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Episode #3

October 2020

Hi, everybody.  Thanks for being here. And welcome to Ocean Solutions: a NOISE Lab podcast. I'm Dr. Morgan Reed Raven, a biogeochemist and a professor at the university of California, Santa Barbara. In this podcast, we're talking with inspirational individuals who are working on some of the largest issues of our time at the intersection of climate, ocean conservation and human wellbeing.

Last episode, we talked with Dr. Isabel Houghton. Who told us about some miniaturised ocean sensors that can provide live data by satellite about wave and weather conditions in some of the harshest, most remote parts of the planet. Today, we have the opportunity to shift from data science, to community activism, and talk with Juan Carlos Villaseñor Derbez, also called JC, about his work as a field assistant with Communidad y Biodiversidad, also called COBI. I'm particularly excited for us to think about Cobi's approach to   activism. They're working within national legal structures and continent scale ecosystems. But they keep the decision-making and the leadership at the local level.

This is like one bottom up end member of an approach to conservation by non-governmental organizations. And then. Next week, we get to talk to a campaigner from an organization that represents very much the other end member, like a top-down global member funded activism that like lobbies the German delegation to the United nations.

And both of these groups share a lot of the same goals, but I can't wait to compare their approaches and really think about how they can compliment each other, what they can learn from each other and what we can learn by contrasting them. More specifically for today, we get to talk about fishing collectives in Mexico.

Where we plunge to the shallow ocean floor to collect and count sea cucumbers, abalone, and other squishy and delicious things. Which sounds like a pretty fantastic job for anyone who loves being underwater.  Let's do it.


Hi, JC.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:02:37] Hey, how are you doing?

Morgan: [00:02:38] I'm really good. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me today.

 I'm really excited to learn about your past and continuing work with this really remarkable organization communidad y biodiversidad, AKA COBI. So this is an NGO that works with local fishing cooperatives in Mexico to make their own choices about managing fishing resources sustainably, which addresses this really fundamental connection between conservation and social empowerment.

So to get us started. Could you tell us how would you define the central issue or issues that motivates your work and cobi's work more broadly?

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:03:14] Yeah,   there's two main, the main issues at play here. One of them is that because of human development and growth in activities,  there is a lot of over fishing and threats to conservation, right? So that is the main issue. We have up to an extent, some of the solutions of how to go about solving these problems.

But the other problem that arises is how do actually implement these solutions. And I think the way that Cobi, , has addressed this,  is very special in its own way. because they've learned that you have to involve the community in order for solutions to take place. So, for example, if there is a very nice coral reef that you would want to protect, the normal pathway to go about it is to implement a Marine protected area. It's just like a national park, like Yosemite, but in the ocean, the problem with doing that is that you are.  you would be effectively excluding fishers from harvesting the resources within the area.

And wait has traditionally been done has very, very tough that one approach where some government officials let's draw some lines on a map and say, boom, that's the Marine protected area. Nobody's allowed to go in there. Um, COBI has sort of flipped that on its head,  and used fishermen's incentives, and their own desire to have healthier resources, by themselves. So in this opposite scenario, there's fishers that say, Oh, we want to protect this area because it's good for us to have conservation in this area. We're going to go ahead and do it. Even if the government doesn't want to, or doesn't want to be involved.

Morgan: [00:04:46] Got it. So they're able to identify places where they might benefit from having a Marine protected area, not just  from conservation, but also because it meets their needs in a broader way.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:04:57] And it's not only in terms of conservation, it comes to, also in terms of fisheries management, for example, why should you manage a fishery? Well, we know that a well managed Fishery is much more profitable because if there's more fish, you can catch more. And if you can catch more, you can sell more. Right.

so there's a lot of cases where fishers have identified this or understood this and they themselves self-regulate, to have a more sustainable fishery.

Morgan: [00:05:21] So in contrast with maybe that top down approach who is doing this, when you say fishers, who are we talking about?

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:05:28] So it's,  a group of individuals, which we call fishing cooperatives. And the featuring cooperative is simply meaning fishers that decided to come together and essentially cooperate.   and it's a legal, way of doing it in, in Mexico and some of them countries around the world.  and then they self regulate their own fishery.

Yeah. They share profits among themselves. It's essentially a company, but for fishing. and under specific cases, fishing cooperatives can be granted a territorial user rights for fishery or turfs, which is just a parcel of water that they control manage and administer and fish in, and have exclusive access rights to these portions of water.


 Morgan: [00:06:08] So where does Cobi come into ?

 JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:06:10] Cobi comes in essentially to  fulfill this demand for how do we go about conserving things?  fishers are often portrayed as not caring about the environment and just being there to overexplain everything. but I would argue in COBI what arguing the fishers would argue that that is not the case because they know that without fish.

They can't make a living.  fishers want to provide a solution and COBI can help them provide a solution, right? So they reach out to COBI and say, well, our catches are declining. What can we do about it?

And COBI can do many things for them. They can help them set up a Marine reserve. They can help them get a fishery certified us. Sustainable so that they can get a better price in the market. they can also help prepare for the business world in which no we all live in. Um, and yeah, you can also position them better, in Mexican politics and, and fisheries regulation.

Morgan: [00:07:04] Wow. How do they do all of that? Yeah.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:07:07] Uh, well by being great, um, they have, ,

Morgan: [00:07:10] Step one, Be great.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:07:11] yeah, they have an amazing team. That's, you know, a lot of the conservation or fisheries management NGOs are usually comprised of only Marine biologists or Marine ecologists that are trying to do something.  and I think COBI has come up with a very different approach in which they also have on therapy within their team and, economists  a social scientist and yes, of course, biologists, because you are.

Talking about natural resources, um, political economists, political scientists and people who are just very good in their realm of politics. And so by having there's more diverse team. They can dress the needs of  a wider range of projects.

 so the way they've done is they, they are very transparent right? about what the interventions look like. What are the upsides and what are the downsides, and always being very upfront of yes. If you implement the Marine protected area, you might have increased catches. But it might take time for those benefits to accrue, right?

Because at the beginning you are going to have to fish less for a few years, and then you're going to be able to essentially get the fruits of your investments.  the main difference is that once you have community, buy-in, there is really little to no need for enforcement, because if everybody agrees on the rules, you don't really have to receive him. And if everybody understands that those rules are there because it's. In everybody's best interest,  the cost to enforce and to manage, and to make sure that everything is being followed,  go down by a lot, and it also increases the likelihood of the project having success.

And I think that's has been part of the secret sauce that, that has come up with having community buy in is the first and the most important thing.

Morgan: [00:08:49] Okay, so step two, have secret sauce. Got it.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:08:51] Exactly.

Morgan: [00:08:52] we will be taking notes on this. Okay.  So would you say that that would almost be an example of more of a carrot type policy as opposed to a stick type policy?

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:09:03] That's, that's exactly the case. If everybody sees the benefit in it, everybody's going to do it rather than being afraid of the punishment.

Morgan: [00:09:10] That's really cool. Very cool. So can you give us an example of a time when COBI got connected to a community and  had a significant success?

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:09:21] Yeah, I think one of the best examples that they have about something like this is the case of Isla Natividad,  this is a small remote Island in the middle of the Baja, California peninsula, and the Pacific side.  and has a very long story of, harvesting sea, cucumber, abalone, sea urchin. on many fish species and around 2004,  they realized that acknowledges that their production was declining.

Essentially their catches were declining. and they had taken some measures by themselves to try to, help the stocks rebound by fishing less. And by modifying the way they were fishing. Uh, but they were still not quite there yet. And they recognize the need for some additional help.  At the same time, COBI was looking for opportunities to implement community-based Marine research. So it was just the perfect  timing and setting for these two groups to talk to each other.

 through the process of interacting with one another,  the red spiny lobster fishery from the Island, what was also certified by the Marine stewardship council as sustainable.

 and he was actually the first small scale of fishery ever certified in the world, under the sustainability labor by the Marine stewardship council.

 but at the same time,  while they were certified, they implemented the reserves. But in order to make sure that the research we're working in, you can monitor them and evaluate them. So COBI trained a lot of their fishers in scientific diving. And to their surprise,  Fisher, diverse in their, were already great scientific divers.

They just didn't have the certification because they could tell a species chilled with a different name, but the scientific name,  but they could do better than your standard Marine biologists.

 I mean, the, the local  ecological knowledge that this Fisher has had has been such a key factor in, in driving the success because some of his fishers spent six to eight hours underwater every day.  they essentially live there and they know all the fish, all the lobsters, all the invertebrates, they know all the animals that are swimming and creating by

Morgan: [00:11:24] Yeah. Okay. So we're talking about fissures that are underwater, right? So this might not be what a lot of people are originally picturing when they picture fishers, which might be like on a boat. Uh, so what kind of fishing are we talking about here?

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:11:37] Yeah. So for the best, as part of a year and the best part of their income, they are top fishers. They fish for lobster and for finfish, and we are fishing for lobster. You throw your lobster traps of board, said them over the night and then pull them back the next day. But when the lobster fisheries closed or the season is closed, they fish for other species like abalone surgeons or seek you cover.

These are smaller than vertebrate that don't. Really move a lot.  So it's not like you can bait them into a trap. So you actually have to go down and pick them up. You can't because there's really no moving, but you pick them up. so this feature is actually go down with a long host.  that's attached to an air compressor in the surface and to a regulator at the bottom with them. So they constantly breathe compressed air through this house. And this is called the hookah diving method.  and they were this huge, heavy,  led vests to keep them sinking in the bottom.

So they're essentially walking around the bottom, collecting,  the different species that are there. They're harvesting.

Morgan: [00:12:41] Very cool. And so that is something that can be done sustainably

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:12:47] exactly it can be done sustainably in terms of you can pick which organisms you're going to put in your game bag or your, the back that you sent to the sheriff is with your catch. most of the times you can differentiate it between females and males and you might want to leave. The females behind,  and you can also select for specific sizes, right? But you are in a system that is connected.

And even though you can take care of the populations within your turf, the populations are sometimes spanning other turfs and other waters that might not have the same perfect management that you have. That's what, even if you're doing everything right, if not on your neighbor started doing that, right, the entire population can still face the clients and that forces you to do something about it.

Morgan: [00:13:31] So in this particular case, then what did COBI do to help the folks on Isla Natividad   manage that political side .

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:13:40] Yeah. So the first thing that they had to do was convinced or explained to the community that what were the benefits of a Marine reserve and turns out that was actually really easy because they all understood that if you stop or if you reduce the fishing mortality of some resources, that population will have time to rebound.

The slight complication was that there wasn't a legal framework in Mexico that would allow for users to self-impose a Marine protected area. Or to sell, to close the Marine protected area without government recognition. Um, so the bigger undertaking was not in the water or not with the fisheries was with the government.

the fishing commission convincing them that there was a space or a need for this institution, that would allow fishers to self implement and self regulate Marine protected areas.

Morgan: [00:14:30] I imagine that really surprising to a lot of people. When they first heard it, we have a bunch of fishers and they'd like to not fish this valuable fishing turf.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:14:39] and on its face, it seems. Counter-intuitive. But if you think about it, Marine reserves provide many, many benefits more than just rebuilding fisheries. You can also think about them as a savings account, um, that that can sort of over time, average out to be better off. So for example, if you have a bad fishing year, you might have greater populations within your Marine protected area that will help you rebound faster.

Morgan: [00:15:06] And then when you have a bad year or a natural disaster or something like that, you haven't been fishing at capacity for so long, but that's enough to put you over the edge to a bad situation.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:15:16] You have a little bit of leeway around the possible shocks that might come from climate from over fishing from just environmental variation.

Morgan: [00:15:27] Yeah, fascinating. So has this been received then pretty widely across Mexico? Are there a lot of examples of communities that have done something like this?

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:15:37] I would say yes, because as of now, uh, COBI works with, I believe 34 or 35 fishing communities along the coast of Mexico. And. I've honestly lost track of how many community based Marine reserves have been implemented. Um, just because it's been a resource that Fisher realized they had the power to implement and not only COBI, many other NGOs are now promoting the use of this research, which is legally recognized and available as an instrument for, for managing fisheries and conservation.

Morgan: [00:16:06] Are there ongoing projects  that are particularly interesting, that you're excited about in terms of COBI going forward.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:16:12] Yeah, I think COBI has always sort of been pushing the boundaries of what an NGO that focuses on conservation can do. throughout their ample experience, working with these communities, they realize that women played an important, a huge role in this community, but that they were often sort of put aside because they were not the actual fishers.

And even though some communities, actually the women are the ones that go down and catch things. By and large, they were sort of neglected and not part of the picture. And so what they're doing right now is pushing this, this new agenda, but they call gender equity and see where they try to highlight the role of.

Any person that is involved in the fishery. but more specifically bring up the voice of women that have been for the longest time providing such a great,  support. so for example, many of these,  other fisheries or the cooperatives along the Baja, California peninsula, uh, it might be the men who go out at sea to catch things for, you know, three, four hours a day, but then they come back and somebody has to process all that and they have their own processing plants and it's usually.

 women from the community that were in these proceedings, but, you know, essentially  add value to the product because once you were fixed, you just feel like you can sell it for  much more than you want, if it shows up fish full of scales and guts. Right. So the value it is actually coming in from the women's perspective.

Um, so that is one of the big projects that they're they're pushing. yeah. And another project that they're working on is  analyzing the ways in which technology can play a role, in small scale fisheries management and community based management.

So developing apps, developing frameworks, developing sites, developing essentially social platforms for fisheries to talk to one another

Morgan: [00:17:54] Cool. So how many people are COBI right now?

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:17:57] There are a few offices and the NGO was about 15 to 20 people. Um, I think that number has at least doubled right now. Um, and the, the offices are all around Mexico, um, to have different influence in different parts, whether it's in the Gulf of California, the Baja, California peninsula, or that you could have been insula, uh, or even Mexico city to, to go and talk at the Senate, for example,

Morgan: [00:18:22] and so on top of everything else, you've also connected these individuals, these fishers to this larger political   process.

, it seems like all sorts of opportunities get opened up.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:18:33] yeah, it turns out, um, they can also get connected academically or specifically,

so for example, two years ago, I was at the small scale fisheries conference, in Thailand. And I had just arrived from the airport. I had missed a flight and I was like, we're running behind,  do to help the committee,  help set up. . Uh, when I was there, I was turning around the corner and I stumbled upon this person.

It was like, I've seen you before. Where have I seen you before? And it took me a while to realize that I wasn't looking at a professor or a faculty member or another PhD student. It was one of the fishers from the Yucatan peninsula that was there to present sort of like his success story of managing fisheries sustainably in the Mexican Caribbean. so I learned that I was going to be sharing the stage with this awesome fishermen from, from Mexico.

Morgan: [00:19:24] So cool. And he made it all the way to Thailand to talk to a bunch of academics and resource managers about this. That's really incredible.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:19:32] Yeah. And I mean, in a sense, in, in, in my place, I was attending the conference yesterday, share my research, but also to learn from the best and turns out the best where they're the fishers when they are. And they are the ones who know the resources. So that was great.

Morgan: [00:19:46] Absolutely. And everyone has the chance then to learn from their knowledge and get that perspective.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:19:52] Exactly.

Morgan: [00:19:53] That's very cool. So let's talk a little bit about your involvement with COBI specifically, right? So what exactly did you do with them and where were you on this project?

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:20:05] Yeah. Yeah.  that was a really, really fun part of my life.  I was, posted with the LaPaz office. So I was down in South Baja by the Gulf of California. That's where our main office was. And our office of three people was in charge of. Being in touch and communicating,  helping fishers run the Marine reserves, of all the communities in the Bahai, California peninsula.

and so it was great because we got, or I got to visit a bunch of different places that nobody has access to other than fishers themselves, and dive in some of the most pristine and beautiful kelp forests I've ever dove in.

Morgan: [00:20:43] Oh, you got to dive a lot. What was, what was your normal day like at this job?

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:20:49] Okay. There wasn't a normal day. Every day was different. Um, sometimes it was days at the office where you spent. You know, months ahead planning the logistics to go to the field for a month and a half to two months. Um, some other times he was just buying a bunch of gear that we needed to bring to the cooperatives.

Uh, some other days were spent training or transferring knowledge with the fishers,  showing them how to do fish or underwater video transects or fish transects, how to identify species by their scientific name, which again, they already knew how we were just giving them a little, a different nickname, Um, But some of the most fun days where the timeline was actually at sea,  or a field where we would do four to six times a day,  and just spend more time floating around that actually own land, uh, with, with this group of scientifically trained fishers.

Morgan: [00:21:41] Fantastic. Where are you on tanks or are you doing the hookah thing when

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:21:45] We were, we were all on tanks, um, because of the, the protocol called for tanks. So you have a fixed amount of time and a fixed speed at which you can move and, and so that you can run freely around the kelp forest. so we're all, let's go with tanks.

Morgan: [00:22:01] got it. Okay. So what exactly is the field work that you're doing then? What do you do when you go on your water?

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:22:07] Yeah. And so, like I said before that the, once you implement this Marine protected areas, you need to make sure that they are actually working, right. If they're working, that's great. It's a success. And you can report that if they're not, you need to pivot, adjust and do something about it to make it work.

And the way to know that if they are working or not is to. Essentially track the amount of species that you see. So species richness, the number of organisms. So each individual species. So how many blue fish do you see and how many red fish do you see?

Morgan: [00:22:35] I think it's one fish, red fish, two fish, blue fish. I got that wrong. I already know

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:22:41] how we start training. And then there's 400 fish and. You go nuts.

Morgan: [00:22:45] Perfect.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:22:47] and so what we do is it's a very standardized protocol where you go into water and over a fixed transect, you count all the fish that you can see you write down the species, the number and the size.  and we would do that both within the Marine protected areas, but also in other places that were at some point considered.

 as worthy of protection, but they didn't end up being protected. And these provide you with a control site,  something that will capture all the environmental variation, all the same exposure as your memory, like the barrier,  except for the fact that it's not protected. And so by taking a look, look at the trend of each site through time or the difference in their trends, you can tell whether the MPA that you've implemented is working or not.

Morgan: [00:23:31] Fantastic. So you can actually demonstrate then that by implementing this we've really increased. Increased the number of red fish, which are our favorite fish.  but maybe the blue fish aren't responding as well as the red fish. And so maybe we need to think about their food source, which has maybe different things like that.


JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:23:49] Exactly. And at the same time, remember that the government wasn't very keen on fishers to self implement these Marine protected areas. And they said, well, if you're going to do that, you need to show me that they are working. Right. And so you can have evidence-based conservation and evidence based decision making.

Morgan: [00:24:04] well, and it seems like worst case scenario. You have some data. To know what's going on there and how serious a problem might be, or if you wanted to come back to it in some amount of time and see if it's gotten better or worse, you would at least know.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:24:18] Exactly. And so, for example, during 2015, there was this event called the warm water blob where literally a block of warm water moved up the coast from Baja into California.  And it had many different effects, but one of the most known ones is I'd caused massive mortality of many sessile invertebrates.

So small craters that don't move around and live in the bottom.

Morgan: [00:24:42] These are our  sea cucumbers and abalone. And all the things that you harvest.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:24:46] origin. Yeah. I also think that you don't heart is like a sea stars were starfish, sea anemones, and all these. Things that are essentially fixed to the bottom and can move very little. Right?

Morgan: [00:24:58] They can't outrun the blob.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:25:00] Exactly. Even though the blood wasn't running very fast, you literally couldn't escape it while fish put fish can swim away and go to a better place.

And so during  that time, when fishery catches declined. The government said, Oh, if you catch the wind down, it's because you've, you must have overexploited your system. And fish actually had the data to say, no, see here, even within my Marine reserve that has no fishing, biomass went down.

It is because of this totally external factor that caused the mortality. It wasn't us. And so having all this data has helped them prove that their management is effective.

 Morgan: [00:25:38] I would love to hear a little bit more about. Your time working with COBI and your experience diving with them. It sounds like a real mix of people were doing the diving itself, both COBI employees and also local fishers. Right.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:25:54] Um, yeah, usually with the team, we would be comprised of eight to 10 divers, uh, that we would split into two boats. And, you know, three of those divers would be asked to coming from the COBI La Paz office and the rest of the divers would be fishers from the community that volunteered their time,  to monitor the resources instead of.

 fishing for a week or two, which is about the time that he would take us to cover all the sampling, for each community.

Morgan: [00:26:20] Yeah, well, it's something new to do that. You're still using your expertise and helping your business, but I'm

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:26:27] I knew what seemed like that. I mean, remember this is a fishing copper down there profits, um, to an extent, and it was seen as, as a service to the community. So it wasn't like you were missing on your job, uh, or,  playing around, you were helping in one of the many ways that you could help the fishing cooperative.

Morgan: [00:26:45] Absolutely. So a lot of your time then was doing the sort of coordination and logistics, communicating with these cooperatives, finding good times and  materials to do these transects and that kind of work.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:26:58] Yup. And at the same time, you know, after we came back from the field, collecting all the data that we had collected into these underwater writing sheets, we had to put everything into a computer and feed it to our databases so that we could have the time, the time series of all this data,  making sure that all the data were standardized, clean and held together.

What's also a very fun part of my job.

Morgan: [00:27:18] Yeah, absolutely.  this data management piece seems really important because if you get all of this data, you put in this incredible investment to get it, but what happens next?

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:27:30] Yeah, I agree. Uh, it's, it's very interesting because you can collect all the data you want, but if you don't analyze it, it's not really valuable, right.

 and so when I, when I came to the U S as a grad student, as a master's student,  at the Brown school, I wanted to keep collaborating and working with COBI. And one of the things we came up with was to develop this standardized way of evaluating Marine protected areas.  Every community sort of looked at different indicators. even within offices in COBI, the Caribbean looked at one thing, whereas the Gulf of California looked at another thing.  so there was a need for standardization.

We came up with this idea of developing a standardized app in which you could upload all your data,  and it would run all the calculations automatically for you using this high-end statistical models.

So you didn't have to do all that.

 Um, and you're a year after they come back from the field and gather the data. They plug in the data into the app to see what the latest. Indicator score is how we been bumped up into the green color, or we don't into the yellow color

 it also produces a standardized report that they can turn in to the, government agencies that request evidence of EPA is working.

Morgan: [00:28:43] So you said you were in your master's program and this is after you had been a field assistant for COBI and you retained this collaboration with them. Once you started your masters.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:28:54] Yeah. I essentially, they don't want to let go because I found that their mission and their way of doing things was,  just very compatible with how I thought about going in terms of Marine conservation .

Morgan: [00:29:05] Okay. With our remaining time, I want to talk a little bit more about you and your background and how you got into this really fascinating work. Where did you grow up? How did you first get connected to the ocean or excited about ocean related or conservation related issues?

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:29:23] Um, so I grew up not in the West coast, as I've been talking about. I grew up in Cancun, which is in the Mexican Caribbean, in the Yucatan peninsula. and. Even though I was born in Mexico city. I was raised in Cancun and ever since I can remember, I've always felt attracted to the ocean. And so for my 11 year old birthday, my parents finally caved and got me, my scuba diving certification as a birthday present. Um, and ever since then, I just loved it. And when I was 16, I knew that I wanted to do something Marine biology related. Um, but I also like other sciences and I liked math and I liked. Chemistry and I like geology, uh, and I stumbled upon this thing called oceanography and it turns out Mexico has one of the best oceanography schools in the world and one of the oldest ones.

And so I decided that for undergrad, I wanted to go to Ensenada, which is in the Baja California peninsula and study, oceanography for my undergrad. And while I was there,  I ended up doing a lot of field work because I already knew how to do, and I got connected with just the right people. And it's so happened that in one of the expeditions that we were looking at weather. sea lions and seals fed locally or remotely. I was going to be helping,  other with a friend, do the fish surveys. So people  told us, Hey, there's a group of fishers that are going to join you. They are scientific diaries, and they're going to be helping you guys.

And that was one of the best experiences because it made me realize how little I knew,  in terms of scientific diving and then just. Species diversity in general, relative to how much they already knew. And during a surface interval, when in one of the dives, one of the fishers that I connected with, found out that I was about to graduate and enter the horrible job market. And he said, well, you know, COBI, the NGO that trained us and that got us here might actually have an opening. And it seems like you would like that, sort of thing. Um, so. Essentially networking through fishers is what got me to work with fishers.  in this NGO.

Morgan: [00:31:28] Nice. So these human connections just keep coming up again and again, and again.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:31:32] Yeah. Especially when you don't think, when you never think this is going to happen and it just around the corner and you never know.

Morgan: [00:31:40] Yeah. And so it was right after that, then that you got to go and do these transects and field work. And how long total did you work for COBI?

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:31:48] I wasn't there for as long as I would have liked. Um, because I, had applied also for grad school while I was applying for jobs. And it turned out that I, got a very nice fellowship opportunity with the Latin American fisheries fellowship program. And so I was only with COBI for about six or eight months.

and even though I couldn't work. With them in their office. I still like their mission. I still do.

Morgan: [00:32:09] And it sounds like you've stayed connected with them in some capacity ever since.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:32:13] Yeah, exactly. Yeah. We have a very many different projects. I've made a few more apps that look into, for example, calculating the cost of implementing a Marine reserve in terms of all the gear that you have to buy a, all the training and everything down to the liters of fuel that you need to do monitoring season.

 and  we have done community surveys, starting to look at what the impact of different sharks, whether they are environmental sharks, political shocks, economic shocks, uh, might, might look like. So we, we still have some, some close collaborations.

Morgan: [00:32:42] Okay. So if you were to name one least favorite part of working for an NGO, like COBI, and that can be big and serious or small and trivial, um, what do you think is the least awesome part?

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:32:55] The least favorite part was always the last day of field work. The first day of field work on the second day of field work. They're all great. It's all super fun. But after a long time sleeping on top of lobster traps becomes a little bit old,

Morgan: [00:33:09] Wait, sleeping on top of lobster traps.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:33:11] Yeah. So in some of the locations, they're very remote locations that we would camp in a little Island or more like a glorified sandbar.

Your only option was to sleep on the floor with your sleeping bag, or at least get a few lumps or traps on sleep on the lobster traps.

Morgan: [00:33:28] It does not sound very comfortable. I have to

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:33:30] It's not super comfortable, but it's also not terrible because they are a little bit springy. So you get some, some back support. But like I said, when, you know, it's the last day of field work and you're 24 hours away from a hot shower and a real bed, that is the only difficult part.

The rest of it. I have no regrets or no complaints about all.

Morgan: [00:33:51] Well, that's a pretty good least favorite part. So what's the best part then?

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:33:58] I think it's, it's hard to tell what the best part is, but I would say that the connections overall, whether it's connecting to people that you wouldn't have otherwise connected with, um, or also connecting to these places and these communities that nobody really has access to. There's no. Tourism development in, in many of these regions and you have access to these pristine kelp forests and Rocky reef and coral reefs, but no dive shop is ever going to take you to no fishing charters ever going to take you to.

Um, so how did the opportunity to connect with these places? And with these people, I think was, was one of the greatest parts.

Morgan: [00:34:34] That's really cool. And I imagine if you're an outside researcher trying to parachute into a place like this and study it, it would be incredibly difficult to get the information and the relationships you actually needed to get the right answer, to figure out what would work to even get the data that was the right.

Question to ask. Um, it seems like the structure would change everything, make that a lot more effective.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:34:56] Yeah, because I think that the key part is that it's not COBI going into the community and asking questions and taking it away. It's COBI coming to a community because they are invited and then jointly coming up with solutions, data monitoring protocols, and most importantly, leaving behind the data, right.

Fishers are fishers own their data, just like a privacy agreement. It's your data. You collected it. It's yours. , and having the opportunity to do this sort of makes it a much  better transaction than the usual model of scientists coming to a community, asking a bunch of questions and then leaving and living, not from behind.

Morgan: [00:35:37] And they're thinking, this sounds amazing. I would love to work for a grassroots. Bottom-up NGO doing community conservation work. What advice would you have for them?

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:35:48] I think, I mean, based on how my path turned out, networking and making connections and not missing out on any opportunities, whether it is you might be running into a Fisher or a conference. That can happen. You might be running into them at the field that can also happen just being open and talking to people and reaching out to too many of these organizations.

Because more often than not, they might be understaffed and willing to take anybody who wants to do something. And if projects go right, you can always find the right funding and make it happen.

Morgan: [00:36:25] Well, thank you so much for that.  I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me this morning.  This has been really informative and really fun for me.

JuanCarlos_VillasenorDerbez: [00:36:33] No, thank you for having me and giving me the opportunity to share these experiences and talk about the fisheries in Mexico. It's been great.


Thank you all so much for listening. I want to make sure I give special thanks to Eleanor Durand for her help in pulling this together and to Dust on the Radio for our theme song, one way trip to Mars. Next week, we're going to be talking with our counterpart in ocean conservation by NGO, Arlo Hemphill, senior campaigner with Greenpeace USA.

Specifically, we'll learn about deep sea mining, a hugely important issue right now in international environmental law that you've probably never heard of.   Is this sustainable? Spoiler?

No. But the irony is the demand for batteries and green tech is what's creating the demand for deep sea mining in the first place. It's complicated and we'll dig in next week. See you then.

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