Souls of the Vermilion Sea producer/director Sean Bogle and myself arrived here in San Felipe two days ago where we met up with filmmaker and collaborator Brenda Razo from Mexico City. We have spent these past couple of days getting updates from important players in the vaquita issue. A lot has happened since our last trip to the region, and although the situation for vaquita is looking pretty dire, there are still reasons to remain hopeful.
Our first stop was to meet up with the captain of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Operation Milagro, Oona Layolle. Oona has been on the front lines of vaquita conservation efforts since Sea Shepherd launched Operation Milagro over a year ago, but this past month has seen a dramatic intensification of their efforts. Three dead vaquitas have been recovered during this time, all of which were killed by entanglement in gillnets.
In addition to these tragic deaths, Sea Shepherd boats have pulled up numerous illegal gillnets, many of which contained bodies of the endangered totoaba. Although the use of gillnets has been illegal throughout the vaquita’s range in the Northern Gulf of California for almost a year now, illegal fishing activity focused on the totoaba (whose swim bladder is highly valued in China) has intensified in recent weeks.
We talked with Oona about the importance of Sea Shepherd’s work here in the Northern Gulf, and about what it’s like to work on a project where the very existence of a species hangs in the balance. We spent half a day on board the R.V. Martin Sheen, one of two boats that Sea Shepherd has been operating in the region, and got a demonstration of the equipment that they are using to recover illegal gillnets.
The next day we spent some time gathering aerial footage of the unique desert environment here in Northern Baja before meeting up with some of the central characters of our story; Javier, Paco and Alan Valverde. The Valverde family has been fishing in this region for generations, and Javier, along with his two sons Paco and Alan are some of the most vocal local ambassadors for vaquita conservation here in San Felipe.
It’s always a pleasure to spend time with the Valverde family, and we talked for hours with Paco and Javier about their family history and their connection with the ocean environment.
Today we are joined by a new member of our crew, filmmaker, actress and interpreter Gabriella Sosa. This new addition will allow us to cover more ground in the coming days as we continue to document the situation here in the Northern Gulf of California. Keep an eye on our Souls of the Vermilion Sea blog to get more updates from the field!
Tags: operation milagro, san felipe, San Felipe fisherman, sea shepherd, Souls of the Vermilion Sea, Vaquita, vaquita documentary, vaquita film