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Octavio Aburto
San Diego, USA

FEATURED iLCP FELLOW FOR SEPTEMBER 2013

Octavio Aburto has photographed marine ecosystems in Mexican coastal waters since 1994. His photographs have been used to illustrate outreach publications about the conservation of marine habitats, and include: Marine Protected Areas – GreenPeace; Monitoring MPAs – University of Arizona and Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Commercially important groupers from the Gulf of California – Pronatura Noroeste A.C.

He obtained his Marine Biology degree from the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur in 1995, and was a professor at the same University from 1997 to 2003. In 1998, he became the director of the Reef Fauna Project, and has been the Mexican principal researcher for several scientific and fishery policies grants, founded by Mexican and international organizations. Octavio has finished his PhD at the Center of Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. His research has focused on commercially exploited reef fish and their fisheries in the Gulf of California, as well as the management of marine protected areas in the region. He has coordinated major workshop regarding fisheries regulations in the Gulf of California, involving fishing communities from different parts of Mexico, the National Institute of Fisheries, State Governments, and the Mexican Environmental Agency.

Currently, he leads a research group composed of undergraduate and graduate students that investigates the importance of mangroves for the regional fisheries. He also is part of a regional project that deals with the conservation of marine top predators and spawning aggregations. Additionally, he leads a program that creates photo identification of large marine predators inside Mexican Marine Protected Areas.

***

iLCP: What conservation issue are you most concerned with right now and why?

Octavio Aburto (OA): I believe that my photographic projects can benefit coastal communities that depend on the rich (but declining) marine resources, by inspiring them to establish and co-manage local marine reserves that seek to balance ecosystem health with sustainable use practices (fishing, ecotourism, etc) that maintain their livelihoods. Marine reserves are areas where all the extractive activities are ban or prohibited, in order to allow the recovery of reefs and marine communities.

Although marine reserves are not the only answer to prevent the decline of marine species and ecosystems, there is proof that they are a key part of the solution with ample scientific information regarding their benefits worldwide. However, less than 1% of the world's oceans are completely protected from extractive activities, even though current global marine conservation targets aim at protecting 10-30% of the ocean. This is a reflection, at least in part, of our communication failure with the public and with decision-makers, to explain that marine ecosystems can recover through sound conservation and management policies, and that the recovery can provide sound economic benefits. For example, government authorities often do not know that fish size, abundance, and biomass increase an average of 450% inside marine reserves just a few years after protection is established. Similarly, it is not widely understood that significant increases in the biomass of commercial species may occur within 3-5 years in a declared marine reserve, total catch can also increase in unprotected areas near the reserve's boundaries

iLCP: What is your best scary/funny/inspiring story from the field?

OA: Since I submitted my picture “David and Goliath” to the Nat Geo photo contest 2012 (http://bit.ly/UkL1w3), I have been getting a lot of messages in my inbox and phone calls asking me "is this photo real?" And "how did you congregate all these fish in one place to take the photo?" My response to these questions has been: “of course it is real”.

Fish, as is the case with many other animals, have certain behaviors that they perform when they reproduce. For example, when monarch butterflies mate they travel hundreds of thousands of kilometers, crossing from Canada down through Mexico to form unbelievable congregations. Sea turtles also have unique reproduction behavior -some travel the entire Pacific just to return to the beaches where they originally hatched. These behaviors are well known within terrestrial animals, but very few people know that the same happens underwater.

Even after I explain this unique behavior and the spectacular spawning aggregations of fish that occur naturally, some people don't believe this image is real. I had to upload a video (http://bit.ly/Xc1G6F) to show that the moment was true, and it has already 560,000 views. I think that this story and photograph opened a great opportunity to explain the importance of these fish spawning aggregations, in particular the one that can be seen at Cabo Pulmo marine park (http://bit.ly/T0PWXc).

iLCP: What do you get out of being a member of the iLCP Fellowship?

OA: iLCP is helping me raising public, private, and government awareness about the current degraded status of most coastal ecosystems in the Gulf of California and Mexico. Also, it’s helping me raise awareness of the socioeconomic benefits of protecting marine areas. All my projects from Cabo Pulmo have been through the affiliation that I have with iLCP. My images have been shared through iLCP media contacts to talk about Cabo Pulmo , and in the same way, I took the opportunity to write blogs on the iLCP website and participate in several activities with other iLCP’s partners and photographers:

http://www.ilcp.com/projects/baja-cabo-pulmo-alliance

http://www.ilcp.com/buzz/national-geographic-en-espanol-cabo-pulmo-la-perla-del-golfo-de-california

iLCP: What makes a great Conservation Photographer?

OA: I believe that conservation photography is about teamwork, about having a spirit of collaboration, and being willing to share your knowledge with other fellows.  Conservation problems are so huge that they can’t be solved by individual efforts. I am a committed scientist that uses photography to inspire policy makers, stakeholders, and members of coastal communities to protect ecosystems. I am an optimistic person that believes in the power of photography to change the behavior of people. I found that photography can transmit the passion that I have for scientific knowledge, and explain natural history thousands of times better than a graph on a chalkboard. In my opinion, the first characteristics of a great conservation photographer are optimism and passion. Also, one needs to work directly with communities. I am working hard as well to connect science and photography, and encouraging organizations and private groups to support more photography projects.

iLCP: Where in the world you haven't photographed yet is at the top of your wish list, and why?

OA: I have a fascination with large schools of fish, especially the ones that are formed by sardines or small pelagic fish. Several predators including birds, sharks, marlins, and even whales, attack these aggregations, and when this happens, you can see one of the most remarkable events in the underwater world: “bait balls”.

There are many areas in the world where sardines form migratory groups. The most famous of these places is South Africa, where you can see millions of individual sardines, using a current of cold-water heading north from the Agulhas Bank up to Mozambique. These numbers of sardine create a feeding frenzy along the coastline, where thousands of dolphins (mostly the Common Dolphin, but also the Bottlenose Dolphin) are largely responsible for rounding up the sardines into bait balls. These bait balls can be 10–20 meters in diameter and extend to a depth of 10 meters.  Sharks, tunas, marlins, and birds such as the Cape Gannet, join the dolphins to take advantage of the opportunity. It’s an unbelievable spectacle that I hope I can see with my own eyes one day.

 

 

  • Cabo Pulmo Multimedia en Espanol
    Video
  • Baja All-Exclusive
    Video
  • Cabo Pulmo Multimedia
    Video

Cabo Pulmo Multimedia en Espanol

by iLCP Multimedia, Jenny Nichols


¿Qué harías si tu casa estuviera en peligro?Obviamente, la protegerías.

¡Haz algo! ¡Tú puedes ayudar a salvar el arrecife de Cabo Pulmo! Visita la página web de !Cabo Pulmo Vivo¡ y añade tu firma a la petición, contribuye con un donativo o trabaja como voluntario. 

Amigos para la Conservación de Cabo Pulmo, Niparaja, Pronatura Noroeste, Wildcoast, CEMDA, DAN, Los Cabos CoastKeeper, Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. !Cabo Pulmo Vivo¡

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Baja All-Exclusive

by Carmina Valiente


A short from the documentary "Baja All-Exclusive" that shows the other face of tourism development in Baja California Sur, México.

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Cabo Pulmo Multimedia

by iLCP Multimedia, Jenny Nichols


What would you do if your home was threatened?Naturally, you'd protect it.

Stand up with the community of Cabo Pulmo!

The final decision has not yet been made. You can help save the reef at Cabo Pulmo. The alliance “Cabo Pulmo Vivo” brings some of the most important regional organizations, academic institutions, and iLCP Photographers to stewardship the reef: Amigos para la Conservación de Cabo Pulmo, Niparaja, Pronatura Noroeste, Wildcoast, CEMDA, DAN, Los Cabos CoastKeeper, Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Go to !Cabo Pulmo Vivo¡ to sign a petition, make a contribution, or volunteer.

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Chesapeake Bay RAVE
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Octavio Aburto has photographed marine ecosystems in Mexican coastal waters since 1994
  • iLCP Photographer Since 2009
  • Specialties
    • Wildlife
    • Science
    • Underwater
    • Photojournalism
    • Multimedia
    • Natural History
    • Marine Environments
  • Shoot Locations
    • North America
    • South America
  • Octavio's Sites
  • Octavio's Latest Tweets