A Scientist's Life: Octavio Aburto-Oropeza

Marine ecologist and photographer studies ways to use technology to improve fisheries, considers economic value of flourishing ecosystems

Marine ecologist Octavio Aburto-Oropeza received his master’s degree from Universidad Autonoma de Baja California Sur in 1995, and was an assistant professor at that university before joining Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego as a graduate student. He received his PhD from Scripps in 2009, then was a postdoctoral researcher at Scripps from 2010 - 2012. In 2017, he was named a Rolex Artist-in-Exploration.

explorations now: What do you do for a living?

Octavio Aburto: As a marine ecologist and as a person who has been seeing changes that have occurred in the ocean, I am using science to influence ocean conservation.

My research involves different aspects of marine ecology. We work with small-scale fisheries, coastal ecosystems, and marine protected areas. Also we work with long-term monitoring programs such as monitoring reefs and monitoring mangrove ecosystems.

en: What are some of the main questions in your field?

OA: One of the main things that we are studying is how much carbon mangrove ecosystems sequester from the atmosphere and storing in sediments. This is one of the main questions that we are trying to answer, as a part of my project with Pew Marine Fellows. Right now, my group is working with different mangrove ecosystems in northwest Mexico, but also we are studying different mangroves in Latin America. Another important question is how we can help monitor smaller-scale fisheries with new technologies by using GPS devices in fishing boats and how we can develop new apps and software to store all this information about fishery landings. So we want to know how we can use new technologies to improve fisheries and also how we can study different marine ecosystems, especially in Mexico to recommend protection of ecosystems and biodiversity.

I have been working in Cabo Pulmo in Baja California Sur, Mexico for the last 20 years. It's a small marine reserve where fishing is completely prohibited. The biomass – which means the amount of fish and the size of the fish – has increased exponentially since it was prohibited. This is very, very good news to show that marine reserves are working and how we can use this example to replicate this idea in other coastal areas around the world.

en: What tools do you use in your research?

OA: We use drones to study mangroves and develop different methodologies to capture images and create three-dimensional maps. Also we are using new technologies to develop small GPS devices so we can monitor fishing activity. Also we dive frequently to survey in marine protected areas.

Something that I use as a part of my research and as a part of the science communication efforts that I do is photography. I have been taking underwater photos for the last 25 years and use photography to communicate my science and inspire people to conserve the oceans.

en: Why did you come to Scripps?

OA: I came to Scripps to do my PhD and I got fascinated by how many things Scripps had to offer me not only in terms of academia, but also in terms of connections all around the world to study marine issues and ocean conservation. It’s been a great experience, so great that now I am faculty here at Scripps.

Related Video: Octavio Aburto-Oropeza en 99 segundos (Español)

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