LA JOLLA–Some of the world’s most diverse and magnificent marine life is located not in the Australian coral reefs or off the coast of Indonesia, but in the waters of San Diego’s neighbor to the south, Mexico.
From shallow mangrove and kelp forests, to deep black coral gardens and seamounts, Octavio Aburto has been photographing these remarkable ecosystems and the sea life that resides there since he was a student earning his bachelor degree. He worked on one of the most important binational research projects between Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, and the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur (UABCS).
Opening at Birch Aquarium June 28, Mexican Seas | Mares Mexicanos features the awe-inspiring photography and fascinating 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 exhibit will take visitors on an intimate photographic journey to four unique biodiversity hot spots in Mexican waters and offers stunning views of the marine life that thrives in these protected areas. His photographs, and the corresponding conservation stories, capture “the art of science” and seek to inspire ocean stewardship.
“Octavio’s photos are more than captivating images of nature; each is a window into an inspiring story of hope,” says exhibit curator and aquarium scientist Debbie Zmarzly. “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.”
Born in Mexico City, Aburto’s early exposure to the allure of the ocean world included inspiration from Ramón Bravo, a Mexican Olympic swimmer and underwater filmmaker who infused Jacques Cousteau-like enthusiasm to his Mexican audiences. He went to La Paz to study marine biology, and it was there that Aburto’s quest to use photography to communicate ocean science began. The binational research group between Birch Aquarium and UABCS was charged with documenting activities related to the collection of Gulf fishes. The professor coordinating the project put a call out to the group: Who would like to take the lead on collecting video footage and photos of collection activities? No one in the group volunteered. The recordings were not trivial, as they would be provided to Birch Aquarium and to administrators in the Mexican government. Finally, Aburto volunteered, and ever since he has used photography to communicate his research to policymakers and the public, whether it’s working with Gulf fishermen to translate the importance of massive fish spawning behaviors or imaging the dazzling success of one of the world’s most successful marine reserves.
“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,” said Aburto.
Mexican Seas | Mares Mexicanos, which will be on display at Birch Aquarium for several months, will feature a selection of Aburto’s photography, and is included in general aquarium admission. The exhibit is generously underwritten by Friends of Birch Aquarium Rick and Patty Elkus.
Birch Aquarium is located at 2300 Expedition Way in La Jolla. To purchase tickets, visit http://aquarium.ucsd.edu, or call (858) 534-3474. Birch Aquarium offers three-hour courtesy parking.