Fisheries Research in Utila

It’s been an action-packed month since my last post. I’ve been on more lionfish hunts, finished reviewing surveys for a fisheries research project with my colleague, and I’m 2 days shy of completing my divemaster certification!

I’ve also developed a deeper understanding of the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Center (WSORC) and how some of the logistics and behind-the-scenes programming and community outreach are run. Like many NGOs, the organization reduced its size and has had limited resources due to COVID. Seeing the amount of work going into keeping it all running has been quite inspiring.

Starting on Monday, August 2nd, I will be working with a new group of interns at WSORC. The new interns will be completing the internship program I had the opportunity to participate in during June. I will be assisting both on land and in water to help teach the new interns about the marine ecosystem of Utila including how to identify all the fish, corals, and reef-associated organisms. They will also participate in lionfish hunts to help remove this invasive species, coral nursery and restoration efforts, and much more.

While I will be assisting in the teaching portions of the internship, I will also be focused on the research project I am working on with my colleague, a marine biologist at WSORC. So far we have finalized our surveys, 3 in total, to begin a socio-economic characterization of the small-scale fishing communities on the island. Each survey serves a different purpose in understanding the community, two will be asked to each fisherman we interview and the third will be targeted to a leader in each community.

This project is critical because, to our knowledge, most socio-economic information about the fishing communities has never been recorded or analyzed for the island. I believe that we need information on the people and their communities before fishing policies can be accurately adapted to become more sustainable and enforceable. The needs of the fishermen cannot be overlooked. To begin this survey project, we first had to find out who the fishermen are and where exactly all they were on the island. Through conversations with the community, we found that some of our boat captains have close communication with the fishermen. In the coming week or so, one of our captains has agreed to introduce us to some fishermen that he has been buying fish for years. This will hopefully allow us to see the transaction and gear, and begin developing a relationship with the fishermen. We have several other contacts who are willing to connect us to the fishing communities. Through an introduction by trusted community members, we are hoping to get more accurate results and that the fishermen will be more willing to speak with us.

Last but not least, I have to give a shout out to all the women in the diving industry. Saturday, July 17th, was PADI women’s dive day and having the opportunity to spend the day diving, surrounded by women from across the world who share a love of the ocean and marine conservation was an incredible experience!

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