• 13 Apr

    Isla Marias Predator Diversity and Abundance

    1st Expedition Report

    Erendira Aceves-Bueno, Jennifer Caselle, James Ketchum, Abel Trejo, Darcy Bradley, Jono Wilson

    Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, UC Santa Barbara
    Marine Science Institute, UC Santa Barbara
    Pelagios- Kakunjá A.C.
    Prozona – Grupo Cleofas
    The Nature Conservancy

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    Isla Marias Predator Diversity and Abundance Report PDF | 1.6MB


    The Islas Marias Biosphere Reserve is home to a large number of endemic and threatened species and was declared a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site in 2010. The presence of a prison on one of the islands (Maria Madre) since 1905 has limited the access to citizens and scientists to the archipelago for decades, which has possibly favored its protection but has left the area largely understudied.

    The limited amount of information on the archipelago’s marine life is problematic given its importance in marine conservation. Existing evidence indicates that the islands play an important role in the life history and conservation of northeastern Pacific fauna. However, these islands are still influenced by strong levels of resource use and pollution in the neighboring areas. These conditions make the Islas Marias archipelago a unique region to study local ecological dynamics, as well as a priority for marine conservation efforts in the Mexican Pacific.

    Given the relevance of the archipelago, it is important to support the efforts of Mexican institutions in creating a robust body of knowledge that can help in the development of strong conservation initiatives. With this goal in mind, current research projects are advancing our understanding of the local coral reef biology of the area. However, little to no current scientific studies exist that analyze the role of the archipelago in the ecology and conservation of marine megafauna and apex predators of the region. In particular, little is known about the local diversity and abundance of elasmobranchs. The Biosphere Reserve’s management plan mentions only one study – Robertson and Allen (2002) who provide a list of the species found in the area. The list includes 21 shark species and 10 ray species, including endangered whale sharks (Rhincodon typus).

    Analyzing the diversity, local abundance, residence time, and migratory patterns of top predators is an important first step in understanding the ecological role of the archipelago, as well as the efficacy of the marine park in protecting these threatened species. Furthermore, assessing elasmobranch abundance inside the protected area – particularly in the area adjacent to the well protected waters of Maria Madre – can provide a baseline to assess the depletion of sharks throughout the region.

    This project aims to provide the first comprehensive analysis of predator abundance, diversity and movement in the area, with a particular focus on elasmobranch species. In a collaborative effort, scientists from UC Santa Barbara, Pelagios- Kakunjá A.C. and Prozona- Grupo Cleofas performed a trip to Isla Maria Cleofas to initiate the project. Here we present the preliminary results of our first expedition to the archipelago.


    Our project aims to establish a baseline of predator diversity and abundance in the Islas Marias Archipelago, with a focus on elasmobranch species. The first phase of the project assessed the feasibility of examining long-term spatial and temporal patterns in elasmobranch movement and habitat utilization at Islas Marias. Specifically, our research focused on:

    1. Assessment of the relative abundance of predators, with particular emphasis on elasmobranchs, using baited remote video systems (BRUVS) in Isla Maria Cleofas.
    2. Assessment of the diversity of predators, with particular emphasis on elasmobranchs, using BRUVS in Isla Maria Cleofas.
    3. A preliminary analysis of spatial dynamics of elasmobranch populations utilizing acoustic and satellite transmitters in the archipelago.

    Performed Activities

    An initial relative abundance and diversity of predators was assessed using baited remote underwater video systems (BRUVS). BRUVS surveys are a standard tool for monitoring large bodied, potentially cautious reef fish including sharks. They are non-invasive and repeatable and collect data on the relative abundance and distribution of the marine faunal community, particularly for motile fauna.

    A BRUVS consists of GoPro Hero cameras – one camera for a standard system, two cameras for a stereo system – mounted on a metal frame. BRUVS are baited with 1 kg of mackerel or other oily fish, cut into small pieces and contained within a mesh bait canister to allow a bait plume to form (Fig. 1). The bait canister is positioned so that it appears in the video frame. BRUVS are lowered to the reef floor from the boat using a surface line; a buoy attached to the surface line marks the position of the BRUVS for retrieval (Fig. 2). BRUVS were deployed for approximately 60 minutes (not including deployment and retrieval time); all BRUVS were set at depths between 5-100 m (most <40 m) during daylight hours (06:00 h – 18:00 h) (Figs. 3a & b). Simultaneous BRUVS surveys were set with a distance of approximately 700m between surveys around the entire perimeter of Isla Cleofas (Fig. 4).

    We used a traditional hook and line fishing gear, called “simplera” or set lines to capture elasmobranchs around the perimeter of Islas Marias (Figs. 5a & b). The simplera consists of a fixed main line anchored up to 1000 m deep. The line is attached to a floating hook and line system that allows the shark to move when captured and reduces any negative impacts due to fishing. Captured sharks were brought to the side of the boat to obtain tissue samples and to place an acoustic or satellite tag (Fig. 6).

    Two dives were performed to place two acoustic receivers in Cerro Pelón and La Mona, Islas Cleofas. We also tried to recover a previously placed receiver in La Mona, but it was unsuccessful. These receivers are used to shark, manta and other pelagic fish movements, connectivity and spatial utilization in the Mexican Pacific.

    Preliminary Results


    • We deployed 30 BRUVS and recorded approximately 36 hours of footage. – We observed one nurse shark and two rays (diamond rays). Compared to other areas where we have placed BRUVS, these preliminary results indicate low predator density.
    • Visibility was low, limiting the effectiveness of the BRUVS for reef fish abundance.
    • A second effort under better visibility conditions is necessary to produce robust results.
    • Reef fishes were spatially quite variable. Some sites had high abundance, and some had very low abundance. This is to be expected and we will attempt to correlate these patterns with habitat.
    • The BRUVS allowed us to make an assessment of habitat (bottom) type at all sites. We observed a mixture of sand and rock. We did not observe much living coral.

    Shark Tagging:

    • 4 simpleras were set at different depths and were left active 24 hrs during the 5 days of the trip. The simpleras were constantly monitored (Fig. 7).
    • We captured one Dusky shark (Carcharhinus obscurus) and placed an acoustic coded transmitter behind its dorsal fin (Table 1 and Fig. 7).
    • We took tissue samples for genetics and trophic analysis of the captured shark.
    • Two acoustic receivers were placed.
    • The receiver we tried to recovered was not found. It was possibly dragged by the current.
    • Our low elasmobranch catch per unit of effort reveals a low density of sharks in the area. Although further analyses are necessary, this could be a sign of overfishing in Isla Cleofas.

    Table 1. Data of the captured Dusky Shark Carcharhinus obscurus

    Specie Date Time Latitude Longitude Sex TL FL (cm) PL (cm) Serial number ID
    C. obscurus 28/mar/2018 06:48 21.312525 -106.290651 M 270 225 214 1266754 14664

    Deployment of Acoustic Receivers:

    • 2 new acoustic receivers were placed; one in the islet La Mona and another one in el Cerro Pelón (in this last acoustic station we also deployed a Hobo) (Fig. 8 & 9).
    • We couldn’t recover 2 old acoustic receivers, they were placed in an expedition to the Islas Marías Archipelago in 2010. One of these receivers is in San Juanico Island —Island that we couldn’t go, due the lack of permit — and the other one we couldn’t find it in islet La Mona (It may be lost due the length of time (almost 8 years), plus current and other factors that may have weakened the mooring).
    Figure 1. Preparation on the BRUVs. Jennifer Caselle places the bait to attract predators to the camera.
    Figure 1. Preparation on the BRUVs. Jennifer Caselle places the bait to attract predators to the camera.
    Figure 2. Deployment of a BRUV.
    Figure 2. Deployment of a BRUV.
    Figure 3a. Deployment of a BRUV. Data on the location and time of the deployment is
    Figure 3a. Deployment of a BRUV. Data on the location and time of the deployment is
    Fig. 3b. Recovery of the BRUV. All BRUVs were left recording for approximately 1hr.
    Fig. 3b. Recovery of the BRUV. All BRUVs were left recording for approximately 1hr.
    Figure 4. MAP of BRUV deployments around Isla Cleofas.
    Figure 4. MAP of BRUV deployments around Isla Cleofas.
    Figure 5a. Schematic representation of the “simplera” used to capture sharks in the surroundings of Isla Cleofas.
    Figure 5a. Schematic representation of the “simplera” used to capture sharks in the surroundings of Isla Cleofas.
    Figure 5b. Pedro Romero and Abel Trejo building a simplera.
    Figure 5b. Pedro Romero and Abel Trejo building a simplera.
    Figure 6. Placement of an acoustic tag on a Dusky shark (Carcharhinus obscurus).
    Figure 6. Placement of an acoustic tag on a Dusky shark (Carcharhinus obscurus).
    Figure 7. Map of placing of the “simpleras” and the captured shark. Green spots are “simplera” locations; red X means the location where we captured and tagged the shark.
    Figure 7. Map of placing of the “simpleras” and the captured shark. Green spots are “simplera” locations; red X means the location where we captured and tagged the shark.
    Fig 8. Map of the array of acoustic receivers deployed by Pelagios Kakunjá in the Mexican Pacific. Green spots are active acoustic stations.
    Fig 8. Map of the array of acoustic receivers deployed by Pelagios Kakunjá in the Mexican Pacific. Green spots are active acoustic stations.
    Fig 9. Map of the array of acoustic receivers deployed in Islas Marías Archipelago. Green spots are active acoustic stations.
    Fig 9. Map of the array of acoustic receivers deployed in Islas Marías Archipelago. Green spots are active acoustic stations.


    Erendira Aceves-Bueno, PhD

    Erendira Aceves-Bueno, PhD
    Project Coordinator

    I am a staff researcher at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at UC Santa Barbara. I am broadly interested in developing management tools that can help solve and prevent over-exploitation in marine ecosystems. My research seeks to understand the social and ecological consequences of different spatial management tools, such as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), to inform policy-making. I apply novel methodologies by combining tactics from diverse disciplines, including ecology, economics and anthropology. In Islas Marias, I am currently coordinating a collaborative effort to understand the role of this MPA in marine megafauna and apex predator conservation.

    Jennifer Caselle, PhD

    Jennifer Caselle, PhD
    Lead Scientist

    I am a Research Biologist at the Marine Science Institute at UC Santa Barbara. My research is broadly focused on marine conservation and reef ecology. I currently work in both coral reef and kelp forest ecosystems studying community dynamics, recruitment and larval dispersal and movement patterns of fishes. I also manage a large-scale field- based monitoring program of kelp forests in the California current ecosystem with goals of assessing long-term changes due to climate and anthropogenic impacts.

    James T. Ketchum, PhD

    James T. Ketchum, PhD
    Lead Scientist

    I have studied sharks for the last 15 years of my career, focusing particularly on the ecology of whale sharks in the Gulf of California and the movement of hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos Islands. Currently I study the behavior of many species in the Mexican Pacific and the Eastern Tropical Pacific. I am a founder of Migramar focused on research on marine migratory species, as well as co-founder and president of Pelagios-Kakunjá, A.C.

    Abel Trejo Ramirez, MS

    Abel Trejo Ramirez, MS
    Staff Scientist

    I have participated in several shark fisheries research projects in the Mexican Pacific. I have also performed research on captive sharks for the Guadalajara Zoo aquarium. I am currently collaborating with Pelagios-Kakunjá in shark surveys, as well as acoustic and satellite tagging of sharks in Cabo Pulmo National Park. I hold a Masters in Science degree in marine resources management from “Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas (CICIMAR)”, where I developed a project on determining La Paz bay as a nursery ground for the brioche shark Rhizoprionodon longurio.

    Pedro Romero

    Jennifer Caselle, PhD
    Lead Scientist

    Pedro Romero
    Field Technician

    Pedro is a fisherman from Lopez Mateos, Baja California Sur. For many years, his livelihood came from shark fishing. Motivated by the development of sustainable fisheries in his hometown, he has recently collaborated with local conservation NGOs in a diversity of projects. Recently he joined Pelagios-Kakunjá where he works as a boat captain and aids on shark tagging efforts. His fishing experience was key in our shark capture efforts.

  • 24 Jan

    New Ship in Town

    by Neil Farrell
    Originally appeared in the January 18, 2018 issue of Bay News

    Morro Bay Harbor has a new famous visiting vessel, and one that plans an extended stay in port.

    The for-hire research and excursion vessel, Maria Cleofas, arrived in the harbor early last week and plans to spend the winter here before sailing again to the Sea of Cortez to continue a research mission seeking to save the most endangered whale in the world, the Vaquitas porpoise.

    Built in 1968 by Martinolich ship builders of Tacoma, Wash., Maria Cleofas was originally a commercial fishing crabber, plying the waters of the Bering Sea in the Opelio crab fishery.

    She fished, along with her sister ship the Northwestern, which has gained fame on the TV show “Deadliest Catch,” from 1968-2000.

    The ship was bought out by the National Marine Fisheries Service or NMFS, in a buy-back program to cull the crab fishing fleet. Fishermen in that buy-back were offered as much as $5 million for their boats and permits.

    After sitting idle for several years, Maria Cleofas was purchased in 2004, and was completely remodeled, becoming a charter boat running out of Mexico from 2005-07.

    When the economy tanked in 2007, the fortunes of her charter business also sank and the ship was placed in dry dock in Ensenada, where she sat until she was donated to a non-profit research organization, Grupo Cleofas, established in 2003 to “form a cultural bridge between the US and Mexico’s scientific and educational communities” and specifically study an island group in Mexico known as the “Tres Marias.”

    Tres Marias includes a Mexican federal island prison, in operation since 1905, and so its waters had been off limits for decades. Grupo Cleofas was granted permission to enter the restricted waters for research. Grupo Cleofas (see: has worked with NOAA, Scripps Oceanographic Institute, and UCSB from the U.S., and the University of Guadalajara and University of Mexico, among other groups.

    She’s now deeply into the research on the Vaquitas Marinas (“little cows” in Spanish). The boat worked from last Oct. 1 to Nov. 15 with NOAA marine mammal scientists on board and coordinated the rescue efforts with the U.S. Navy Dolphin Team, the Mexican Navy, and scientists from all over the U.S., Denmark, and New Zealand.

    Vaquitas are the smallest dolphins in the world and also the most in danger of extinction.

    According to its website, the Maria Cleofas is 131-feet long, and 33-feet at the beam. She can carry 55,000 gallons of fuel and has a range of some 12,000 miles. She can make 3,000 gallons of fresh water every day and sports twin Mitsubishi 1,140 horsepower diesel engines.

    She has six deluxe staterooms with bathrooms, a large galley that seats 14, a plush theater and beer on tap.

    Her 5-blade propellers measure 84-inches across and she drafts some 14 feet. Her top speed is 10 knots. There’s a 5-ton hydraulic hoist on the back deck to launch PWCs, rafts and more.

    Whether one is studying endangered porpoises or just want to sail to Fiji to go surfing, the Maria Cleofas can take you anywhere in the world. See: for more on the ship.

  • 05 Nov

    Vaquita CPR…Thoughts…

    The following is an email sent to Dr. Barbara Taylor of NOAA by Grupo Cleofas Director Greg Alker the morning of November 11, 2017 regarding vaquita rescue efforts.


    Last night Jonas called me to tell me the good news and I was on the moon…as he imparted the details of the capture and that the animal was being transported to shore I was reminiscing about all the preparation, planning, meetings, discussions, logistics, but most of all the hearts of the people involved in this project. I transported myself back to last October when I received the call from you saying that there may be a rescue attempt and that you were considering using the Maria Cleofas. I remembered how honored I was having been considered as a support vessel and purposed myself from that moment to give my best effort towards preparations. As the time finally approached to leave Vallarta (September 29) and we made our final preparations to depart I prayed with the crew for a safe crossing to San Felipe, protection for all aboard the Maria Cleofas, and success for our efforts.

    When we arrived and your team came aboard I was amazed at the camaraderie and  unity of purpose amongst your team. Then on October 11th at the meeting in San Felipe, to see that multi-national group assembled  in that room all for the same purpose was truly awe inspiring…each person standing up giving name and role they played reminded me of a very complex machine whose gears were the people…each having his or her intricate role in the project. At that time I forgot about everything else, world events, political preference, even my own personal issues evaporated in the mist of the task at hand. The Governor and Secretary both stated that history would be made here…and I believe it truly will be!!

    Early this morning I received a call from Jonas, as I do every morning, but I could tell in his voice that there was a problem and he went on to tell me that the animal had died during the night. As I stood in the pre dawn darkness I was unable to process for a couple of seconds and immediately started thinking of you and your team your feelings and this is what I will take away from this experience:

    That when a group of individuals get together, united in purpose, notwithstanding race, nationality, or political preference, they can achieve success, because I believe success manifests itself in the the simple fact that they have united in spirit and executed a plan to the best of their abilities. The outcome of our efforts, which obviously is the desired result as per plan, is not entirely in our hands and our our pride needs  be tempered with the knowledge of that fact. This may seem lofty, but the fact remains that you did everything possible and I believe that the worldwide recognition of this group united to save a species can and will send waves of motivation to whom it may concern… Maybe the Mexican Government will fortify the Vaquita Refuge navigation zone, maybe the US Government will crackdown on illegal transport of totoaba bladders, maybe philanthropists on both sides of the border will finance alternative economic sources in the form of fish farms and other types of employment…and maybe the world will realize that this could have been an exercise to see how a group of multi national individuals could save a species…that someday may be our own human race.

    Call me an optimistic fool, but I believe Vaquita has a chance to recover on its own in the wild IF proper measures are taken….let’s hope that happens!!

    Saludos to everyone aboard… are all heroes in my book!

    un abrazo fuerte!

    Greg Alker

  • 19 Oct

    Scientists Rescue First Vaquita Porpoise, Making Conservation History

    Vaquita Porpoise Catch and Release

    Vaquita Porpoise Rescued as Part of VaquitaCPR Conservation Project, Then Released

    VaquitaCPR Demonstrating Success in Locating Endangered
    Vaquita Porpoises as Field Operations Continue

    SAN FELIPE, BAJA CALIFORNIA – Scientists with the VaquitaCPR conservation project and Mexico’s Secretary of the Environment Rafael Pacchiano announced today they succeeded in locating and rescuing a highly endangered vaquita porpoise yesterday, but in an abundance of caution the vaquita, which was a calf, was released. Experts say the calf was being closely monitored by marine mammal veterinarians and showed signs of stress, leading to its release.

    “The successful rescue made conservation history and demonstrates that the goal of VaquitaCPR is feasible,” said Secretary Pacchiano. “No one has ever captured and cared for a vaquita porpoise, even for a brief period of time. This is an exciting moment and as a result, I am confident we can indeed save the vaquita marina from extinction.

    Experts had planned extensively for the scenario that unfolded on Wednesday and every precaution was taken to safeguard the health of the vaquita calf, which was estimated to be about six months old.

    “While we were disappointed we could not keep the vaquita in human care, we have demonstrated that we are able to locate and capture a vaquita,” said Dr. Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, a senior scientist with SEMARNAT, CIRVA and VaquitaCPR Program Director. “We also succeeded in transporting one and conducting health evaluations that are part of our protocols safeguarding the animals’ health.”

    Scientists returned the vaquita calf to the same spot in the Gulf of California where it was originally located and where other vaquitas were observed. Before releasing the vaquita, various tissue samples were taken which scientists will analyze and share with colleagues at other research institutions like the Frozen Zoo in San Diego, California which will conduct genetic sequencing.

    The precedent-setting rescue comes as the bold conservation plan led by the Mexican government (SEMARNAT) to save the endangered vaquita porpoise from extinction enters its second week of field operations. During the first three days, scientists spotted several vaquitas using visual search methods and acoustic monitoring. Vaquitas were repeatedly located by the VaquitaCPR ‘find’ team.

    The vaquita porpoise, also known as the ‘panda of the sea,’ is the most endangered marine mammal in the world. Latest estimates by scientists who have been monitoring the vaquita for decades show there are fewer than 30 vaquitas left in the wild. The vaquita only lives in the upper Gulf of California.

    Secretary Pacchiano has visited the VaquitaCPR facilities in San Felipe several times and accompanied scientists during a day of field operations on the Sea of Cortez. “The individuals involved in this unprecedented conservation project are the best in their respective fields,” said Secretary Pacchiano. “I’ve personally witnessed their dedication and incredible expertise. We’re all committed to saving the vaquita porpoise and this is the team who can do it.”

    The project, which has been recommended by the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), involves locating, rescuing and then temporarily relocating the vaquitas to an ocean sanctuary off the coast of San Felipe. The explicit goal of CPR is to return the vaquitas to their natural habitat once the primary threat to their survival has been eliminated. Experts from all over the globe, including Mexico, the United States, Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are all working together on VaquitaCPR.

    VaquitaCPR field operations, including efforts to locate and bring vaquitas into temporary sea pens, began on October 12 and are expected to continue for several weeks.

    Windy conditions prevented VaquitaCPR field operations from taking place at sea for three days. When there are sustained winds of more than about eight knots, conditions on the water are too choppy for scientists to visually locate vaquitas. It also could risk the safety of vaquitas during the capture operation.

    “We’ve unfortunately been at the mercy of the weather and were in the position of ‘waiting on the wind’ for several days,” said Dr. Cynthia Smith, VaquitaCRP Program Manager. “However, the time hasn’t been wasted, as there has been a tremendous amount of productive discussion at all hours of the day as we continue to refine the process of rescuing the animals. Now that we’re back on the water and conditions are better, the entire team is optimistic and working together seamlessly to support the mission.”

    In an unprecedented move in April of 2015 that demonstrated Mexico’s commitment to conservation, President Peña Nieto announced a two-year gillnet ban throughout the vaquitas’ range, compensated fishermen and related industries for their loss of income, and enhanced multi-agency enforcement of the ban led by the Mexican Navy.

    In June of 2017, the ban on gillnet fishing was made permanent. The government also launched an extensive survey of the vaquita population using an approach that included both visual monitoring and advanced techniques that use sound to locate the animals. All told, the Mexican government has committed more than $100 million in an effort to protect the vaquita and support the local fishing community.

    A crucial part of CPR is the acoustic monitoring system that will help to locate the remaining vaquitas. This monitoring has been supported since 2012 by WWF and operated by the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change of Mexico (INECC) to help estimate the vaquita’s population, and will continue during the CPR operations. WWF will also continue supporting the retrieval of lost or abandoned “ghost” nets, many of them illegal, which drift aimlessly and continue to entangle and kill vaquitas and other marine species. Both the acoustic monitoring and the net retrieval are conducted with the help and experience of local fishermen.

    VaquitaCPR is led by Mexico’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT). The National Marine Mammal Foundation, Chicago Zoological Society and the Marine Mammal Center are primary partners in this extraordinary conservation effort.

    VaquitaCPR operates as a private and public partnership, relying on both private donors and government funds. VaquitaCPR has many key collaborators including the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and groups like the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Baja Aqua Farms, and Museo de la Ballena.

    As part of VaquitaCPR, large floating sea pens will be anchored off the coast of San Felipe, where veterinarians and animal care experts will carefully monitor the health of any vaquitas that are successfully rescued. The sea pens have been designed and built by Baja Aqua Farms, a fish farm operation based in Ensenada.

    The Museo de la Ballena’s mission is to promote the knowledge, study and conservation of cetaceans. Since the museum initiated a conservation operation last year, its vessel has succeeded in retrieving more than 900,000 linear feet of ‘ghost’ and illegal fishing nets. The museum is providing key logistical support for the VaquitaCPR team.

    In order to make the Gulf safe for the vaquita in the future, experts agree it’s important to prevent illegal fishing of the also-endangered totoaba fish and to support alternative economies for the fishing community.

    VaquitaCPR has been adopted by Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT) on the recommendation of their expert advisory group, the Comité Internacional Para La Recuperación De La Vaquita (CIRVA).

     # # #

    Steve Walker,

    VaquitaCPR is an international conservation program led by SEMARNAT in coordination with the National Marine Mammal Foundation, The Marine Mammal Center, and the Chicago Zoological Society. Key collaborators in Mexico include Instituto Nacional de Ecología and Climate Change (INECC), Asociación Mexicana de Hábitats para la Interacción y Protección de Mamíferos Marinos (AMHMAR), Museo de la Ballena, and Baja Aqua Farms. United States collaborators include Duke University and the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contributing technical support. World Wildlife Fund is contributing with acoustic monitoring and the retrieval of lost or abandoned “ghost” nets from vaquita habitat. European collaborators include Dolfinarium Harderwijk, Aarhus University, and Fjord&Baelt. Additional support and expertise has been offered from Dolphin Quest, SeaWorld, and the Vancouver Aquarium. VaquitaCPR operates as a private and public partnership, relying on both individual donors and government grants. VaquitaCPR has received generous financial support from the Mexican government, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Global Wildlife Conservation, Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums, Africam, International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association, Waitt Foundation, Disney Conservation Fund, YAQU PACHA, and the Firedoll Foundation. For information about the plan, visit

    To support the rescue effort, learn more about the vaquita and for information about VaquitaCPR, visit

  • 12 Jun

    DiCaprio and Slim Foundations Make Agreement with Mexico to Save Vaquita Porpoise

    President Pena Nieto, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho and Barbara Taylor meet in Mexico City

    On June 7 an agreement was made between the President of Mexico, Mexican agencies responsible for vaquita conservation, the DiCaprio Foundation, the Slim Foundation and several NGOs to work together to save vaquitas (click here for the complete news story).

    The agreement converts the temporary gillnet ban to a permanent ban, but details remain to be worked out. For example, as yet there is no prohibition against possessing or manufacturing gillnets. Society of Marine Mammalogy Board members Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho and Barbara Taylor participated in the meeting at the President’s residence in Mexico City and believe the agreement with these powerful foundations could be a big benefit at a desperate time for the species. Plans to bring as many vaquitas as possible into captive care as quickly as possible, as recommended by the recovery team in CIRVA 9, have been fully funded, and the team facilitating this, VaquitaCPR, plans to attempt vaquita capture in October.

  • 30 Sep

    Expedition 8/29-9/4/2013

    The expedition scheduled for the end of August was multifaceted and logistically VERY complicated. There were 4 groups involved, each with a slightly different objective.

    Group 1: Scripps Institute came back down to deploy the remaining Manta satellite tag which had been repaired and was ready to go. The Scripps group was to be comprised of Dr. Exequiel Ezcurra (Director of UC-Mexus), Dr. Luis FueyoMc Donald (Commisioner of CONANP…Natural Protected Areas in Mexico), Dr. Octavio Aburto-Oropeza ( Research Scientist for Scripps Institute) and Josh Stewart (PHD Undergrad Sudent at Scripps Institute). Unfortunately last minute complications prohibited Drs. Fueyo and Ezcurra from travelling.

    Group 2: Grupo Cleofas was comprised of Greg Alker (Director of Grupo Cleofas) and Nicholas Alker (Photographer) whose mission was to provide logistic support for all groups involved and photograph activities both on land and in the water.

    Group 3: GOPRO was comprised of GOPRO CEO Nicholas Woodman, and six other employees in the company with various technical, promotional and support roles. The majority of these employees had been with the company since its inception and were long time friends of Mr. Woodman. Their mission was to complete an interview with Anderson Cooper of 60 Minutes, which had been started at the corporate offices in San Francisco, but the producers wanted to capture the GOPRO team surfing and just having fun as the concept of the waterproof camera had evolved from a “surf” oriented beginning. The idea was to accompany the Scripps team to Cleofas Island to hunt for the Giant Manta and hopefully tag one on camera with Anderson Cooper in the water. Nicholas Woodman was very generous and donated the funds for the vessel for the Scripps and Cleofas teams to go on the expedition.

    Group 4: 60 Minutes arrived in Puerto Vallarta on Thursday, August 29th and was comprised of Joyce Geshundheit (Producer), David Schneider, (Producer), Dustin Eddo (Sound Tech), John DeTessario (Cameraman), and Chris Albert (Cameraman). Unfortunately, due to the nerve gas situation in Syria, Anderson Coopers’ (60 Minutes Interviewer) arrival planned for Friday PM was postponed until Saturday PM. As stated their mission was to complete the GOPRO interview on location as well as film the Manta tagging process.

    All groups met at a private residence in Punta Mita for dinner to get organized for the days ahead, plans were solidified and we retired for the evening. Since Friday was a day mainly dedicated to preparation for the trip to Cleofas Island. Camera gear was checked and the drone to fly the GOPRO camera was tested. Chris Albert (60 Minutes) took out his still camera for a test in its Ikelite water housing only to have the o ring fail and destroy the camera. Josh Stewart and Octavio Aburto checked all their dive and tagging gear and we readied our provisions (for two days) for an early AM departure from the St. Regis Hotel. On Saturday, August 31 2013 we transferred all the gear into the 3 vessels and departed around 5AM. We arrived at Cleofas Island approximately 8AM and immediately off loaded the camera crew which, with some difficulty, got to shore and set up the video camera in a good location. The GOPRO team were wearing waterproof microphones and were recorded while surfing. Octavio and Josh dove a nearby reef looking for Mantas, but none were found. Greg and Nick Alker hiked up an arroyo on the island, encountering a variety of bird and reptiles, which were photographed for identification at a later date. The day went well and the 60 Minutes crew decided to return to Punta Mita for the arrival of Andersen Cooper and were to return the following (Sunday) morning. Unfortunately, there were some mechanical issues that prohibited that vessel from returning and by the time another vessel was hired it was too late to make it out in time to dive. We returned, at approximately 6PM and the GOPRO interview was done on land at a private residence. It was unfortunate that we did not encounter the Mantas at the island, but we were not discouraged and planned to go out on Tuesday, September 3, 2013. Grupo Cleofas was unable to attend the Tuesday tagging expedition, but we did fund it. The team encountered a group of Mantas again on the east part of the bay, but again the tag tether broke upon deployment. We notified Wildlife Computers (the manufacturer) who were very apologetic and responded by giving us 2 new tags as well as repairing the broken one. This was a $10,000 “gift” although actually was just/fair compensation for our lost time and effort. Grupo Cleofas returned home on the 4th of September, while Josh and Octavio stayed for meetings until the 6th.

    Even though Mantas were not tagged on this trip, strategic alliances were either strengthened or newly formed between Scripps, GOPRO, 60 Minutes Producers (who are now aware of the Manta and Tres Marias Projects), Punta Mita Expeditions, and Grupo Cleofas. At present we are engaged in discussions of leasing the Royal Pelagic for further expeditions beginning in November.

    Much thanks and appreciation to Drs. Exequiel Ezcurra and Octavio Aburto for coordinating the permits. Also, to SEGOB, SEMARNAT, and CONANP our deepest thanks and appreciation for allowing access to the Tres Marias and Mariettas Islands.

    By grupocleofas Uncategorized
  • 15 Jul

    Grupo Cleofas Update – July 15, 2013

    On July 7, 2013 a team of Marine Biologists from Scripps Institute of Oceanography from La Jolla, California and Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from La Paz, Baja California (hereafter CMBC) travelled to Punta de Mita, Nayarit, Mexico. The team had two main goals: 1) to tag 2 Giant Oceanic Manta Rays (Manta birosfris) with satellite tracking tags manufactured by Wildlife Computers of Redmond Washington. The MiniPAT-247A tags attached to the Mantas are designed to stay on the animals for 6 months recording daily water temperature, latitude and longitude, and depth to which the animals dive. The buoyant tags release at the end of the 6 month deployment and once on the surface the data is uploaded to a satellite at which time the scientists are able to download the data for analysis.

    On July 7th the teams arrived in Puerto Vallarta and on July 8th the Scripps team began searching for the Mantas around the Mariettas Islands while the CMBC team performed reef research and biomass studies around the islands. Neither team encountered the Mantas that day, however fisherman reported a congregation around “Chimo” on the east end of Bahia Banderas. It is important to note that the local fisherman are getting involved and cooperating by reporting congregations of Mantas to Sebastian Melani of Punta Mita Expeditions.

    The following day the team went out and encountered a group of Mantas at the reported location and successfully tagged a Manta with a wingspan of approximately 16ft. The tagging was filmed using GOPRO cameras and a digital still camera operated by Scripps scientist and world renowned photographer Octavio Aburto-Oropeza. Later that day an attempt was made to deploy the second tag, however there was a malfunction in the attachment hardware, so the second tag was NOT deployed.

    On Wednesday, the 10th of July, both teams gathered at Casa Puesta del Sol, home of David and Anne Welborn for a dinner hosted by Grupo Cleofas, celebrating the successful tagging of the first Manta in the region, but more importantly signifying the start of this incredibly important project. After the dinner we viewed some of the raw video taken the previous day. A great time was had by all thanks to chefs ramon Rivera and Martin de la Rosa and of course David and Anne Welborn for donating there lovely home for the occasion. There was discussion of a follow up trip in late August, but no dates were discussed and the teams returned home.

    The remainder of the month of July and August were spent with Josh Stewart and Octavio Aburto editing the video that was taken and creating a 4 minute video called “Tagging Giants.” The video is intended to raise awareness of the Giant Manta and also for use in future fund raising efforts. The video should be available by the end of September and will also be posted on the GOPRO website video of the day.

    By grupocleofas Grupo Cleofas Updates
  • 16 Feb

    Grupo Cleofas Meeting Summary February 16, 2013

    On February 16th, 2013 Grupo Cleofas held a meeting at the home of Larry and Christine Schaub on Parcel 27 Hollister Ranch, Gaviota, California. The purpose of the meeting was to define the planned collaborative efforts of Grupo Cleofas, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Chris Malloy of Patagonia as pertains to a scientific expedition for continued research and preservation of the Tres Marias Archipelago off the coast of Nayarit, Mexico. In attendance were past supporters and others interested in supporting Grupo Cleofas and Scripps efforts, including science teachers from two private schools in Santa Barbara (Anacapa School and Providence Hall).

    The meeting began by the Director of Grupo Cleofas, Greg Alker introducing the speakers (Dr. Brad Erisman and Chris Malloy) and gave a brief history of Grupo Cleofas and its past achievements over the last 10 years in the realm of island conservation. Mr. Alker went on to explain the planned three way collaborative between Grupo Cleofas, Scripps, and Chris Malloy of Patagonia relative to the planned upcoming 6 month scientific expedition at the Tres Marias. In brief Mr. Alker outlined Grupo Cleofas’ role was to provide funding for the vessel Royal Pelagic as logistical support for Scripps scientists. Scripps role is to assemble the multi-disciplinary Mexican and American scientific teams in order to execute the exhaustive studies and disseminate research data to US and Mexican Institutions with the end goal of further awareness and protection of the Tres Marias. Chris Malloys’/Patagonias’ role would be to direct and produce a film documenting the expedition using underwater footage provided by Scripps and footage shot on location by Malloy and his crew.

    Mr. Alker went on to specifically itemize the goals of the expedition as follows:

    • To allow Scripps scientists to continue research of the Tres Marias that began in November 2010 including re-visiting the 33 sites already explored for seasonal comparison.
    • To explore new sites deemed important as per marine geographic surveys to be determined at the onset of the expedition for the purpose of cataloging existing and possible new species.
    • To retrieve data from satellite tracking buoys that were deployed in 2010 to track and map movements of pelagic species as they migrate from the south through the Northeastern Pacific.
    • To deploy up to five new satellite tracking stations in and around the Tres Marias. Tracking stations will be funded by Scripps and/or Scripps supporters.
    • Implement a 6 month tagging program using Royal Pelagic and its accessory vessels. This program will be on-going throughout the entire 6 month period (supervised by Scripps researchers at all times) and as stated by Dr. Erisman, “will fill in the gaps in knowledge of these pelagic species (sharks, tuna, marlin, oceanic manta, sailfish etc.) as they move through the Tres Marias, which up to now (because of lack of data) has been a complete void in our data base.”
    • To make a film documenting this incredibly unique and important expedition for the purpose of increased awareness, preservation, and protection of this world treasure….similar in scope and importance to the Galapagos.
    • To allow supporters of the project and opportunity to participate in the project by being part of the tagging program or assisting scientists on board the Royal Pelagic. This opportunity for supporters is also intended to increase awareness by word of mouth accounts during and after the expedition.

    After a brief discussion of the above bullet points we touched on the issue of access permitting and timing. Dr Erisman said that permits would be a matter of two weeks and their teams could be ready for departure as early as April 15, 2013 assuming we had the necessary funding in hand.

    At that point Dr. Erisman began his video presentation which highlighted Scripps role in the Gulf of California, also outlining their collaboration with the Mexican Government at the highest political levels, specifically personal relations with Mexicos equivelant of the Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Public Safety, Secretary of the Navy, and Environmental Protection Agency. The video presentation focused on a restoration project in Baja California known as Cabo Pulmo and included amazing footage of that reef. He explained that 12 years ago this reef habitat had been almost completely destroyed by over fishing and was devoid of life, however through Scripps partner organization, Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (CMBC) and “buy in/participation” by local families the reef now has completely recovered and has been recognized as the largest marine restoration recovery success worldwide. Dr. Erisman went on to explain the unique nature and almost miraculous preservation of the Tres Marias due to the 12 nautical mile restricted area. Following the Cabo Pulmo success Scripps had targeted the Tres Marias… not as a “restoration” project, but a “preservation” project utilizing the same scientific research to establish a baseline from which to measure improvement or degradation of the marine environment. Dr. Erisman assured those in attendance that Scripps was NOT in the business of “doing science in a vacuum,” which is to say that the purpose their research has never been to fill volumes of dust covered reports archived in a museum somewhere, but is intended to practically facilitate the preservation, conservation and restoration of the marine environment.

    After a question and answer period, Chris Malloy introduced himself and briefly outlined his past achievements as an “environmental film maker” siting the film “180 South” and also a new film just completed called “Groundswell.” Chris explained his passion for the ocean and the importance of visual media as it is the most efficient way to increase awareness and make “even people living hundreds of miles from the ocean have a sense of connectivity… marine and terrestrial environments are inseparable. Chris conveyed his awareness of and commitment to the project and will be “on board” when the ship sets sail. After a few more minutes of question and answer the presentation ended and lunch was served.

    At this time we are finally ready to initiate the project. If you have received this meeting summary we are now prepared to accept donations. Please keep in mind that the total budget for the 6 month project is $360,000 ($60,000 per month). This is 100% of the actual operating cost of the vessel. All donations to Grupo Cleofas are tax deductible and will be passed through to fund the operation of the vessel. It is extremely important that we know immediately 1) the amount of your donation and 2) whether or not you will be participating in the project (ie. planning to be on board the vessel for the fish tagging operation or assisting scientists), and if so, the number of people and desired dates. Time is of the essence as prime weather, water visibility and pelagic species migration begins around April 15th, which is our target launch date.

    If you have any questions or would like to discuss the project further, please don’t hesitate to call 805 567 1414 or email me at

    Best Regards,

    Greg Alker
    Director, Grupo Cleofas





    By grupocleofas Tres Marias
  • 01 Apr

    Grupo Cleofas Update – April 1, 2012

    Following our expedition in November (13-19) 2010 I, Greg Alker, was diagnosed with a very serious staph infection that attacked tissues and bone in both my lower back and shoulder. The infection was life threatening and required major surgery on January 7, 2011. The surgery was successful and I was released from the hospital on January 17, 2011 at which time I began 3 months of intervenous antibiotics which I finished in April. I then began physical therapy to rehabilitate my spine and shoulder and as of this writing I am nearly back to 100% and will resume my efforts to find the funding and the permitting necessary to film the documentary.

    During the last year of rehabilitation and physical restoration I have had plenty of time to consider additional themes and ideas for the film. One of the concepts I would like to incorporate into the film would be the exploration of the motives that drive conservationists and environmental activists. I thought it important to include interviews with people who are either working directly as conservationists or individuals promoting sustainable products or business models. These “environmental heroes” are examples that future generations need to understand from both execution and motivational standpoints.

    Therefore, I have decided to expand the focus of the film to include a few examples of conservation minded businesses as well as GECI, however GECI will be the nucleus of the documentary. I must apologize for the long interlude and delay in the project, however it was due to circumstances beyond my control. Ironically, I am quite sure that the staph infection was contracted on the November 2010 expedition while we were filming for the trailer! The delay however has given me time to slightly re-direct the film which will now be titled “Restoration Legacy.”

    Presently, I am having the Cleofas Project Summary translated into Spanish as per the request of the Mexican officials who will resume the permitting process of the Royal Pelagic as our logistical support vessel. With summer and hurricane season approaching we will be targeting an October launch of the project.

    I thank all of you for your continued generous support and patience!


    Greg Alker
    Director, Grupo Cleofas

    By grupocleofas Uncategorized
Support Grupo Cleofas – Donate Today!

Help Grupo Cleofas participate in the effort to study and preserve the Tres Marias archipelago!

Grupo Cleofas is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Your donation is tax-deductible.

Contact Information

Grupo Cleofas

19 Hollister Ranch
Gaviota, CA 93117

Greg Alker, Director