Jared Stephens, a junior marine science major, carried out an independent study during winter term observing the impact that small fishing villages have on the coastal regions of Baja, Mexico. Stephens spent three weeks kayaking a little over 100 miles down the coast of Baja with seven undergraduate students from around the country.
“Going on this trip kind of allowed me to both enhance my outdoor leadership skills, but gave me the opportunity to travel to that location and have access to interact with the fishing villages there and the people that live along the coast,” Stephens said.
Stephens’ main goal was to look at these small fishing villages and see how these isolated areas, coexist with their environment. Cut off from the modern world, the small Baja villages often only worry about survival, not if they are impacting the environment in a harmful way.
One of these negative impacts is the amount of bycatch resulting from the village’s fishing techniques. The bycatch, unwanted marine species caught in fishing nets and lines, included sharks and sea turtles, most of which did not survive in the nets. Additionally, fishing lines and other fishing gear were left on the shorelines, causing more negative environmental impacts.
Professor of Marine Science and Geoscience Gregg Brooks, Stephens’ mentor, advised him through the process.
“A lot of people don’t understand until they go to these different places that, unlike most of us here, a lot of those people have trouble putting food on the table,” Brooks said. “They have basic problems putting food on the table, providing shelter for their families, things like that.”
However, with these villages not having access to many modern forms of fishing techniques, Stephens was not expecting them to have such a negative impact on the environment.
“It’s actually kind of shocking to see that, even in these remote places where you wouldn’t expect such a high influence, there is actually like a high degree of negative influence there,” said Stephens.
Stephens also participated in a sea kayaking expedition through the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) that evaluated his leadership and outdoor skills. In the NOLS program, students learn how to work with a group, make decisions effectively and develop team building through unique adventures.
Brooks said the NOLS program is one that has a real impact on students’ perspectives of the world.
“They’re life-changing experiences,” Brooks said. “You learn a lot about yourself and learn how to get along with others, and I think Jared was the same way; he was changed by it.”