But along with the excitement of discovery came disturbing signs of human impacts in the gulf's depths, and, in particular, signals that overfishing has decimated ecosystems. Large schools of fish documented in earlier expeditions at locations such as El Bajo seamount have vanished. The researchers also say depths at comparable areas, such as Cocos Island off Costa Rica, reveal much more marine life and healthier ecosystems than those studied in the Gulf of California that are impacted by fishing and pollution.
"The human impacts in shallow areas have been well documented, but our observations make it clear that we are reaching down deeper and modifying the deeper ecosystems and their communities as well," said Aburto-Oropeza. "We have lots of evidence of ghost nets with trapped animals at many depths, along with pollution, including beer cans, in each deep location we studied."
The researchers hope their findings will reach beyond scientific circles and be incorporated into conservation and management plans to restore healthy marine-life populations and promote sustainable fisheries in the gulf.
Although the evidence of human encroachment was plentiful, the researchers also traveled to remote locations where sea populations thrived, destinations where human impacts are reduced or virtually non-existent. Such was the case at Las Animas, a seamount tucked halfway between Loreto and La Paz. At its location buffered from urban impacts, Las Animas suffers minimally from fishing and human activities.
There the researchers found booming fish populations, an extraordinarily rich variety of red snapper species, unique shrimp species and possibly new species of sea urchins and cucumbers.
During a separate expedition completed in October, Erisman and Aburto-Oropeza studied marine life at Cabo Pulmo, a protected nationa
|Contact: Mario Aguilera or Annie Reisewitz|
University of California - San Diego