Stars to the Sea


Photo Credit: Darcy Higgins

Photo Credit: Darcy Higgins

Gentle giants of the sea, whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are the largest fish on Earth. Incredible travelers, they are capable of covering several thousand kilometers across the ocean in a single year! Despite their enormous size, whale sharks are filter-feeders making meals of some of the tiniest creatures on Earth – plankton.

Because they are docile and approachable, whale shark ecotourism is becoming a popular choice for travelers around the world. In Bahia de los Angeles, Mexico, whale sharks visit the water en masse throughout the summer and fall months bringing many visitors to this region and serving as an important economic driver for the community.

The Vermilion Sea Institute has the opportunity to build upon its rich history of Baja sea and desert research by collecting data on the whale sharks visiting Bahia and sharing findings with local community leaders. 

The Stars to the Sea project aims to combine innovative technology that applies spot pattern recognition algorithms – used by astronomers to recognize celestial patterns in the night sky – to identify individual whale sharks via their unique, behind-the-gill spots. Through a week-long citizen science driven program in partnership with Wildbook for Whale Sharks – the nonprofit that developed the methodology for applying the pattern recognition software to track whale shark individuals along their global journeys – VSI seeks to train volunteer field researchers to correctly capture photographs of whale sharks visiting Bahia de los Angeles, apply the spot pattern recognition software to identify new or revisiting individuals, and help share the project findings with the local community and beyond.

Space is limited to 18 participants. Reservations are first-come, first-serve and are NOT finalized until the reservation form is complete and payment is received. Scholarships may be available. Reservation and payment details can be found below.

2017 Program Dates (18 participants/trip max):

Stars to Sea I: Friday, August 11 – Wednesday, August 16, 2017 (Leaders Liana & Meghann) – FULL

Stars to Sea II: Monday, August 21 – Saturday, August 26, 2017 (Leaders Meghann & Sarena)

Stars to Sea III: September 1 – September 6, 2017 (Leaders Meghann & Sarena)

Costs:

$935/person ($960/person if paying via credit card)

Inclusions: 

  • Round trip travel from San Diego to Bahia de los Angeles, Mexico

  • Lodging at the Vermilion Sea Field Station

  • All meals and water

  • Boat rental fees and permits for access to the Natural Protected Area of Bahia de los Angeles

  • Wetsuits/fins

Exclusions:

  • Travel to/from San Diego from home location

  • Lodging in San Diego before/after the trip

  • Snacks, sodas, alcohol, souvenirs

  • Snorkels and masks (available for rent for $10/set)

  • Travel & Medical Emergency Insurance (mandatory for every participant)

Trip Schedule

  • Day 1 – Depart San Diego at 6:30am sharp for Bahia de los Angeles, arriving approx. 7pm-9pm;
  • Day 2 through Day 5 – Early morning into afternoon whale shark field work involving locating the whale sharks, in-water observation, taking behind-the-gill photographs of individuals, diving beneath individuals to identify gender, and returning to the field station to upload photographs and potentially identify new or returning individuals. Most evenings free to relax, explore the town, or enjoy the following optional activities: kayaking, hiking, exploring wetlands/mangroves, reading, beachcombing, tide-pooling, stargazing, night snorkeling, and more!
  • Day 6 – Depart Bahia de los Angeles at 8am for San Diego, arriving approx. 7pm-9pm (please do NOT schedule returning flights on Day 5 as passing the Mexican border back into America can take anywhere from 1-3 hours or more!)

Important Note: While whale sharks have typically visited the waters off Bahia de los Angeles each summer, we can not predict that the sharks will be present during this program. Therefore, there is no guarantee that participants will see or swim with a whale shark.

Background & Experience: 

Participants are not required to have previous experience with field studies or research; training will be provided as part of the program. Also, participants need not be SCUBA certified but should be able to swim independently and be comfortable swimming in open water. Participants also have the option to dive beneath the water surface to help identify shark gender. Finally, given the nature of international conservation work, a go-with-the-flow attitude is a must!

Lodging:

The Vermilion Sea Field Station is first and foremost a research facility for researchers and educators in the environmental sciences with rustic yet enjoyable accommodations. The field station is comprised of a central two story adobe and stone facility with 12 multi-purpose rooms, a large kitchen, in door shower and changing room, outdoor bucket-flush bathrooms, an additional family house, and features a fully-articulated fin whale skeleton.

Sleeping is typically dormitory style, all together, with cots available for sleeping either inside the field station or outside under the stars.

For additional information such as a suggested packing list and other travel related questions, please review the VSI Stars to Sea Trip Planner which will be provided with registration confirmation.

Internet and Telephone Access:

There are limited wifi options in Bahia de los Angeles. There are a handful of internet cafes in town but they are not guaranteed. There is no cell service in town, but there are usually pay phones available at the internet cafes. Most visitors to Bahia and VSI take the opportunity to embrace being “unplugged” from typical life and find they connect more with the incredible local environment because of it.

Program Leaders:

Liana Vitali

Education and Outreach Coordinator, Vermilion Sea Institute

As the Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Vermilion Sea Institute, Liana helps to create and lead international field trips to Baja, Mexico designed to foster firsthand natural history knowledge and immerse participants in meaningful community-based conservation. Earning her Master’s in Zoology at the Miami University of Ohio, her thesis centered on the powerful ability of wildlife media to inspire conservation action. Through her role as Naturalist & Education Coordinator at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Maryland, USA, she develops and leads several interdisciplinary, inquiry-based programs for students and adults and participates in on-site research and monitoring programs.

Meghann McDonald

Vice President, Vermilion Sea Institute

mmMeghann McDonald is a marine ecologist and educator leading place-based field science courses in Mexico and Australia. She graduated with her bachelors from the University of California – Monterey Bay and earned her Masters in Zoology through Miami University’s Global Field Program where she currently serves as an adjunct facilitator. She is an avid scientific diver and SCUBA instructor. As Vice President of the Vermilion Sea Institute, Meghann strives to build partnerships and cross-cultural connections that aim to protect and enhance the Sea of Cortez ecosystems.

Sarena Randall Gill

Trip Leader, Vermilion Sea Institute

Sarena Randall Gill is a passionate interpretive environmental educator with a love for conservation and connecting with nature. She graduated with a bachelor of science degree in biology from Arizona State University and then pursued her Master’s degree in Zoology from Miami University’s Global Field Program with a focus on incorporating inquiry in interpretive education. Sarena shares her passion for nature, conservation, and sustainability through adult education and nonformal education for diverse audiences. With a (pending) Ph.D. degree in sustainability education through Prescott College, she combines her love for research and interpretive education. Sarena often geeks out over learning new things about nature and loves to share field experiences with others.


 

Registration:

To register for the 2017 Stars to the Sea program, please click on the button below and fill out all of the required information. Registration forms must be completed for each individual attending the trip. Please note that Registration is not complete until payment is received.

 

Payment:

Participants can provide payment to the Vermilion Sea Institute by check or credit card:

Pay by Credit Card – $960/person

The Vermilion Sea Institute uses PayPal Donate to process credit card payments. PayPal charges a service fee which is reflected in the total cost ($935 trip cost + $25 PayPal fee = $960 total charge). Click the button below to pay the program registration fee via credit card

*Note that payment must be processed for each individual and cannot be combined into one payment

 

Pay by Check – $935/person
Please write a check for $935/person (you may combine payments for more than one participant) made payable to the “Vermilion Sea institute” and mail to the following address:

Vermilion Sea Institute
PO Box 1904
Bonita, CA 91908

 

Refund Policy:

Full refunds will be given for cancellations made on or before June 15, 2017. Refunds of 50% will be given for cancellations made on or before July 15, 2017. Cancellations after July 15, 2017 will not be refunded.

​Thank you and we look forward to seeing you in the field!


 

Questions?

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to Liana at lvitali@vermilionseainstitute.org with any questions. We hope to see you in the field!