen believed there should be many more alternative livelihood options that would guarantee them a respectable income. Also, they requested stricter measures in order to ensure the problem of illegal fishing would not grow.
The results of the 2007 buy-out were:
Alternative livelihoods: 12 applications
Alternative fishing gear: 10 applications
Total permits eliminated: 21 finfish and 3 shrimp
Golfo de Santa Clara:
Alternative livelihoods: 22 applications
Total permits eliminated: 25 finfish
Alternative livelihoods: 17 applications
Total permits eliminated: 19 finfish
The second buy-out program was designed differently and included modifications that reflected a more realistic way of meeting the needs of fishermen and the communities. It allowed fishermen to establish any type of business they wanted to. The second buy-out program also offered a third option. The ‘rent out’ option was the result of the urgency to get gillnets out of vaquita habitat in order to guarantee zero incidental catch mortality.
This buy-out program began in June 2008 and fishermen began receiving their funds towards the end of August 2008.
There are three options in the 2008 buy-out program
(Please note that conversion rate is 12 pesos to 1 US Dollar.)
Alternative livelihood (Buy-out) – This means fishermen turn in one or several permits with their respective boat, engine and fishing gear and set up a new business. There are three categories in this option depending on the # of permits someone turns in:
1 permit: $400,000 pesos
2 permits: $500,000 pesos
3 or more permits: $600,000 pesos
Rent-out – (also known as “Biodiversity Conservation Activities:”) Fishermen are paid to not go into the Refuge and use gillnets. They are not required to turn in permits since they are only required to respect the refuge and other no-take areas from the biosphere reserve. It’s payout varied on where the boat is based.
$45,000 pesos (San Felipe, B.C.)
$35,000 pesos (Golfo de Santa Clara and Puerto Peñasco, Sonora)
Alternative fishing gears – (switch-out) Turn in gillnets and begin using “vaquita safe” gear (pots, hook and line, long lines, etc.). This option does not require fishermen to give up their permits; however they do have to turn them in so they are modified to specifically say the type of gear they are allowed to use.
Anyone who chose this option received $300,000 pesos.
On October 29th 2008, José Campoy Favela, Director of the Biosphere reserve presented the results of the 2008 program at the 2008 NACAP meeting in Mexicali.
Alternative livelihood (Buy-out)
Total invested: $107,800,000 pesos
Golfo de Santa Clara: $41,300,000 pesos (71 applications)
San Felipe: $39,000,000 pesos (50 applications)
Puerto Peñasco: $24,500,000 pesos (32 applications)
Total invested: $20,540,000 pesos
Golfo de Santa Clara: $13,440,000 pesos (384 applications)
San Felipe: $7,065,000 pesos (157 applications)
Puerto Peñasco: $35,000 pesos (1 applications)
Alternative fishing gears (“Switch-Out”)
Total invested: $27,600,000 pesos
Golfo de Santa Clara: $2,700,000 pesos (9 applications)
San Felipe: $23,100,000 pesos (38 applications)
Puerto Peñasco: $2,700,000 pesos (4 applications)
What struck me most about the buyout is who is actually being taken care of in this plan. In the upper gulf, there is a distinction between fishermen and boat-owners. A boat-owner may hold the permits and own multiple pangas (local fishing boats), while hiring people to do the actual fishing for them.
So when statistics for the buyout, rent-out, switch-out, and really tallied, one has to take a note of caution. Boat-owners may be taken care of to a certain degree. Fishermen who are not boat-owners may actually slip through the cracks of this program.
Within all of this, I am still left scratching my head at the New York Times article stating the 800 fishers have been bought-out. Maybe they are counting each fisher that lost their job when the owner received funds for the ‘alternative livelihood’ project?
Fishing is an extremely competitive practice. Another question raised is who would want to change from a gill net to the alternative gear (including a trap or hook and line system) that catches far less, if others are still using gillnets and catching far more.
In the 2007 buyout, very few shrimp permits were eliminated. These are the most valuable of all of the permits a fishermen (or boat-owner) has. So this volunteer buyout may be just that, an expensive exercise in volunteer conservation.
Will it work?
The fishermen I spoke with told me that early rain in the season has helped ensure this is a “good” shrimp season. Because fishermen are generally doing well, the enforcement of the vaquita refuge has gone fairly well. The next shrimp season in 2009 will dictate a lot about whether this buyout will work or the law prohibiting gillnets in the vaquita refuge will still be enforced; especially if there is not a lot of rain, and therefore, less shrimp. I do know that we will have to wait for at least another year to see if the buyout plan is actually working and if the plan needs to change once again.
Cleaning shrimp at the end of the day. Photo - Chris Johnson
What a week it has been! We posted the images and video of the vaquita sighting and created a slight online ‘feeding frenzy’. As with any breaking story, some of it gets people’s attention, and some of it goes totally unnoticed. The footage we obtained on the October 20th sighting was big news in the science community and not so good news for others. It was hard evidence that the animals are still there.
Everyone I have interviewed is breathing a collective sigh of relief. It is difficult enough to try to sell the concept of the vaquita to the local community, some of whom believe it doesn’t exist. Now, there are some good quality images to help local communities learn about their special little Mexican porpoise.
While there have been great days for sightings from all researchers in the area, we are only half way through the expedition. What the current population of vaquita is, and how that will affect conservation strategies and management efforts in the northern gulf, are major questions on many people’s minds. The answer will have to wait until the conclusion of the science expedition in late November.
I have interviewed many people from the realm of vaquita science and conservation over recent weeks. One person’s name you often see in the press and in scientific papers is Lorenzo Rojas Bracho. Lorenzo has been a ‘voice for vaquita’ for many years. He is the co-coordinator for Marine Mammal Research and Conservation at the Instituto Nacional de Ecología (INE), in Ensenda, Mexico. INE are leading the current scientific survey along with NOAA Fisheries, Southwest Fisheries Science Center in the United States.
I spoke to Lorenzo at length about vaquita research methodology and science-based solutions. Many are praising his recommendations, yet they are viewed as controversial by others in local communities. He is redefining what a ‘scientist’ is in an era full of critical conservation issues for marine mammals. For vaquita, his view is clear – Mexico can reverse the impending extinction of the vaquita, but it must take care of the fishermen at the same time.
The following is a selection of rough cuts from my interview with Lorenzo.
Watch a conservation with scientist Lorenzo Rojas Bracho, the coordinator of research and conservation of marine mammals at the Instituto Nacional de Ecologia in Ensenada, Mexico and filmmaker CHRIS JOHNSON. They discuss the Vaquita porpoise.
This is the week I took time away from searching for Vaquita, to learn more about the politics this little mammal is generating. Because its estimated population is at a critical level (150 animals), and due to free trade agreements between Mexico, United States and Canada, the conservation of this animal does not only fall on the responsibility of local and state government, but within an international coalition called the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC). CEC encourages these three countries to adopt a continental approach to the conservation of wild flora and fauna.
Through the CEC, the NORTH AMERICAN CONSERVATION ACTION PLAN (NACAP) initiative for vaquita, met in Mexicali, Mexico. We are now at the end of year 1 of a two-year immediate plan to pull the vaquita back from the brink of extinction. NACAP is a group made up of government, NGOs, industry groups, scientists and local groups (also commonly referred to as ‘stakeholders’ by media and persons attending)
The aim of NACAP is to tackle conservation challenges in the region. Because these countries define the Vaquita as ‘highly threatened’, this co-operative group steps in to deal with these management issues. In the recently published NACAP document you can learn more about the principles and their approach to the conservation of vaquita.
An except from the report including the following conservation-related elements shall be integrated into the structure of each NACAP:
Threats prevention, control, and mitigation
Education and Outreach
Information sharing and networking
Capacity Building and Training
Use of Innovative approaches and tools.
The meeting had been cancelled a couple of times over recent months, and included a last minute change from Puerto Penasco to Mexacali, an industrial city on border of Mexico and the United States. There were rumors that fishermen we going to protest at the meetings in this fishing town, but in the end, it was announced that the presidential plane flying in from Mexico City could not land on the airstrip in Puerto Penasco.
NOAA Fisheries scientist Barb Taylor presenting at the NACAP meeting.
We departed on the Tuesday the 28th at dawn. I followed scientists Jay Barlow, Barb Taylor and Anna Hall through the lonely Baja desert north to Mexicali. As I drove through the desert I wondered about the questions I would ask, but really spent most of my time repeating – ‘I hope this is covered in my budget!’
I was intrigued to see how conservation efforts were progressing at the end of the all important ‘year 1’. In a key paper published in 2007, scientists gave the vaquita two years before its numbers slipped to a level that the population could not bounce back from.
My hope was to film the NACAP meeting where the President of Mexico was going to arrive and give a big speech about vaquita conservation. In the end, the President was a no show and the Minister for Environment gave a speech in front of media, attendees, and a group of high school students who filled up all of available seats. The three flags of Mexico, US and Canada floated in the rafters as a passive symbol of a complex unity.
So what happens at the end of multinational meetings like these? It is time to eat. At the end of all of the speeches and presentations, two busses drove guests across town to a Chinese restaurant. Apparently in Mexicali, there is a substantial Chinese population, and Chinese food is the local equivalent of what Mexican food is to people in the United States and Canada – an alternative to the local cuisine to spice up life for a brief moment. The restaurant was a giant hall full of long tables of roughly 40 people each.
The next day was a technical meeting at the Crowne Plaza hotel with all of the key players involved in conservation management, fisheries buyout, scientific research and fundraising.
On Wednesday, scientists, conservationists and managers crammed into a small conference room in the Crown Plaza Hotel. Hans Herman of CEC chaired the meeting. Over the weeks, everyone I have met has been very kind. People allowed me to record events with my oversized video camera, opening up and sharing opinions and observations about how vaquita affects their lives. Hans was receptive to me filming a couple of the presentations in the morning. However, he wanted me to leave the room when the real discussions started to allow stakeholders to talk openly and honestly without “media scrutiny”. There were issues that needed to be discussed so a unified message could be officially released.
This often happens to me at these types of meetings. On one hand I totally understand it. It is the one chance in the year for people to get together and talk openly, share data, information and anecdotes. Most of the time, people in science and conservation deal with each other via email, and less these days, by phone. So it is vital to communicate face to face especially over an issue as hot as vaquita conservation.
However, there was no other “media” there lined up to break the story. And, why would there be? Media often have extremely tight deadlines tempered by extremely tight budgets. This was not a newsworthy meeting. I am lucky to receive a grant to spend 6 weeks in Mexico writing and documenting the people and issues surrounding the vaquita. Sometimes, I feel like a crazed filmmaker desperately wanting to be invited to the party, but often left on my own without a date.
Everyone had laptops there connected to the internet around the table. If someone wanted to, they could have blogged about it, they could have recorded it, or emailed press. At these meetings I always find attendees checking their email during presentations. All of this funding to bring together the experts, and some were chatting on skype.
There were presentations about “YEAR 1” of the fisheries buyout. If you read the New York Times (which I do most days), then you would think that major NGOs had the issues completely under control. Fishermen are being bought out; the problem is going away, success is imminent.
However, this is a complex issue…extremely complex. There is the “buyout” (where a fishermen sells his license, engine, and boat for an amount of money), a “rent-out” (where a fishermen receives a sum to keep his gear, boat and nets out of the water for a year), and a “switch-out” (where a fishermen keeps his boat, license, but uses ‘alternative gear). The problem with the “switch-out”, is that gillnets are cheap and effective, and the alternatives are proving to be more challenging to both use and sell to fishermen than was first expected.
AND, there are reports that fishers who are part of the “rent-out” are teaming up with others in a cooperative agreement and fishing together. For example, one fisher has the license, the other has the boat and they decide – “hey let’s fish together”…
More importantly, not all gillnet fishermen using pangas are licensed anyway. Illegal fishing is a major issue and authorities do not know how many pangas are on the water (even though this is changing). So there is a major effort to license every gillnet boat on the region. However, this does not cover the many large shrimp trawlers in the Gulf of California. The buyout plan only affects the local gillnetters.
In Mexico, Vaquita is changing the definition of what ‘conservation’ means. Conservation is attempting to redefine life for many local fishermen and communities in an area where shrimp is akin to oil in a sea encompassed by desert. Alternative livelihoods are few and far between. Just buying, renting, or switching is going to create additional social challenges to this region that may be outside the bounds of the NACAP.
Today is my last day in San Felipe. Tomorrow I travel to El Golfo de Santa Clara to learn more about what fishermen think and feel about an animal that is redefining their lives.
There are days that pass by in a blur, each blending into the next without great significance. Then there are special, insurmountable days that help define a lifetime. I will never forget these past 24 hours; this experience will have great influence on me for years to come.
I returned from filming the encounter with the killer whale calf, deflated, depressed and feeling a little helpless. I backed up the footage on my computer and hard drives set up in a corner of the dry lab, where other scientists had laptops arranged for their end of day duties.
It was still early in the day, only 10am when we returned with the Zodiac. The weather was flattening out to a gentle Beaufort 1 sea state, which means there is relatively no wind, no white caps, no swell, only a few ripples on the water. The stage was set, perfect weather for seeing vaquita.
I walked onto the flying bridge where the observers were poised scanning the horizon. There was a buzz in the air as news spread that both Tom Jefferson‘s team using the local sport fishing boat, the Pancho Villa, and the acoustic sailboat, the “Vaquita Express” had encounters with the animal that everyone was searching for, the desert porpoise, locally known as the ‘Vaquita Marina’.
“Rough Cut” Videos – Sightings from the JORDAN, and rare footage of the Vaquita porpoises.
I grabbed my camera, and filmed more shots of researchers looking through the giant “big-eyes”, recording conversations and listening to stories. I noticed Bob Pitman come off a break, and make his was toward his station. Although he would never agree, Bob is a bit of a legend in the marine mammal world, spending over 30 years doing visual surveys for marine mammals across the globe. If something is out there, he will see it – with eagle eyes and a superstar personality, he lives up to his reputation with ease. Within seconds, out of the corner of my eye, I notice him take one look before declaring, “I think we have vaquita!”
It is as if you are watching Michael Jordan hit a half court shot with only one second left in the game – if anyone was going to do it, it was him. The sighting sent the team into an excited frenzy. One sighting quickly turned into two, then three. All the observers took a look to get oriented and see what an animal that almost none of them have ever seen before actually looks like.
The Jordan was traveling through a supposed vaquita ‘hotspot’ just at the right time. Although we were seeing vaquita around the ship, they were too far for me to even think about filming.
After an hour or so recording sightings, we called Tom Jefferson on the Pancho Villa. He was within a 5 miles of the Jordan. We wanted to let him know what we were seeing so he could move in and hopefully take some photo-id images.
Barb Taylor turned to me and said – “Hey Chris, I think it may be a good idea that you join Tom. They are close enough we can send you over in a zodiac. You want to go?”
I never dreamed I would be in a position to even see vaquita, let alone film the animal in the wild. It has been tried unsuccessfully over many years, and is akin to climbing Mount Everest with no oxygen, and your legs tied together. Several images of dead, entangled vaquita exist, together with a few snaps of their tiny pixilated bodies in the distance.
Researchers Paula Olson and Tom Jefferson scan the horizon for Vaquita onboard the Pancho Villa. Photo - Chris Johnson
I furiously packed my camera gear, put my bags on the zodiac, and made my way at high speed to the Pancho Villa. Tom had the most enormous grin across his face tempered with sheer relief. The zodiac pulled up to the side of the boat and Tom had success written all over his face – “We got pictures!!!!”
I had never been so happy for a scientist in my life. Over the weeks, I have pointed my video camera (probably quite annoyingly) at Tom’s face, asking him day after day what was happening, while documenting the search for an animal so rare and illusive, people told us we would never see it, let alone photograph or film it. Through all of the pressure to deliver, Tom has been fantastic to work with. He is a walking library of scientific knowledge about cetaceans and I have learned a lot by listening to him over seemingly endless hours drifting and waiting for an animal we were starting to believe may never appear.
When you try something different (some said crazy) like starting a photo-id project on vaquita, an animal known to keep its secrets well hidden, it is only natural to criticize, or doubt it can be done. However, considering that we know far more about mammals on land than we do about their marine cousins, I believe it is the risky projects such as this that make a real difference to our scientific understanding, and in raising awareness amongst the public.
Before I joined the Jordan, Tom had told me he was up all night, worried about the “what if we don’t see a vaquita” scenario. Now the pressure was off.
I yelled to Tom as I dragged my bags to the aft deck.
“How many photos did you guys get?”
“Well, at least a couple hundred!” An even bigger smile emerged on top of his already impossibly giant grin.
Two vaquita emerge from calm seas. Click on image to view. Photo - Chris Johnson
It was getting late in the day, and Tom decided to stay out on the water overnight. I prepared my film equipment for the next day, and lay out on deck thinking about what the next day may bring. There was no wind, and the sea blended together with the desert in magnificent hues of yellow, orange and red. That night as I lay out under the stars it was as if we were floating in a giant bathtub, every sound amplified by the stillness. At 3am, a California seal lion kept me company swimming and snorting around the boat. At 4am, a pelican flapped its wings as if to say, “Hey don’t go to sleep!” All of the excitement kept me awake, and I loved being on the sea with my new acquaintances. It felt like even the animals were happy with the respite brought by the calm weather.
I kept thinking how I was probably the only one on the expedition who had not glimpsed a vaquita yet. I was so busy filming the unfolding action, I forgot to look through the “big-eyes” on the Jordan, and I arrived too late on the Pancho Villa. But as I would realize, good things come to those who wait!
We were still fairly close to the Jordan, but they decided to continue their research survey on a track line further south. They asked if they could send Greg Silber over on the zodiac, and if we would later bring him to port to transfer on a van back to San Diego. On my short stint on the Jordan, I talked to Greg quite a bit about the area, and his history doing PhD work on Vaquita over 20 years ago. His presence and field experience was going to have a significant impact on the day.
Very soon after Greg arrived, so did the vaquita! The slick sea revealed tiny dorsal fins 800 meters away. Paula Olson picked out a couple of groups near us. It was my turn to meet the ‘Vaquita Marina’.
There was no blow, just a series of distant dark triangular shapes briefly breaking the surface of the water, then a pause, then a rapid “kicking” movement and they were down. They would surface four or five times consecutively, then disappear for a few minutes. I have never worked with porpoises in the wild, and could not get over how tiny these animals were.
Vaquita. Click on image to view. Photo - Tom Jefferson
It took awhile to become accustomed to how they moved, and how to spot them. But there is one thing I quickly learned, that the only way to see the world’s smallest cetacean is in the calmest of sea conditions. From a small boat, Beaufort 2, a sea state perfect for sighting almost any other cetacean species, is too rough to sight vaquita unless the animals are within 30 meters, or you are pointing binoculars directly at them. Beaufort 1 is much better, but the only way to really work with them, is to have the magical conditions of a glassy Beaufort 0. Those rare instances when the sea is like a mirror and you can almost see your reflection. Luckily for us, this was our stage today.
They were in groups of 3 or 4 and we were quietly drifting closer and closer. Vaquita are so shy that the few sightings in past years have seen them disappear at a range of about 700 meters, but we were steadily getting much closer. It was difficult to pick out the dorsal even at 200 meters away though the viewfinder, and equally challenging to keep the camera steady. The photographers were poised high on the flying bridge to get photo- id shots, Greg was on the foredeck shouting positions, and sharing his field observations. I was on the bow attempting to get some imagery at a lower angle, close to the water.
It was challenging trying to focus, and keep track of the animals. I just could not believe how small they were. I understand now why many people think of these animals as mythical creatures. They are akin to the people in society that go about their business unnoticed and blend into the background, or the kid in the back of the class who never gets attention because they are not loud or boisterous, rather they are shy, quiet, and introverted. Vaquita are mysterious, timid little guys living their life on their own terms, showing no interest in boats or people.
Cameras were firing photographs faster and faster and the frustration of weeks of searching melted away, replaced by sheer joy. The Pancho Villa was in the perfect position following the animals cautiously when something miraculous happened. A pair of animals decided to do something unusual for vaquita, they headed straight toward us, diving only 20 meter away they swam directly beneath the bow.
I was able to frame a couple of close shots and was now equally relieved myself. I set the camera to film in slo-motion to capture the movement of the animals at the surface. Like all photographers I was hoping for more, but thrilled to finally be in the right position at the right time to record this event.
Greg Silber called over to me, “Did you get that Chris?”
“I think I did…”
“You know, a lot of people have come here over the years, and that is something no one has ever been able to film. You are very lucky my friend…”
My thoughts exactly.
We spent an hour or so among a couple of groups who were milling at the surface. However, soon they decided the show was over and slipped away as quickly as they had emerged. Tom and his team captured crucial images to help start the photo-id catalog of the animals. We are posting some of them so people can view clear images for the first time, of this very rare and poorly understood species in their natural habitat.
Tom finishes his project on October 30th, so I will spend the next couple of days with him on the water, as well as visiting and filming with researchers on the Koi Pai. I will then focus on the local community and the conservation complexities faced by vaquita and fishermen. Then, it’s back to the Jordan until mid-November.
Photos and video taken under permit (Oficio No. DR/847/08 & No. DR/488/08 ) from the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP/Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y
Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT), within a natural protected area subject to special management and decreed as such by the Mexican Government. This work was made possible thanks to the collaboration and support of the Coordinador de Investigación y Conservación de Mamíferos Marinos at the Instiuto Nacional de Ecología (INE).
For more information about the use of photos or videos from this posting, contact GENEVIEVE JOHNSON, Education Director – earthOCEAN.
Early in the day, excitement turned into grave concern. Bob Pitman sighted an animal, but it was moving strangely. After a few minutes, he saw the dorsal fin and the head. Too far away to identify, he thought it may be a small or young cetacean entangled in nets. Could this be our first encounter with a vaquita?
So fragile is the population that the possibly of losing one is devastating at this point. This is the final year of gillnetting in the northern gulf of California. It is the accidental capture and drowning of vaquita in gill nets that scientists cite as the main threat to the survival of the species. Scientists give the population only two years before they would be extinct if nothing is done. Fortunately, the Mexican Government is acting.
Barb Taylor asked me to go along in the zodiac with Bob, Todd and a team from the Jordan to take a closer look and to get footage of what was happening. We were not sure what we were going to encounter, but were shocked when we realized what it was.
Watch this video to see what was thought to be an entangled dolphin or vaquita turn out to be a killer whale calf, on its own, struggling for survival.
This was absolutely, totally unexpected. Watching a young animal like this fighting to live, all alone, was gut wrenching. Sadness doesn’t come close to describing the mood in the zodiac. I have never witnessed anything like this in the wild, watching this incredible mammal in its last moments, and there was nothing we could do. If this was an entangled animal, perhaps we could have done something, but in this case we could only assess and monitor the progress of the unfolding situation.
For this young killer whale, the most debilitating issue was distance. We were hundreds of miles from any kind of land based facility with the expertise to at least try and help the calf.
This was a front row view of nature at her most brutal. The killer whale is an iconic mammal, a keystone species in the marine ecosystem. This young animal was supposed to grow up as a strong, apex predator, but instead, was the victim of circumstances we could do nothing about.
I spent the ride back to the ship silently hoping that things would turn around, or that magically, its family would come to the rescue of the young killer whale in some spectacular Hollywood ending. But this was not to be.
I will never forgot this morning…
There was no Hollywood ending for the young killer whale. Soon after we left, nature took its course and the young whale died, washing up on a beach south of San Felipe.
Windy days have dominated the past week and a half here in the northern Gulf of California frustrating researchers, local fishermen and even myself, the lone filmmaker trying to document “the story”.
Wind is a natural element that hinders, encourages, and often times teases the state of the sea. As has happened this past week, it can blow endlessly for days with no end in sight. It can bring an honest brutal truth to working at sea. Yet, within minutes, the wind can suddenly subside and chaos becomes calm. Calm brings hope that the search, a real unhindered search, will commence once again for that elusive vaquita sighting.
Friday became the real “Day 1” of “Expedition Vaquita” with all vaquita research vessels going out to sea at once – Mexico’s Koi Pai, NOAA’s RV David Starr Jordan and Corsair – known here as the “Vaquita Express”, and the locally hired sport fishing boat the Pancho Villa, used by Tom Jefferson as a photo id platform.
It was time for me to transfer from my land base and daily surveys on the the Pancho Villa to a much bigger platform, the NOAA research vessel David Starr Jordan, referred to as “the Jordan”.
While the expedition is being led by Mexican authorities at the Instituto Nacional de Ecologia in Ensenada, colleagues from NOAA were invited to help with the visual effort at sea. Until the end of November, scientists from around the world will join the Jordan in the search for vaquita. The Jordan was here in 1997 conducting the last major visual survey, which documented the declining population of vaquita in the region.
For a number of reasons, 2008 is a big year for vaquita. There has never been such a large coordinated effort in the region to look for the animals with so many boats.
I woke at dawn and made my way down to a panga that was to transfer Todd Pusser and I to the ship. Todd is part of the observation team who searches for animals through gigantic binoculars called “big-eyes” - 25x binoculars mounted on an observation platform. With this tool, and in good conditions, researchers can see animals 5-6 miles from the ship. On the Jordan there are a set of four “big-eyes”, with researchers spending 40-minute shifts looking in different directions for vaquita.
The Jordan was 15 miles south of San Felipe dropping one of the acoustic bouys that will be used to gather long-term data by continuously recording echolocation clicks that vaquita make. It is the hope and expectation of researchers that deploying multiple buoys with specialized digital audio recorders in vaquita habitat, will result in an “acoustic census” or population estimate, and reveal information about movement patterns. With the ability to monitor the animals 24 hours a day, these buoys are seen as vital to the success of the science and conservation effort.
On the ride out, Todd and I traded photographer stories, moments we capture in the field that can only be appreciated by others who practice the craft. Some are tall tales, some are incredible encounters. Kind of like talking shop, most of these exchanges occur when people are coming and going, are passing through airports, or like right now, traveling at 18 knots in a panga with our bags wrapped in garbage bags to protect them from the salt spray. We yell loudly to each other although we are only half a meter away, competing with the noise from an outboard engine opened up at full throttle.
We arrived at the Jordan, an impressive 185-foot vessel, just as an acoustic bouy was being deployed. So, I took out my video camera and filmed it dropping into the sea. It was great to be staying on a boat again, wrapped in the fashion of the job – a giant reflective orange lifejacket that I am sure had its own story to tell.
After 15 minutes we pulled along side, and were greeted by the crew. Among them was a good friend, Southwest fisheries scientist Robert Pitman. Known to friends and colleagues as “Bob”. He pulled my multiple bags of equipment aboard, and gave me a short tour of the ship. I have heard stories over the years of the epic eastern tropical pacific surveys from Bob and his wife, scientist Lisa Balance. This is my first time on a NOAA ship, and I was overwhelmed initially by its size, facilities and by the history paved on her deck, and display within her hull. These stories I will explore over the coming weeks as well as stories from the Koi Pai.
I spent the first day getting my sea legs again. Although, the ship is the most stable platform I have ever been on, I felt like I should take a day at being an observer myself. I was greeted by Dan, a NOAA officer who took Todd and I though all of the safety procedures on the vessel, and rules of the ship. I walked around the ship in the wet lab, dry lab, and back to “the mess” where meals are served at 7am-8am, 11am-12pm, and 5-6pm. I could barely feel the boat rock, although the sounds and smells remind you, you are at sea.
Over the day, I met with a number of the science team talking about how the big-eyes worked, what kind of data will be collected on their line-transect, and people’s hopes of seeing the illusive vaquita. I felt a buzz in the air, an air of excitement and expectation to be on the ship searching for the most endangered cetacean on the planet.
That night, I spent talking with Bob, Todd, Barb Taylor (the Chief Scientist onboard), Jay Barlow, and Greg Silber. Greg was onboard visiting from the Office of Protected Resources at the Natio
Jay Barlow enters sightings data into a computer running "Wincruz". Photo - Chris Johnson
nal Marine Fisheries headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. Greg did his PhD work on vaquita over 20 years ago with the esteemed Ken Norris, laying the groundwork for many of the researchers working with vaquita today.
I backed up footage shot during the day, charged the batteries, cleaned the equipment, and prepared for what the next day would bring. We heard on the radio that the Vaquita Express (Corsair), and Pancho Villa, encountered vaquita in different areas during the day. There was a palpable sense of relief on the ship. We were all silently afraid vaquita may be disappearing too rapidly to encounter on this survey.
All night, I tossed and turned, sharing a bunk with a crewperson onboard the ship. I was thinking about what it would be like to see a vaquita through the “big-eyes”, what kind of video footage I may get, which has eluded filmmakers and researchers through the years. These directorial dreams dominated my evening. I woke up at 5am the next morning eager to get going.
When I woke at dawn, everyone else was up too and looking through the big-eyes, excited that today’s weather was perfect for sighting vaquita. Everyone wanted to be on watch, to be the first on the ship to see it!
Researcher Cornelia Oedekoven scans the horizon using the "big-eyes". Photo - Chris Johnson
The other day, I had the opportunity to join the corsair, a 21-foot tri-maran sailing out of San Felipe everyday to search for vaquita. Rather than posting visual observers to find the animals – specialists with binoculars scanning the horizon in search of the tiny dorsal fin or blow of the vaquita – researchers on the corsair are increasing their odds of finding the animals by listening for the vocalizations underwater.
Because these animals are so difficult to detect at the surface, some of the world’s leading bioacousticians who specialize in porpoise echolocation and detection are here in town. Bioacousticians are scientists who study the sounds animals produce, or how sound can affect the animals. Here in Mexico, bioacousticians specializing in cetaceans (whale, dolphins and porpoises) are designing research strategies to be implemented by Mexican and US research ships in the northern Sea of Cortez to monitor the vaquita They are hoping to use different devices to monitor sound produced by the animals. The techniques vary for making recordings in the short term of this research expedition, and in the long term over the next ten years.
All toothed whales ‘echolocate’. Echolocating animals emit calls out to the environment, and listen to the echoes of those calls that return from various objects in the environment. They use these echoes to locate, range, and identify objects, during navigation and foraging. Some species also emit high frequency whistles when communicating with each other. Here in the northern gulf, scientists have designed techniques to utilize underwater recording devices called hydrophones to listen for the echolocation clicks made by vaquita, and to determine their location.
The Corsair is the smallest boat in the vaquita research fleet. In recent days, they have detected vaquita vocalizations using their hydrophone array – a 25-meter pair of hydrophones in an oil filled tube dragged behind the boat. It is connected to a computer running a software program called Rainbow Click. Rainbow Click visually displays acoustic detections on a screen and is constantly recording an audio signal from the hydrophones. Designed by Jonathan Gordon and Doug Gillespie of the Sea Mammal Research Unit at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland, it is a tool that I am very familiar with, and have used around the world to search for sperm whales.
By towing an acoustic array behind a boat, a trained user of the software can follow sperm whales for hours, or even days as long as at least one sperm whale in a group keeps ‘clicking’.
All porpoises, including the vaquita, produce rapid bursts of echolocation clicks. Unlike the clear, constant, slow pattern of clicks displayed on Rainbow Click when tracking sperm whales, the information displayed when vaquita are in the area leaves the screen awash with a mess of color, making it far more difficult to determine their location. This is the reason why so many experts are here. They aim to figure out the best method, or combination of methods to use.
Select the image to expand. This is a screenshot of the software program RAINBOW CLICK. It displays Vaquita detection with all other unidentified clicks of “snapping shrimp”. The “shrimp clicks” are broadband with energy up to and above 100kHz. Courtesy of René Swift.
When you are on the sea in the northern gulf, it is like being in an open-air cathedral – silence dominates the ‘topside’ environment. So much so, that when I am out on the panga rolling with the gentle swell, it acts like a giant rocking chair. In the scorching desert heat, there are times I just want to lay down and fall into a deep sleep; the kind you have when everything around you stops and the world falls quiet. However, drop a hydrophone into the water and it’s as if every sound of New York City is being pumped into the water live via the Internet, and combined into rhythmic white noise. Cacophonous clicks from snapping shrimp (or some type of crustacean) are everywhere. Biologists are not sure what exact species is producing such loud sound, but it definitely turns the underwater realm of this seemingly tranquil oasis into a dissonant symphonic crackling orchestra in all directions.
Listen to Audio
Audio of background environmental noise recorded from the acoustic array on the Corsair. Courtesy of René Swift.
The ultimate challenge for the bioacousticians is to design techniques that will filter out nature’s background noise in order to find the world’s smallest cetacean on a regular basis, to monitor their progress over the coming years, and hopefully document population growth, rather than slide towards extinction.
Map of the corsair trackline and Vaquita acoustic detections. Courtesy Rene Swift.
I travelled down to the dock to meet up with the crew of the Corsair, captained by an old friend I have shared many adventures with at sea – Rodrigo Olson. I have sailed with Rodrigo on various parts of the Voyage of the Odyssey expeditions in Papua New Guinea, Western Australia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and the Seychelles. He is originally from Ensenada, Mexico, and if there is one person you want captaining a sailboat, it’s Rodrigo.
Shannon Rankin of NOAA Fisheries – Southwest Fisheries Science Center is leading the bioacoustics field research program on the Corsair, along with researcher Renee Swift of Sea Mammal Research Unit in Scotland. Today, Jay Barlow and Jonathan Gordan decided to go out on the tri-maran to take a look at the array setup, and test a couple of new acoustic components to detect porpoises.
We left at 8:30am. About one kilometer out to sea, René and Jay deployed the acoustic array with a few additions strapped onto the cable. They attached a couple of Tom Akamatsu’s “pods”, live recorders collecting real time data that will add to the information gathered from Rainbow Click.
Rocas Consag. Photo - Chris Johnson
The wind was blowing at about 8-10 knots, a perfect day to sail the Corsair. We sailed around Rocas Consag, and came upon a mass feeding frenzy of dive-bombing boobies, frigates, long-beaked common dolphins and California seal lions.
We rounded Rocas Consag and headed back into San Felipe when the wind dropped, seas smoothed out, and sails flapped without purpose. Although, not good for propelling a sailboat under natural conditions, it became perfect weather for filming. Before we started the engine, I took out the video camera out of my dry-bag and asked Jonathan and Jay some questions about the acoustic challenges in listening for and detecting vaquita.
After settling into the rhythm of San Felipe, adjusting to the heat and pace of this sleepy seaside town, I am spending most of my time with Tom Jefferson and his team, researchers Paula Olson and Tom Kieckhefer. We wake before dawn each morning and are on the water at sunrise, taking advantage of the calmest water. The wind tends to blow up as the day progresses causing a choppy sea surface, significantly reducing our chances of spotting vaquita.
Their job is to try to find the animals, to photograph them and gather imagery to aid scientists and conservation groups in their research and communication efforts both on a local and international level. A lot of people in the northern gulf, do not believe the vaquita even exists, so any images will go a long way to raising its extremely low profile, and hopefully, aiding in the recovery of the species.
Photographing the vaquita is another story altogether. People who work with marine mammals are used to the frustrations of unpredictable weather and the long days and months searching for locations in which animals congregate and feed. Sometimes, as is the case with the vaquita, just spotting an animal when it surfaces to breathe is an enormous challenge in itself. One day the sea may be flat calm, perfect for photographing animals, but you may spend too much time in the wrong spot. Another day, you may be in an area with animals all around, but you cannot see them because the sea whips up into a frenzy that forces you back into port.
However, when the elements come together, and as long as your gear is working (your batteries are charged, you have extra memory cards and you have managed to protect your lenses from the salty spray) you will have the opportunity to interact with animals and get some pictures.
Biologist Tom Jefferson searches for vaquita on the horizon - Chris Johnson
In my case, I brought with me the new Sony EX-3 XDCAM EX video camera. What does this mean? If we are lucky, I can film a vaquita in a high definition (HD) format that can capture a high-resolution image sequence of an animal coming out of the water, and (if I keep my cool and the timing is right) I will try to capture slow motion footage!
An estimated 150 vaquita remain worldwide, all of which are concentrated in an area of approximately 40 square miles in the northern gulf. An area declared a biosphere reserve and vaquita refuge. This is a small space for a small animal. Yet, this does not make them any easier to find, nor helped prevent their demise.
Enforcement boat questions us near Rocas Consag. Photo - Chris Johnson
Tom tells me that our chance of getting a good photograph of the shy vaquita is a challenge. After a week on the water, I think that it may be the marine equivalent to walking on the moon. To say it is a tough task is an understatement. But, if you do not try – if you do not get out on the sea, day after day after day, then it will never be done!
Tom has done his research reviewing scientific papers and examining reports on past vaquita quests. He is here for the month of October, when traditionally the seas flatten out. This gives his team the greatest chance of finding the animals. Although ones chances of winning the lottery may be greater than finding a vaquita, by being here when the weather is right, he has bought himself a thousand tickets, instead of one, which theoretically increases the odds of winning the big prize.
A photo of a vaquita surfacing - Courtesy Tom Jefferson
Tom is working in conjunction with the Mexican Government and scientists from Instituto Nacional de Ecologia in Ensenada (INE), as well as NOAA Southwest fisheries. The NOAA Fisheries Research Vessel David Starr Jordan arrived today, where it will stay for the next two months, its team of international scientists and crew joining in the search.
For another couple of days, Tom is using a panga, a local fishing boat, to spend as much time as possible at sea, drifting with the engine off. Guided by our GPS we drift quietly in areas researchers and fishermen have sighted animals in the past.
Over the coming weeks as I am documenting all of the action, I will be posting “rough cuts” that will all somehow turn into a documentary about the Vaquita, conservation topics in the area and explore the local communities of the northern gulf of california. Let’s go behind the scenes and hear from Tom about his project, and the challenges we are facing in this short video.
Brown booby flying in near Rocas Consag. Photo - Chris Johnson