When I wrote last February, we were in the heart of our season. The work days were long and sleep was a precious commodity. WELL, let me tell you, it's a whole new world from the vantage point of 8 hours of sleep and the best season ever under our belts! Woohoo! 3 years down, 2 to go!
Not that we've been exactly napping around here ... There is a mountain of data to analyze! 55,000 pictures to organize! Presentations to be made at marine science conferences! And, of course, funding to be sought in order to continue our work.
All this data analysis and conference presenting and planning has forced me to take a good look at what we've accomplished and to identify what has and hasn't worked. In case you're new here, or in case you'd like to take a little trip down memory lane with me, here's what has happened over the past 3 years+:
The community wants to keep studying the whales and dolphins with us and is requesting more workshops, educational programs and events. They also want us to keep teaching the kids and to keep bringing tourists. They have started to ask about other communities who have faced similar problems, and how they handled it. And the community emphasizes that women have to be involved, too. I'm over the moon about this! It's really working guys.
In spring and summer of 2015, we were awarded two grants—one from DFWS / SEMARNAT and one from National Geographic—to expand our educational programs and cover some of last winter’s field season expenses. These grants, unfortunately, are not perennial so I'm still working like mad to find funding for next season, and that is why I am still working for free. It's true ... none of the grants I've received have paid me a dime and I am still donating over $20,000 of my own money to the project every year to continue. But thanks to those grants I was able to hire amazing interns in 2016 and apply a substantial amount of educational and scientific energy to Barra de Potosi. We were also able to expand to the schools and communities in Zihuatanejo and la Mahajua. We taught over 1,000 kids at 12 schools last winter, offered dozens of community outreach events and collected over 400 hours of data in 3 months! We also launched a land-based field station at the lighthouse in Playa las Gatas which allowed us to begin to understand how boat traffic affects whale and dolphin behavior and where to focus our educational outreach efforts regarding safe boat practices.
There was a noticeable shift in how members of the local and extended regional community are looking at their environment, talking about it, and taking ownership of it.
For example, in mid-April, 100 fishermen rode their boats out of Zihuatanejo with white flags on their bows and surrounded and documented the commercial tuna fishing boats to protest their presence and continuous, unmonitored overfishing of the region. This protest generated a fair amount of media coverage and the tuna boats left.
A disproportionately high number of kids in our village want to be biologists when they grow up now and when we project videos of marine wildlife onto the wall of the village at night, the events are well attended and you hear kids shouting out the LATIN names of the animals they are seeing and describing their behaviors.
Stories like these are building, and I think we are approaching a tipping point in our local community toward an ethos of marine stewardship and conservation.
So that brings us up to the end of the season. I'll send a newsletter in a couple of weeks with an outline of our plans for next season including some really exciting new connections we have developed in Baja. As big as our progress was in year 3, I'm really excited about our plans and the future for the next 2 seasons!
Thanks so much for following along, for your support and for being a part of it!
Katherina Audley is the founder and director of the Whales of Guerrero Project, an effort to study and protect humpback whales and support community development on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Fifteen years of marine mammal studies have brought her up close to whales, dolphins, and pinnipeds in Alaska,Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii, Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, and New Zealand. Katherina has worked in Bahía de Potosí, Mexico for the past 16 years.