Episode 40 – Bridging Knowledge for Community Conservation

How can we bridge extremely localized, traditional knowledge with the “best available science” of Western knowledge? Students of Dr. Xavier Basurto’s Community-Based Marine Conservation travelled to the Gulf of California in Sonora State, Mexico in April 2022, to find out. Brittany Tholan, Claire Huang, Grace Jennings, Jieyi Wang, and Zoe Wong explore how knowledge is passed down among the indigenous Comcaac people and local fishers, and how bridging knowledge types can help address local issues from sea turtle conservation to fisheries management. 

Learn more: 

Kino Bay Center for Cultural and Ecological Studies: https://kino.prescott.edu/ 

Grupo Tortuguero: https://grupotortuguero.org/ 

Follow Valentina Torres on Instagram @valentinatorrescomcaac 

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Episode 40 flyer

Episode Hosts

Claire Huang head shot
Zoe Wong head shot
Grace Jennings head shot
Jieyi Wang head shot
Brittany Tholan head shot

Claire Huang (MEM 2022 Coastal Environmental Management)Claire is a Duke Master of Environmental Management alum who has been serving as a Climate and Oceans Fellow at Oceana and just started working for NOAA National Ocean Service as a Policy and Communications Specialist for her Knauss Fellowship. She graduated from Columbia University in 2017, where she studied Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and first found her passion in fisheries and marine sciences. Her research at Duke focused on restoring depleted river herring populations in the Chesapeake Bay. Claire is interested in studying fish population responses to anthropogenic stressors, in addition to climate-adaptive fisheries management and conservation in coastal communities. In her free time, she enjoys making art and playing music.

Zoe Wong (MEM 2022 Coastal Environmental Management) – Zoe is a Duke Master of Environmental Management alum who is a Knauss Marine Policy Fellow in Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s office. Before coming to Duke, she conducted research on cetaceans in the Gulf of Maine and worked as a marine ecology and conservation educator in Hawaii. Zoe is interested in policy responses to illegal fishing, offshore aquaculture, and offshore energy development. At Duke, her research focused on ensuring the sustainable development of the US offshore aquaculture industry. In her free time, Zoe loves to watch Marvel movies, play soccer, and grow succulents.


Grace Jennings (Duke 2023 Environmental Science/Policy and Sociology) – Grace just graduated with distinction from Duke University majoring in Environmental Science and Policy and Sociology. She is interested in understanding how our relationships with each other inform the way we interact with our environment. When she isn’t in school, she enjoys biking, running, and painting.  



Jieyi Wang (iMEP 2022 international Master of Environmental Policy) – Jieyi is an alum of the Duke-Kunshan Master of Environmental Policy program. During her undergraduate years majoring in marine geology in Tongji University, Shanghai, she gradually found her interest in conservation. From the experience of community social investigation and  fieldwork internship, she finds that the local communities are the key to achieving biodiversity goals, which will also contribute to sustainable development. In the future, Jieyi would like to devote herself to community-based conservation with local communities in China.  

Brittany Tholan (MEM 2022 Coastal Environmental Management) – Brittany is a Duke Master of Environmental Management alum interested in how small-scale fisheries are tied to international development and has been working with the Oak Foundation and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN on these issues. Brittany holds a B.S. in Aquatic Biology from UC Santa Barbara, where she worked as a research technician for two years conducting SCUBA and video surveys of fish communities in Santa Barbara, Mexico, and the Azores. She has written a survey instrument to collect traditional knowledge from fishers in Nayarit, Mexico, and contributed to an upcoming UN FAO report on the global contribution of small-scale fisheries. Through her experience, Brittany has come to view fisheries as complex socio-ecological systems that are intrinsically tied to sustainable development, and therefore, she hopes to leverage her knowledge of marine systems to support small-scale fishing communities and empower indigenous groups both in the U.S. and internationally. 

Episode Interviewees

Ernesto Molina Villalobos is an elder in the Comcaác community and lives in Punta
Chueca, Mexico.

Roberto Molina Herrera (“Toro Canelo”) is a Comcaac elder from Punta Chueca, Mexico. He is a professional singer and dancer who is frequently hired to perform at cultural festivities and also teaches a community education program in town.

Alberto Mellado is the representative of Punta Chueca for the Municipality of Hermosillo. He has been an active member and leader in the community for many years and has a long history of activism and conservation.

Erika Barnett is a Comcaác community member who spearheads a mangrove conservation project and is a passionate owner of a large home-grown garden. She is the wife of Alberto Mellado.

Valentina Torres is a Comcaác community member from Punta Chueca, Mexico. Valentina is a singer and active community member. Valentina is the sister of Geza. Follow Valentina on social media here: Facebook –  https://www.facebook.com/valentina.torres.108889 ; Instagram: @valentinatorrescomcaac.

Geza Torres is a Comcaác community member from Punta Chueca, Mexico. She is a singer and dancer, as well as a conservation advocate. Geza is the sister of Valentina.

Maximillian Damian Lopez Romero, also known as Max, is a Comcaác fisher and diver. He is a local expert on whales and botany who collaborates with the Prescott College Kino Bay Center’s Marine Mammal Program.

Belinda Molina Villalobos is a 17-year-old high school student in Punta Chueca, Mexico and a member of the Comcaác community. She has aspirations of attending law school in Hermosillo, Mexico.

Cosme Becerra is the vessel captain at the Prescott College Kino Bay Center for Cultural and Ecological Studies, a recipient of the National Conservation Prize from the Mexican Federal government, and a co-founder of the Kino Bay chapter of Grupo Tortuguero, a local turtle conservation organization. Cosme was previously a commercial fisher in Kino Bay.

Jaime Martinez is part of the waterbirds monitoring program at Prescott College Kino Bay Center for Cultural and Ecological Studies. He also works with local communities to foster waterbird appreciation and protection. He has worked in waterbird and pinniped monitoring on different islands in Mexico, from the Pacific coast of Baja California to the Revillagigedo Islands.

Lauri Monti is a Cultural Ecologist at the Prescott College Kino Bay Center for Cultural and Ecological Studies. Her research and practice focuses on bio-cultural diversity and social and ecological health, with a Ph.D from University of Arizona in Arid Lands Resource Sciences-Ethno Ecology and Medical Anthropology, and an M.S. in Community Health and Pediatrics from St. Louis University.

Geoffrey Barnard is the owner of ConsultBarnard, a consulting firm that advises nonprofit organizations. He previously spent 23 years at The Nature Conservancy as Midwest Regional Director, Minnesota State Director, and Vice President for Latin America and Caribbean.

Read more about the Kino Bay Center for Cultural and Ecological Studies here: https://kino.prescott.edu/

Read more about Grupo Tortuguero here: https://grupotortuguero.org/.

Series Hosts

Xavier Basurto head shot
Dana Grieco head shot

Xavier Basurto, Truman and Nellie Semans/Alex Brown & Sons Associate Professor and Instructor for Community-Based Marine Conservation Course

Xavier is  interested in the fundamental question of how groups (human and non-human) can find ways to self-organize, cooperate, and engage in successful collective action for the benefit of the common good. To do this, he strive to understand how the institutions (formal and informal rules and norms) that govern social behavior, interplay with biophysical variables to shape social-ecological systems. What kind of institutions are better able to govern complex-adaptive systems? and how can societies (large and small) develop robust institutions that provide enough flexibility for collective learning and adaptation over the long-term? Trained as a marine biologist, he completed a M.S in natural resources studying small-scale fisheries in the Gulf of California, Mexico, and an MPA and a Ph.D. in Management (with a minor in cultural anthropology) from the University of Arizona.

Dana Grieco, PhD candidate in Dr. David Gill’s Lab and Teaching Assistant for Community-Based Marine Conservation Course.

Dana is a member of the Ocean Synthesis (3S) Marine Lab  with advisor David A. Gill. She completed her undergraduate studies in 2016 with a B.S. in biology and a marine ecology thesis from Villanova University. Dana then spent the following three years working in marine ecological research and many facets of the fishing and dive industries in Cape Cod, MA, and the Bay Islands, Honduras. Dana’s current research focuses on how fisheries and conservation interventions impact marine social and ecological systems, with a particular focus on small-scale, data-poor marine systems. Her methodology includes interdisciplinary systems-based approaches and participatory research techniques that value fisheries stakeholder knowledge.