I began working with COBI as a field assistant in 2011 before progressing to Field Coordinator in 2012. Due to recent internal restructuring I am currently Head of Marine Reserve Program, Mesoamerican Reef, although my job description remains the same. I am currently responsible for all activities related to our fish refuge (no take zone) and fish spawning aggregation site programs. Both programs involve long periods of fieldwork and extensive community involvement in which we train fishers to conduct underwater biological surveys to assess coral reef health and fish populations. I entered COBI just as the fish refuge program was reaching its implementation stage, and was responsible for collecting the final coordinates of the no take zones before the proposals were submitted to the government. As a SCUBA instructor, I trained the first group of fishers to dive and complete biological surveys, on a personal level I take great pride in seeing these fishers becoming highly competent in collecting biological data and also getting a deeper understanding of their fish stocks and the impact of fishing. This year (2015) we will collect the third year of data for the sites. Many sites are showing impressive biological recovery, especially for commercial fish and lobster. As I have gained more experience in COBI I have become more involved in proposal writing and fund raising, although the majority of my time is still dedicated to fieldwork and relations with the fishers and fishing cooperatives. The recent reorganization of COBI along national lines is creating exciting new opportunities for collaboration with colleagues from our offices in Baja California and Sonora.
On a personal note, the fishing spawning aggregation project is now bearing fruit. The first ever protection of a fish spawning aggregation site under the new fish refuge legal tool in September 2013 in the Sian Ka´an Biosphere Reserve was a big highlight, and even more so when our monitoring program during the grouper reproductive season of 2014 showed that we had not only protected the spawning site of the endangered Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus) which we knew was there, but also one of the Yellowfin Grouper (Mycteroperca venenosa) which not even the fishers knew about. And just this month (February 2015) we trained our first team of divers in Punta Allen, another fishing village in Sian Ka’an, and were able to document a spawning site with over 1,000 Nassau Grouper. A spectacular site and of upmost importance for conservation.