Conservation & Science

Collaboration for conservation in Baja California

In the coastal habitats of Baja California, life thrives on the edge of desert sands and sapphire seas. Our newest special exhibition, ¡Viva Baja! Life on the Edge, opened on March 19, featuring the incredible creatures and habitats of this narrow Mexican peninsula.

But we’re not just exhibiting the splendors of Baja’s rugged 800-mile coastline. We’re also taking a lead role, working with colleagues here and in Mexico, to safeguard it.

Close ties with Mexican researchers

parrot fish (1 of 1)
A male azure parrotfish hangs with tangs, sturgeons and a golden grouper off Cabo Pulmo. Photo by @underwaterpat

The Aquarium works with several universities in Baja—including El Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas (CICIMAR) and Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada (CICESE)—to study key marine species, such as white sharks and and mahi-mahi (also known as dorado).

“There’s been this growth in how we approach other countries and also meet our needs as an aquarium,” says John O’Sullivan, the Aquarium’s director of collections

We’ve been tagging juvenile white sharks in Southern California since 2002, documenting seasonal migrations of these young fish between coastal waters in the United States and those on Baja’s Pacific coast.

Hope for vaquitas

Vaquitas are porpoises found only in a small area in the northern Gulf of California, bordering Baja and the Mexican mainland. They’re elusive and small, with dark markings around their eyes and lips. They’re also the world’s rarest marine mammal; only around 60 remain.

Populations of elephant seals and gray whales, which once faced extinction, have recovered thanks to transnational cooperation. There’s hope for vaquitas, too. With support from a coalition of U.S. aquariums, including ours, the Mexican government recently passed a ban on gillnet fishing in the vaquitas’ range. It’s a bold and encouraging move to protect the dwindling population of these amazing marine mammals.

“It’s been wonderful to see so much effort by Mexico in recent years to improve the sustainability of its fisheries,” says Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly, director of the Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. “They’re working really hard to address some challenging conservation issues, including new efforts to protect endangered vaquitas with strengthened vessel satellite tracking and enforcement.”

Smart fishing for conservation

After decades of overfishing, conservation groups and the Mexican government worked to protect the Cabo Pulmo reef. Photo by @underwaterpat

The Mexican government and fishing industry are making changes to protect sea turtles and other species through new fishing gear technologies. “We’re hopeful that all of their efforts will show strong conservation benefits in the years ahead,” Jenn says.

The Aquarium is also in talks with Mexican officials about the conservation of Pacific bluefin tuna, whose numbers have declined by 96 percent in recent decades.

“We continue to work with Mexico because we all have a shared interest in the recovery of Pacific bluefin tuna,” says Josh Madeira, the Aquarium’s federal policy manager. “We can only solve the problem if all parties in the Pacific can work together.”

With our research colleagues at Stanford University, we’ve deployed more than 1,250 tags on Pacific bluefin tuna and recorded more than 107,000 days of data about their migrations, between their Eastern Pacific feeding grounds and their spawning grounds off Japan.

To support sustainable Mexican fisheries, purchase Seafood Watch “Best Choices” caught in Mexico, like sea scallops and spiny lobster.

A connected ocean

Careful stewardship of Baja’s habitats has a direct impact on some of the magnificent wildlife for which Monterey is famous. Many of the marine animals that migrate along the California Current—including gray whales, brown pelicans and elephant seals—pass through Monterey Bay on their way to abundant feasting grounds and protected coastal lagoons of Baja California.

Ocean ecosystems are resilient and can recover if given a chance. Working together, we can protect the wildlife and habitats of California—on both sides of the border.

For a little aqua-Zen, check out this video filmed by @underwaterpat at Cabo Pulmo reef, in the protected waters off Baja’s southern tip.

Learn more about Conservation & Science at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

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