Would it surprise you to know that some of the world's most diverse and magnificent sea life is located just south of San Diego in Mexico's waters? The new Mexican Seas | Mares Mexicanos exhibit at Birch Aquarium showcases the awe-inspiring photography and research of Octavio Aburto, assistant professor of marine ecology at the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.
The merge of photography and research is what makes this exhibit so incredibly unique. It's through stunning photography that Aburto is able to both guide visitors on a journey through four unique biodiversity hot spots in Mexican waters and spotlight the marine life living in these protected areas. Stories corresponding to the photographs strive to inspire guests to be mindful of our oceans.
A school of fish, a photo by Aburto — Photo courtesy of Birch Aquarium
Aburto began utilizing photography in his marine biology studies early on, and when a call came for collecting video footage and photos to document collection activities of Gulf fish, Aburto volunteered. The binational project was a partnership between Birch Aquarium and Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur, where Aburto received his degree in biology and was a professor from 1997 ti 2003. It was not a light task; documentation was also provided also to the Mexican government.
Since then, Aburto's conservation photography has been used to communicate research to policymakers and the public. He has used it to translate the importance of massive fish spawning behaviors to Gulf fisherman and document the rebound of the Gulf of California's Cabo Pulmo marine reserve after overfishing.
“Octavio’s photos are more than captivating images of nature; each is a window into an inspiring story of hope,” says Debbie Zmarzly, exhibit curator and aquarium scientist. “With the eye of a field biologist as well as that of a skilled photographer, Octavio captures breathtaking–at times nearly heart-stopping–images and uses them as a vehicle to communicate a key message of his research: conservation benefits not only wildlife, but also local communities and local economies.”
A photo of a baby alligator, on display at Birch Aquarium — Photo courtesy of Birch Aquarium
His current work involves studying the importance of mangroves for regional fisheries and conservation of top predators and spawning behavior. Related photographs are on display at Mexican Seas | Mares Mexicanos.
“For me, it doesn’t matter if you do very good research; if the public doesn’t know about it, that becomes part of our failure of communication and part of the problem in areas such as exploiting natural resources,” says Aburto.
Mexican Seas | Mares Mexicanos will be on display for several months, and the exhibit is included with regular Birch Aquarium admission. Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the public exploration center for the prestigious Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UC San Diego and showcases research discoveries by Scripps scientists on climate, earth and ocean science.