Tales From the Field, Back to Baja: Three weeks in the Gulf of California.

 

Although MLML has some great resources on campus, students also occasionally have opportunities to get out of central California and do some work in other areas. Some of you may remember my post about my time in the Gulf of California last year with MLML’s “Baja class” where I studied herbivorous fishes. Well, I was given the opportunity to go back to Baja earlier this year to build upon the study that I began previously. In mid-June, I was part of a research team with two other MLML students and our dive safety officer / research faculty, Dr. Diana Steller, to help out on some projects through UC – Santa Cruz and to work on the herbivore project.

Because we needed to transport some large supplies, including scuba tanks and the field air compressor (to fill up the scuba tanks), we needed to drive down and back again this year. Although it sounds tough, the drive is only 3-4 days, and it’s definitely part of the adventure!

Just after sunset at our desert campsite in Cataviña, Baja California.

Just after sunset at our desert campsite in Cataviña, Baja California.

Driving isn’t too bad when you get to camp at sites such as this at Playa Requesón! Photo by Heather Fulton-Bennett

Driving isn’t too bad when you get to camp at sites such as this at Playa Requesón! Photo by Heather Fulton-Bennett

We made it safely to the island (and we even made great time, too!) and were ready to begin our work, which included studies of hawksbill turtles and their habitat, as well as studies of herbivorous fishes in the area. In order to study herbivorous fishes for this project, we first needed to conduct fish surveys to quantify fishes at multiple sites around our base at El Pardito. These surveys were part of a joint effort to survey the benthic habitats as well, and were therefore conducted in small groups, with one person surveying fish, one measuring algae, and another taking photographs of the rocky bottom.

Although the goal of fish surveys is to count and size fishes, they require a lot of underwater writing!

Although the goal of fish surveys is to count and size fishes, they require a lot of underwater writing!

This year, in addition to fish and benthic surveys, we also placed a camera underwater to see what types of fishes we could capture on film when divers weren’t present. We’re still analyzing the data, but here’s a sneak peak of some visitors to our cameras!

An azure parrotfish, Scarus compressus, swimming by the camera.  Note the rockin’ algal mustache.

An azure parrotfish, Scarus compressus, swimming by the camera. Note the rockin’ algal mustache.

It wasn’t just herbivores that swam by, as demonstrated by this barred pargo (snapper), Hoplopagrus guentherii. (But notice the bluechin parrotfish, Scarus ghobban, in the background?)

It wasn’t just herbivores that swam by, as demonstrated by this barred pargo (snapper), Hoplopagrus guentherii. (But notice the bluechin parrotfish, Scarus ghobban, in the background?)

Although we travel to these remote places to do work, and we tend to work hard in order to cram as much science into our limited time, some events are too special to pass up taking a few minutes off to experience. On this trip, that happened to be a large school of small fishes that passed by a few hundred feet offshore from the island. As this was within swimming distance, I took the opportunity to snorkel out and see it firsthand.

Although it looks almost like a cloud or shadow from far away…

Although it looks almost like a cloud or shadow from far away…

…when you get closer, you can see that it’s actually made of thousands of small fish!

…when you get closer, you can see that it’s actually made of thousands of small fish!

Supposedly, yellowtail jacks and even a marlin were spotted darting in and out of this giant ball of fish, but I was the only visitor at the time when I was out there. After this short break, it was back to work until we were greeted by another beautiful sunset over the Baja peninsula. Before long, it was time to head back home to California, but not after we had collected plenty of great data and made numerous amazing memories from our short time in Baja.

Photograph by Heather Fulton-Bennett

Photograph by Heather Fulton-Bennett

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This entry was posted in Research: Fresh from the Field, Scott Miller and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Tales From the Field, Back to Baja: Three weeks in the Gulf of California.

  1. Carolyn says:

    I love it Scott. How did that ad for ‘Wayside Gardens’ get in there? I order from them. Love you Grandma

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