Although we still have lots of filming ahead of us for this project, this marks the final filming expedition of this year. This story has so many complex facets that we have many more trips to Mexico and China planned for the future. As for now, we have to review everything we have captured thus far.
During the last leg of our trip in Mexico, Benda Razo and Joey Leibrecht focused on their own assignment to make more headway with documenting the story of the vaquita.
Brenda explains: “We began our excursion in a panga, slapping choppy waters with the acoustic monitoring team in San Felipe to assist with the deployment of the last round of C-PODS for the year. Some of the members of this team belong to the extremely inspiring Valverde family. Javier is an artisanal fisherman and father of two sons, Alan and Paco. Alan is a fisherman like his father and Paco is a marine biologist with CONANP. Alan has a son, Alexis who is currently attending Universidad Autonoma of Baja California working in the totoaba hatchery program. Javier and Alan have been actively involved in the acoustic monitoring program for years. As you can see, this family has embraced the fluctuation of environmental changes and are working together to find solutions. They really set an example for the rest of us.
After an extremely rough and uncomfortable panga ride we were happy to rest in the calm seats of our vehicle as we traveled to the seaport town of Ensenada, located 70 miles south of San Diego. We met again with Dr. Conal True from the Universidad Autonoma of Baja California to learn more about the Marine Science Faculty totoaba hatchery program. Our first encounter with Dr. True was in Puertecitos, Baja California last October for the release of young totoaba back into the Upper Gulf of California. Dr. True was joined by his marine science team, university students and the local community to assist in this conservation effort. Dr. True explained that the purpose of the totoaba hatchery program is to restock the wild population and eventually develop a sport fishing industry for totoaba.
In addition to meeting Dr. True, we finally were able to meet the son of one of our beloved characters of Valverde fishermen family Alexis, who also works at the hatchery. Alexis explained the procedures involved in breeding totoaba and their hopeful outlook on the survival of totoaba in the future. We also met their celebrity totoaba Jenny, who is the biggest and strongest female. She was quite impressive!”
While Brenda and Joey were on land in Ensenada, I was on board the Ocean Star wrapping up the final week of a two month survey in search of vaquita. Unfortunately, the month of November did not offer the most suitable viewing conditions for sighting vaquita. The last week in particular resulted in lots of white caps and swell which persuaded us to anchor in San Felipe Bay and hold out for even the smallest window of opportunity to survey. I will say that not all was lost during the final week as there were several confirmed vaquita sightings and I was able to capture many excited reactions. Although it would have been wonderful to have witnessed such a rare sighting myself, watching the response to someone sighting a vaquita was still quite exhilarating. The results of the survey were grim due to limited sightings, but still hopeful as the amount of fishing activity in the Vaquita Refuge has ceased compared to this time last year. The other hopeful aspect is that there are indeed surviving vaquita still in the gulf. Click here to learn the results of the vaquita survey: Expedition Internacional Vaquita Marina 2015
Following the Ocean Star, Brenda, Joey, and myself reconvened and met up with the vessel Martin Sheen operated by Captain Oona and crew from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on their campaign Operation Milagro. Click here to view Operation Milagro trailer. They began this campaign earlier this year to join the vaquita conservation effort and developed a partnership with government of Mexico to help the Navy patrol the waters for any illegal fishing activity. They were fortunate enough to not only have a sighting, but to also capture footage of vaquita this past April. The significance of this sighting was enormous as there had not been a sighting in the last two years. During our time aboard the Martin Sheen, Captain Oona and crew so generously offered their wonderful hospitality and shared insight to their experience on this crucial mission trying to save the vaquita from extinction. Partnerships were formed between our organizations and we shall reinforce our efforts by supporting each other. It’s these type of bonds that will allow all of us to have a greater impact in assuring the survival of the vaquita and other species on this planet.
Now that this round of filming has been completed, it is time to reflect. We have been imbedded in this issue and the communities affected by this issue for most of the latter part of 2015. This issue is so convoluted to the point that we have to pull back and reassess what we and everyone thought prior. Although to many, this issue may appear black and white, there are many pockets of grey. The vaquita is at the center of it all and its survival is affecting humans and wildlife combined. This is an obvious tale of creatures trying to coexist. Mankind has been the main character of this story since the inception of our species. From where I stand, man does not have to be the antagonist.
Tags: gill net ban, martin sheen, operation milagro, sea shepherd conservation society, Souls of the Vermilion Sea, totoaba swim bladder, Vaquita, vaquita conservation