In 2009, I became an integral part of the Applied Biodiversity Science NSF-IGERT Doctoral Program at Texas A&M University (ABS). Interested in marine fisheries conservation biology and as a doctoral student in marine biogeography now, I continue to be concerned for advancing marine conservation science in the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR, extreme western Caribbean), particularly in the waters shared by southern Belize and my home country, Guatemala.
For more than a decade, I have undertaken multidisciplinary collaborations in marine conservation science that have gone from working with fishers and other stakeholders directly in the field (in coastal waters of the MAR and the US Gulf of Mexico), to lobbying with legislators and congressmen in Guatemala City, Belize City, and Washington, D.C. The experiences I had during that time convinced me that effective conservation and sustainable development can only be possible with management practices based on detailed knowledge of the biological and cultural principles of an area, profound respect for traditional knowledge, and continuous involvement of local users.
Faced with the untested effectiveness of marine protected areas in benefitting both the protected fishery and its users, my doctoral dissertation research combines tools from marine geography, fishery science, social science, marine geochemistry, and systems ecology to holistically investigate how the geography of fishing, habitat availability, stock status, dispersal ability, and spatial management interact in the dynamics of snapper stocks within the protected seascape shared by southern Belize and Guatemala. Within the “ecological functions and biodiversity” research theme of the ABS program, and in stretch collaboration with researchers, managers, and fishers from Belize and Guatemala, my dissertation project should support local management strategies, stakeholder participation in marine conservation, and human livelihoods in the globally important Mesoamerican Reef ecoregion. The holistic conservation biogeography approach to fisher-fish systems that I am developing through my doctoral dissertation should be broadly applicable to other coupled human-natural systems in the ocean realm.