Group Projects and Eco-E

Fellows develop innovative problem solving approaches or entrepreneurial ventures to address real-world marine environmental and resource challenges in collaboration with local, regional, or international NGO, government, or industry clients. View the Masters Projects video for more information on this core component of the MESM degree.

  • Rodrigo with a community in the Philippines
    Students working on TURF-reserve Group Project Thesis

    Photo credits: TURF-Reserve Group Thesis Project Team

    Decision Framework for Designing Territorial Use Rights for Fishing

    Salvador Rodriguez Van Dyck & Rodrigo Oyanedel

    Environmental Defense Fund

    Tropical small-scale fisheries; Philippines

    This Group Project will provide valuable information and tools for an international effort to end overfishing by focusing on nearshore, small-scale fisheries. Artisanal fisheries place extensive pressure on coastal habitats and fish populations. Rights based management solutions, which incorporate local knowledge and scientific data, have emerged as an effective way for local fishermen and fishery managers to prevent overfishing. More specifically, TURF-Reserves have been shown to increase fish abundance, biomass, and diversity, and increase fishery profits as fishermen benefit from exclusive access to coastal waters.

    The success of TURF-Reserves relies heavily on design characteristics, including total area of the TURF-Reserve, geographical placement, species inclusion, and local customs and fishing habits, to name a few. Incorporating these inputs into a TURF-Reserve design requires careful coordination and planning among fishermen, fishery managers, scientists, government officials, and other stakeholders. In light of these considerations, there exists a need for a decision-making framework and tool that can be used to weigh trade-offs and help make design decisions.  The team has created a simple, user-friendly framework for local stakeholders that can be adapted to different communities to help define TURF-Reserve boundaries. 

    This Group Project team consists of 2015 Bren students Rodrigo Oyanedel (LAFF fellow), Salvador Rodriguez van Dyck (LAFF fellow), Jennifer Macy, Kaia Joye Moyer, and Keith Shattenkirk. Chris Costello is the team’s Faculty Advisor.

  • Marine Photobank: NMFS/NOAA

    E-Fishent Foods

    Renato Molina

    California, USA

    E-Fishent Foods is an Eco-Entrepreneurship project that aimed at designing a business that addresses both consumer demand for seafood as well as environmental concerns associated with aquaculture production. The group’s research depicts a strong and expansive seafood industry; ripe for the increasing growth of the sustainable seafood sub-sector. Global mariculture production is growing at a steady rate that has allowed farmed fish to fill the growing gap between the amount of wild-caught seafood and the global consumption of seafood products.

    The majority of marine mariculture operations are currently located overseas which leads to massive importation of seafood into the United States. Innovative mariculture practices are necessary and of immediate need in order to provide sustainable and locally produced seafood. 

    The goals of this business are to: 1) provide local, sustainable, farm-raised seafood; 2) promote a cost-effective alternative to imported seafood; and 3) relieve threatened wild fisheries and stressed ecosystems. The E-fishent Foods team included current PhD student and LAFF alumnus Renato Molina, and Bren Class of 2013 alumni Gretchen Grebe, James Benson, and Philip Zanoni. Faculty Advisors included Emily Cotter, Dale Kiefer, and Hunter Lenihan.

  • Volunteers collect data in an intertidal region.

    Developing Citizen Science

    Juliano Palacios Abrantes

    Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)

    California, USA

    This project aims to develop an effective citizen science program for monitoring rocky intertidal sites along the West Coast of the United States. The primary goal of this project is to create a monitoring protocol for volunteers to collect useful, high-quality data that evaluates perturbations in these rocky intertidal sites. These data will provide important insight about coastal ecosystem health and could serve as a reference for policymakers to make informed management decisions. The group will be working closely with its client, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), and its Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network (MARINe) partners.

    The group’s approach begins with conducting a literature review to highlight advantages, challenges, resources, emerging technologies, and costs of citizen science programs. The team will then develop a citizen science data collection protocol to be tested by public participants at Coal Oil Point and Carpinteria State Beach. This protocol will be a modified version of the current MARINe monitoring protocol so that data collected by citizen scientists can be integrated into MARINe’s existing database. A group of volunteers will be trained to test the citizen science protocol, and evaluate and compare the data they collected with those collected by professional MARINe scientists. The citizen science protocol will be designed with the intent of creating an app for data collection on a smartphone or tablet device. The team believes that this approach will help address some common concerns about data collected by volunteers, and pave the way for a successful citizen science monitoring program.

  • Vaquita Group Thesis Project team presenting their work.

    Photo credit: Vaquita Group Thesis Project Team

    Analysis of Tradeoffs in Vaquita Conservation Policies in the Gulf of California, Mexico

    Jacy Brunkow & Jade Sainz

    World Wildlife Fund - Mexico

    Gulf of California, Mexico

    Mexico’s only endemic marine mammal, the vaquita (Phocoena sinus), is a porpoise widely cited as the most endangered cetacean in the world. With an estimated population of fewer than 100 individuals remaining in the Upper Gulf of California, mortality in the population results from accidental entanglement in shrimp and finfish gillnets threatens the species with extinction within 5 years. This project conducted a quantitative tradeoff analysis that assessed the impact of likely policy scenarios on both regional fishing revenue and recovery of the vaquita population. Using spatially explicit data, a spectrum of policies considered spatial restrictions, species-specific fishing closures, buyout programs, alternative fishing gears, and varying levels of compliance were modeled.

    Results from this project provide a comparative evaluation that can help inform future management strategies; in application, findings were used to inform the Mexican government’s 2015 decision to implement fisheries policy measures attempting to advert the extinction of the vaquita.

  • Designing impact investment strategies for the recovery of the Chilean hake fishery

    Diego Undurraga & Gonzalo Banda-Cruz

    Environmental Defense Fund

    The goal of this project is to develop, assess and make recommendations for viable solutions to overcome critical economic barriers to recovering one of Chile’s principal yet notoriously troubled fisheries, the common hake (Merluccius gayi gayi). Collaborating with the Environmental Defense Fund, the more specific objectives in this goal are to: (a) introduce options for finance strategies that catalyze management reforms to enable the recovery and sustainability of the Chilean hake fishery; and (b) provide novel recommendations (for policy, investor and industry audiences) for how investment capital can be deployed to finance fisheries recoveries in other regional applications. Specifically, the project will focus on providing the following deliverables:

    1. A financial landscape analysis, including stakeholder analysis and value chain mapping to assess opportunities and barriers for how existing and new sources of private, public and philanthropic capital can be used to catalyze recovery of the Hake fishery.
    2. Robust bio-economic assessment that considers relevant indicators for investors and fisheries stakeholders, with emphasis on a structure that can be generally informative (to regional fisheries recovery) but developed specifically to the case of Chilean Hake.
    3. Recommendations for viable investment strategies and pathways that can support a recovery of Chile’s hake fishery.
  • Swordfish swimming

    Photo credit: (c) Andre Seale: Marine Photobank

    Fished swordfish

    Photo credit: CONAMAR Foundation: Marine Photobank

    Evaluation of management strategies to revitalize the California swordfish fishery

    Miguel Gómez

    The Nature Conservancy; NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center

    California, USA

    The California drift gillnet (DGN) swordfish fishery, which operates off the coast of San Diego to Morro Bay, has been fished for over 40 years; it opened after the switch from harpooning occurred in the late 1970s. Recently, however, the Federal government has increased regulations and gear restrictions in the fishery to reduce the capture of protected species such as sea turtles and marine mammals.

    The closure of fishing areas and the cost of gear modifications have resulted in a decrease in the number of fishermen and boats able to participate in the DGN fishery. Before the restrictions went into place in 1990, 129 vessels were hauling in swordfish; this number dropped drastically to approximately 20 vessels today. While the restrictions have improved endangered species protection off the U.S. West Coast, the fishery now provides only a limited supply of swordfish, meeting just small percentage of U.S. consumer demand. 

    To meet the remaining demand, the U.S. must increase swordfish imports from foreign fleets, yet these international fisheries have much less stringent regulations and consequently higher rates of bycatch. So despite reducing bycatch locally, continuing to purchase swordfish outside U.S. waters likely increases overall global bycatch.

    While a U.S. fishery closure may reduce bycatch domestically, it has the unintended consequence of raising bycatch internationally; therefore, it is essential to consider alternatives that keep global bycatch low. Rather than close the fishery completely, the team aims to determine how the California commercial swordfish fishery can stay open, enhance its productivity, and keep bycatch within a suggested low range domestically.

    The team developed a bioeconomic model to evaluate the effect of possible changes to the current California drift gillnet fishery. Possible changes include changing the current time/area closures, switching to another gear type or allowing the implementation of a variety of gear types. The results of the economic model include the 10 year economic return to the fishery after making such adaptations. This Group Project team consists of 2015 Bren students Miguel Gómez (LAFF fellow), Aliya Rubenstein, Jennifer Couture, Lexi Journey, and Paige Berube. Hunter Lenihan is the team’s Faculty Advisor.

  • Fished red snapper

    Assessment of Sector Separation in the Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Fishery

    Aristoteles Stavrinaky

    Ocean Conservancy

    Gulf of Mexico, USA

    The Gulf of Mexico is the United States’ second largest recreational fishery in both landings and profit. With this scale, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council has been under pressure to find a management strategy that is biologically, economically, and socially optimal. One recently proposed plan is sector separation, which would divide the recreational sector into two components: for-hire, and private. Currently, there is no scientific literature about the impacts of sector separation on recreational fisheries. Therefore, this project will produce an assessment of sector separation using surveys and bio-economic modeling of red snapper, an important reef fish in the recreational sector, and provide a recommendation on the feasibility of sector separation based on biological, economic, and social impacts.

    The team provided a recommendation of the feasibility of sector separation as a fisheries management strategy to the Gulf of Mexico’s recreational fishing community. This Group Project team consisted of 2013 Bren alumni Aristoteles Stavrinaky (LAFF fellow), Jessi Doerpinghaus, Katie Hentrich, and Molly Troup. Faculty Advisors included Sarah Anderson and Chris Costello.

  • Evaluating the effectiveness of No-take Marine Reserves in Mexico

    Juan Carlos Villaseñor & Caio Faro

    Communidad y Biodiversidad

    Quintana Roo & Gulf of California, Mexico

    Implementation of no-take zones (NTZs), areas where the capture of one or more species is prohibited, are frequently proposed to address these problems and help stocks rebound. However, the effectiveness of NTZs depends on local biophysical, socioeconomic, and governance characteristics. While ecological or economic benefits of NTZs can be measured by different methodologies, few frameworks aggregate the analysis of all the characteristics to assess its bio-socioeconomic effectiveness. Even more rare is the availability of the necessary information to perform those analyses. The need to assess the effectiveness of no-take zones in Mexico, the information gaps, and the lack of a framework tailored to the implementation by NTZ users were the motivators for this project, with specific objectives being to:

    1) Determine a set of biophysical, socioeconomic and governance indicators that can be used in evaluating the success of no-take reserves in Mexico.

    2) Use the selected indicators to propose a framework for evaluating the effectiveness of no-take reserves in Mexico.

    3) Develop an English/Spanish guidebook with the selected indicators that walks the user through the steps toward implementing our framework.

  • Fisher with baby scallops

    Photo credits: Nicole Corpuz

    Restoration of "Catarina" scallops in the La Paz Ensenada

    Mary Luna & José Zenteno

    Noroeste Sustentable A.C.

    Baja California Sur, Mexico

    The population of the Catarina scallop, a high value species for artisanal fishers in Baja California Sur, collapsed in 1978 in the Ensenada de La Paz and has never recovered. Habitat degradation and overfishing are some of issues preventing scallop recovery. Noroeste Sustentable (NOS), a non-governmental organization focused on community development, is working with the El Manglito fishing community in La Paz to repopulate the Ensenada with Catarina scallops, and eventually reopen the fishery.

    This Group Project team developed different scenarios for the restoration effort, focusing on major population bottlenecks for recovery, including the lack of lagoon habitat, illegal fishing, and population enhancement through aquaculture. They tested the cost-benefits of each scenario using a bioeconomic model that was created to simulate conditions influencing scallops in the lagoon. To better parameterize the model, a field experiment was conducted to assess the survival rate of the scallops on the Ensenada seafloor in different habitat types. They compared a total of 15 restoration scenarios, each a unique combination of different levels of habitat restoration, aquaculture intensity, surveillance, and seeding.

    The results indicate that habitat and its restoration has the greatest influence on the population biomass of scallops. The results also suggest that aquaculture is not economically feasible. The team recommend that NOS focus their efforts on carrying out a pilot habitat restoration project in the historical fishing grounds, and that restoration efforts would also benefit from continued surveillance to discourage illegal fishing and scallop seeding from aquaculture production for a minimum of 3 years, preferably at a higher quantity of scallops per year than 340,000.

    This Group Project team consisted of 2014 Bren alumni Mary Luna (LAFF fellow), José Zenteno (LAFF fellow and current PhD student), and Mary Luna. Hunter Lenihan was the team’s Faculty Advisor.

  • Offshore Cultivation for Totoaba macdonaldi

    Miguel Castellanos

    Instituto Nacional de Pesca (INAPESCA)

    Gulf of California, Mexico

    The goal of this project is to estimate the dimensions of the domestic and international market of totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi) in order to recommend a sustainable system for the commercialization of offshore cultivation and wild harvest in the Gulf of California, through which the reduction of illegal and deplorable activities affecting this resource would be accomplished. Specific objectives include: 1) Assess markets for totoaba products from aquaculture and wild harvest: meat and swim bladder (buche); 2) Analyze how the creation of a new legal market impacts the current illegal harvesting activities of this resource; 3 Recommend best management practices for the wild harvest, accounting for scenarios including a new legal market; 4) Determine the strategies for the formalization of the totoaba market based on the maximum sustainable yield for both production processes.

  • Juliana with fishers

    Photo credit: Juliana Herrera

    Seafood Supply Chain Mapping in Costa Rica

    Juliana Herrera

    Conservation International

    Costa Rica

    A growing global demand for seafood coupled with a pattern of overexploited fisheries worldwide implies livelihood stress for fishermen, retailers, and consumers. There is a need for novel approaches to encourage legal fishing and meet the increasing demand for sustainably caught fish. This project will explore fishery dynamics and seafood supply chains in Costa Rica. The project will focus on how small scale fishing communities can sell their legal catches to large retailers, which have promised to support sustainable fisheries through their purchasing policies. This project seeks to assess the feasibility of linking small-scale fishers with these large retailers, and therefore provide incentives for small-scale fishers to adopt sustainable practices and catch legal fish – such a partnership would benefit the fishermen by providing a secure source of income, and would also benefit large retailers by linking them to a supply of sustainable seafood.

    The group is focusing on two fisheries -- nearshore corvina and pelagic mahi-mahi -- because of their commercial importance and Conservation International’s connection to communities that fish these two species. 

  • Marine PhotoBank: Gerick Bergsma

    Non-Market Values in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

    Daniel Viana

    NOAA’s Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, Environmental Defense Center 

    Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, California, USA

    The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS or Sanctuary) provides environmental, economic, and social value to a variety of users. Management within the sanctuary, therefore, affects a diverse stakeholder group. A lack of analysis on non-consumptive activities limits the ability of managers to integrate the comprehensive socioeconomic value of the CINMS into policy. To address this problem, this project analyzes existing baseline data collected on private recreational boaters (PRBs) utilization of the CINMS. This data will translate PRBs’ choices into economic value. They developed an empirically-driven model to analyze the choices of PRBs regarding visitation, activity, and site choice. The model determines which characteristics, including bio-geographical, static, and terrestrial variables, are statistically linked with user site choice to evaluate the magnitude of preference for these attributes. Our results will advance the understanding of how an important stakeholder group values the Sanctuary and will provide a baseline model that can be manipulated to inform future management decisions. This model will be especially useful as the monitoring of marine protected areas (MPAs), established over a decade ago, continues and the biological characteristics of the Sanctuary change.

    This Group Project team consisted of 2013 Bren alumni and current PhD student Daniel Viana (LAFF fellow), Kiya Gornik, Ching-Cheng (Timothy) Lin, Gavin McDonald, Nathaniel Ng, and Christine Quigley. Matthew Potoski was the team’s Faculty Advisor.

  • Turning the tide in small-scale fisheries performance in Costa Rica

    Wagner Quiros, Ignacia Rivera, Alexandra Smith & Diana Flores


    Golfo de Nicoya, Costa Rica

    This project aims to explore the effects of past management interventions over marine resources and the local communities in the Gulf of Nicoya. Based on what they will learn studying past experiences, they will provide policy recommendations for the future and help the recovery of artisanal fisheries in the Gulf of Nicoya. The specific objectives of the project are to:

    A) Model the future effects of potential policy interventions over the catch of some of the main targeted species in the artisanal fisheries of the Gulf. They will base their model on the studied effects of past interventions.

    B) Evaluate the performance of Marine Responsible Fishing Areas in improving community welfare considering social and ecological benefits.

    C) Synthesize model outputs and social-ecological evaluation into policy recommendations for improved management.

  • People walking on the beach and swimming in the ocean.

    Photo credit: Pablo Obregon


    Pablo Obregon

    Eco-E Project

    Playa Blanca, Colombia

    Ecolodgical is an Eco-Entrepreneurship Project that proposes to establish an eco-lodge in Playa Blanca to meet the growing tourism demands through low-impact accommodations and energy/resource-efficient services. The environmental strategies to be implemented will be based on the most innovative and effective sustainability strategies tested worldwide, and will immediately help alleviate the environmental impact caused by a lack of infrastructure and irresponsible tourism. The Ecolodgical model also aims to contribute to social development by providing direct and indirect employment to individuals from Santa Ana, a severely impoverished nearby fishing community, and helping in formalizing tourism in Playa Blanca.


    This Eco-Entrepreneurship team consisted of 2014 Bren alumni Pablo Obregon (LAFF fellow), Harish Pather, and Sam Baker. Faculty Advisors included Emily Cotter and Matthew Potoski.

  • Midriff's Watch

    Seleni Cruz, Edaysi Bucios, Valeria Tamayo

    Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI)

    Midriff Islands, Mexico

    This project aims to quantitatively measure the cost of maintaining status quo by not implementing marine reserve policy in the Midriff Islands in the Gulf of California in terms of biological, economic (social) and political capital. More specifically, in collaboration with local parterners and community steakholders, this project aims to: 

    1. Explore the implications of maintaining status quo on biological, economic, and political capital; 

    2. Develop a standardized method and calculate the cost of delayed intervention; 

    3. Develop a “procrastination thermometer” tool to adaptively quantify and communicate yearly economic cost. 

  • Turtle on ocean floor

    Photo credit: Ian Vasquez

    Mapping the Value of Marine Conservation

    Juan Mayorga & Alexandra Vasquez

    Pristine Seas – National Geographic

    Galápagos Island, Ecuador

    The zoning of the Galápagos Marine Reserve (GMR) is currently being reconsidered. Hoping to set the path towards the sustainable development of the archipelago, the Ecuadorian government with help from multiple NGOs, is attempting to develop a spatial plan that considers all stakeholder’s needs and fosters the protection of the natural environment.

    Collaborating with National Geographic’s Pristine Seas team, this project will explore how different rezoning scenarios will affect the tourism and fishing sectors of the archipelago. We will evaluate if and to what extent, increasing no-take zones will positively impact the tourism industry and negatively affect the archipelago’s fisheries. Considering the heterogeneity of the GMR, we will explore the distributional effects on each of the main islands and across principal stakeholders: tourism operators and fishermen. Finally, we will consider and analyze different redistribution mechanisms and tourism models that could work to ensure equity in the complex and fascinating bio-socioeconomic system of the Galápagos.

  • Anchoveta fishing boats on the ocean.
    Students taking a tour of a processing plant.

    Photo credits: Yoel Kirschner

    Assessing management strategies for the artisanal sector of the Peruvian anchoveta

    Matias Caillaux & Miguel Cosmelli

    The Nature Conservancy - Peru


    The Peruvian anchoveta fishery is the largest single species fishery in the world and is a significant contributor to Peru’s economy. The Peruvian anchoveta fishing fleet is separated into three sectors: industrial, low-scale, and artisanal. At the time of this study, nearly 100% of industrial and low-scale catch was processed into fishmeal, most of which is exported for use in the growing global aquaculture and livestock industries. In contrast, the government requires the artisanal sector to sell its entire catch for human consumption in an effort to lower domestic malnutrition rates and increase jobs. Despite this restriction, the potential for economic gains and poor enforcement incentivize fishers to illegally sell most of their catch to fishmeal plants and misreport landings. This, combined with both fleet overcapacity and an unregulated growth of fishmeal plant businesses, creates a fishing pressure that threatens the biomass and therefore the socioeconomic value of the fishery.

    In response to these challenges, this project developed a bio-economic model to assess the tradeoffs between the current restricted open access system and alternative management scenarios. Results suggest that increases in both the biomass and certain economic indicators can be achieved by managing the artisanal sector under a total allowable catch (TAC). The results also suggest that both the industrial and artisanal sectors can increase profits while decreasing yields as harvest efficiencies improve with a larger biomass, which translates to ecosystem benefits throughout the Peruvian Humboldt Current System. The group provided their recommendations to The Nature Conservancy – Peru, members of the Peruvian government, and industry representatives.

    This Group Project team consisted of 2013 Bren alumni Matias Caillaux (LAFF fellow), Miguel Cosmelli (LAFF fellow), Jessica Fuller, Yoel Kirschner, Tracey Mangin, and Stephanie Thornton. Steve Gaines was the team’s Faculty Advisor.

  • Systematizing implementation of Marine Reserves in the Mexican Caribbean

    Camila Vargas, Denise Garcia, & Fabio Castagnino

    Alianza Kanan Kay & Fundación Claudia y Roberto Hernandez

    The goal of this project is to develop a practical framework, including design tools, for implementing effective Fish Refuges (FRs), sometimes referred to as no take zones. Using Quintana Roo area as a case study to design the associated materials, the project focuses on developing a universal tool that will be a template for establishing FRs throughout Mexico’s diverse coastal regions. These tool will bridge the multiple objectives across all stakeholders to maximize the success of FRs using trade-off analysis, while achieving the following following project objectives:

    1. Develop a framework that systematically describes Mexico’s complex web of stakeholders involved in the implementation of fish refuges (no-take zones).
    2. Detail the parameters and step by step processes necessary for fish refuges’ establishment and evaluation in a well formatted document.
    3. Work with local non-governmental organizations to assess the total cost of establishing a FR in Quintana Roo, Mexico.
    4. Identify the economic challenges and benefits from current FRs and develop strategies to overcome barriers and enhance benefits.