Season of the Heart

Eye of Baby Grey Whale in San Ignacio Lagoon

“What great, intelligent eyes stared back into his; was it pure imagination, or did an almost human sense of fun also lurk in their depths?

Why were these graceful sea-beasts so fond of man, to whom they owed so little. It made one feel that the human race was worth something after all, it it could inspire such unselfish devotion.”

– Arthur C clarke, the deep range

From the icy waters of the Arctic, grey whales journey 12,000 miles every year to the warm waters of Baja lagoons. Here, they calve their young and begin their training for the long return to the north. The ‘guesstimate’ of their species age and the duration of this journey is 30 million years.

To bear witness to these majestic gentle giants is a heart-altering experience. To experience a mother whale cajole her calf to be touched, is a testament, not to humans, but to the whales themselves. To an emotion we may never fully understand. They reach out for us, even as in the 1700s and 1800s had hunted them near to extinction.

I’ve had the great good fortune to visit the whales during multiple phases of their time in the lagoon, and shared the luxury of touching whales with family and friends. Each month offers a different and unique experience in whale behavior.

Late December and early January, the calves are born and their milky ‘faces’ trail alongside their mother’s protective bodies. February, the romp begins. The calves gain strength, swim faster and are guided to the whale watching boats to make that human connection. Spy-hopping males begin to show off and mating games begin. March, stronger and larger, the mom teaches them to skim the mudflats for plankton and krill. Single males and females without calves being to depart. Early April, with the calves now trained to swim harder and faster against the incoming and outgoing tides, departures being in earnest. By May, the lagoons are once again in quiet wait for the next grey whale season.

If you can make the time, the experience of touching a whale is one that you will never forget. As for guides and accommodations, my absolute favorite is Baja Ecotours, https://www.bajaecotours.com/

I dreamt I was a fish

I dreamt I was a fish.

Not just any fish, but a fish on a coral reef, swimming with my brightly colored friends. Together we made up a palette of blue, lavender, yellow, gold, orange, pink, green and silver scales, fins, tails and mouths. Our motions fluid. Our community hierarchy long established. Big fish eat little fish. Great white sharks down to the tiniest plankton and krill. Fastest fish wins the chase. Hiding places and ability to change color can save a life.

But something was different.

Something in the water.

Or lack of – on the water.

There were no nets to tangle or strangle us, or our warm-blooded mammal friends, the dolphins and sea lions. There were no hooks dangling from lines with bait. My friend once nibbled, and was gone, whipped to the surface, never to return. A different kind of predator.

Something was happening on the water.

No pleasure boats.

No tankers. No cruise lines.

I could see the blue sky and shimmering ripples of sunlight. No gooey oil sheen spewed from motors.  No sinking puddles of dark black goo settling on the sea floor. No man-made gunk. No cast-off plastic bottles, paper plates, napkins, party balloons, straws, or discarded food. The sea was like a mirror on windless days. At night, I could see the stars, and the flickering light of the moon fingered across the reef and the sandy bottom. My friends and I frolicked and multiplied. We rolled with the tides and spun with the currents.

For a few months in 2020, in the time of COVID, the humans left us alone.

I dreamt I was a fish… and the ocean was amazing.

Baja in the time of Covid

It’s true for all of us – worldwide – global. Life as we knew it changed with rise of an invisible, silent, and killer virus transmitted between humans by vaporous breath.

Baja did not go unscathed, but at the time of this writing, my sweet “Pueblo Magico” of Loreto, has survived with zero cases. The population has maintained its physical health through many of the same strategies practiced in other parts of the world: social distancing, mask wearing, and for those entering town, temperature taking and confirmation of residency. A cadre of devoted volunteers insured that the local hospital was fully supplied with masks and PPEs, should the need for treatment arise.

Airlines stopped carrying passengers in and out of Loreto in April, but now, come June, weekly flights are again scheduled. Alaska Airlines has added Saturday only flights, and those are carefully booked to provide distancing between passengers. It is my understanding that masks must be worn from check-in to disembarkation. Seems smart to me.

Loreto, like the bulk of cities and towns in Mexico that depend on tourism, has been badly hurt economically. Food drives developed through grants and donations provided both locally, and under the aegis of the International Community Foundation, have assisted with keeping food in the mouths of the most affected and needy. Eco-Alianza de Loreto, through the overwhelming support of their donors, initiated a voucher program, that will continue to provide much needed assistance throughout the summer.

June in Loreto. Restaurants slowly begin to offer more than take-out service, and shops other than grocers open their doors, while everyone looks toward a change in the season.

Sultry morning hunter ……..

Hot and sultry – those are the marks of summer on the Sea of Cortez, the fishing shifts to those species that like warmer water: yellowtail, dorado, marlin, wahoo. Seabirds move more slowly. Life is steady and calm. Easy days on the hammock for reading material consumption. Cold beverages in the afternoon.

Slowly, we inch toward our new normalcy.

Hopefully, we will remember some of the insights gained by being forced to stay still. Hopefully, we have expanded our ability to hold open our hearts, increase our empathy and personal understanding of both our frailty and our strength. Hopefully, we are ever more aware of our shared humanity.

See you soon on the beach ….

Chilly Scenes of Winter

Sunrise

Chilly Scenes of Winter

 

While most thoughts of Mexico in the winter are of sunshine filled days lazing or frolicking on the beach, there are still those that sneak in – like this morning – cloud filled and gorgeous – and yes, chilly.

The beach walkers bundled up in sweatshirts and even down jackets. Ugg boots, or at least fat socks and tennis shoes, instead of flops and beach shorts. Their pace is a little quicker to fend off the cold.

Winter in Baja.

A place where pelicans, boobies and arctic terns dive for bait fish in the shallow waters close to shore. Where egrets and herons patiently hunt on the shoreline or in the estuaries, side by side with sandpipers, godwits and occasional killdeer. Where offshore, orcas, fin whales, dolphin, and dancing mobula entertain guests and locals, while we wait for the arrival of the blue whales.

A place and time for contemplation. The hunkering down that winter begs of the body and the mind. A hibernation of such, so that when spring unleashes her torrent of renewed growth, we are fresh from rest and ready to press forward again.

LORETO BAY NATIONAL PARK INTERACTIVE MAP

Here is a link to an interactive map for the The Loreto Bay National Park (PNBL) created by Blue Nation,  a small, family based dive shop, founded in 2018 in the beautiful Loreto, Baja California Sur.

The map has linked to dive, photo and snorkeling sites on the islands – with descriptions of each location. A wonderful informative tool for understanding all the wonders that our 5 main islands contain.

Loreto Bay National Park

UC Natural Reserve System gains Sister Reserve in Baja California

UC Natural Reserve System gains sister reserve in Baja California Sur

UC Natural Reserve System gains sister reserve in Baja California Sur

June 4, 2019 By Kathleen Wong

The Gulf of California is a marine wonderland. Washed by crystal blue waters and dotted with arid islands large and small, it teems with whales, sea turtles, manta rays, and other animals that thrive in this spectacular meeting of desert and sea.

This extraordinary region is now available to UC Natural Reserve System users thanks to a sister reserve agreement brokered with a Mexican nonprofit. Located in Baja California Sur, Eco-Alianza de Loreto A.C. works to protect and preserve the ecosystems of the Bahía de Loreto. The 12-year-old organization conducts water quality monitoring, raises public awareness of the value of the area’s marine, coastal, and terrestrial habitats, and collaborates with universities and other institutions to foster environmental research.

A mutually beneficial partnership

“Both partners will reap a multitude of benefits,” says Peggy Fiedler, executive director of the UC NRS. “Eco-Alianza will be able to arrange places for our users to stay and resources such as boat moorings. Meanwhile, UC can provide marine research and educational opportunities for the people of Loreto and Baja Sur.”

“Our goal is to create a strong alliance with our friends on both sides of the border, with the long term objective of increasing knowledge and building protective networks for wildlife that know no borders,” says Hugo Quintero Maldonado, co-founder and executive president of Eco-Alianza.

Becoming an NRS sister reserve “provides a rich opportunity to strengthen our ongoing collaboration between the U.S. and Mexico. This will include the expanded sharing of expertise and technology in areas of conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of resources,” says Linda Kinninger, a cofounder of Eco-Alianza who now serves on the organization’s board.

A jumping-off point for land and sea expeditions

Eco-Alianza is based in the historic town of Loreto, located two-thirds of the way down the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula. Just offshore lie the waters of the Bahía de Loreto. The 510,000-acre bay is internationally acclaimed as an ecological gem. It was declared a Mexican national park in 1996, and named a Ramsar wetland of international importance in 2004. In addition, Bahía de Loreto and all of its islands are part of the Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California UNESCO World Heritage site.

Suzanne Olyarnik, director of the NRS’s Bodega Marine Reserve, visited Loreto this past March as an NRS representative. She came away deeply impressed by the commitment and interest in a partnership with the NRS. “The people of Loreto are eager to interact with researchers who can get students excited about science,” she says.

The Loreto area is rich with biological diversity, Olyarnik says, as well as intriguing oceanographic and geologic features. “From a marine science point of view, it’s an amazing place that we have only begun to explore. I am excited that the NRS can facilitate more people to come down and do academic and applied research to contribute to the management of what they have.”

An education and research exchange

UC faculty are eager to begin using the reserve. Among them is Nicholas Pinter, a professor of geosciences at UC Davis. “The vision for a Loreto reserve and field station is to serve as a spark — to bring research, education, scientific recognition and knowledge, and broader visibility to the Loreto region. We imagine Loreto as a mecca for scientific visitors to study and admire the area’s abundant natural wonders,” Pinter says.

For their part, the people of Loreto hope NRS visitors spark more interest in the natural sciences. “Collaborating with local researchers, educators, and authorities, we expect the team will foster additional understanding of our rich natural resources, strengthen the scientific and academic sectors here, and add to the rich cultural mosaic that is Loreto,” says Loreto mayor Arely Arce.

Arce and Eco-Alianza hope a UC-led uptick in environmental research will encourage the local university to launch a marine science program. At present, the Loreto campus of the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur lacks a marine science program; the nearest program is located at the university’s La Paz campus, more than a four-hour drive away.

Eco-Alianza is the NRS’s second sister reserve to date. The first sister reserve arrangement, with Gobabeb Research and Training Centre in Namibia, was established in 2017. A number of exchanges between UC and this African desert reserve are already occurring, including a proposed UC Riverside study abroad course on ecology and herpetology, plus research into desert reptile physiology and how much moisture fog contributes to desert plants.

The growing NRS family

The NRS sister reserve designation is the second recent alliance between Loreto and an American organization. In 2016, the U.S. National Park Service and Mexico’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources established a Sister Park Partnership Initiative between Channel Islands National Park and Bahía de Loreto National Park. The NRS’s Santa Cruz Island Reserve is adjacent to Channel Islands National Park and works closely with the park on island research and management issues.

The Eco-Alianza sister reserve agreement comes hot on the heels of NRS growth in California. Point Reyes Field Station and Lassen Field Station both joined the NRS this May via partnerships with the National Park Service.

 

Revised Management Plan for Loreto Bay National Park

PARQUE NACIONAL BAHIA DE LORETO

New Park Management Plan for Loreto Bay National Park

Mexico’s Federal Register published the revised Loreto Bay National Park Management Plan in April, 2019. This supplanted the 2002 version, and expanded to 510,472 acres protected waters and lands.

The plan is the result of a thousands of hours in 10-year process of scoping meetings to build capacity and consensus.  These meetings were held with the participation of scientists, fishermen, tourist service providers, trained facilitators, conservationists, economists, and several non-profit organizations.

The newly released plan divides the Park into 7 different sub-zones and expands the areas of protected and no-take zones.  The objective of this plan is to protect habitats critical for biodiversity, rare ecosystem, and satisfy the needs of local fishermen and visitors to the area.

To learn more about the details, click on the Eco-Alianza link below.

http://ecoalianzaloreto.org/revised-park-management-plan-declared-after-ten-year-wait/

Mexican Government Creates Shark Sanctuary

Thanks to Gringo Gazette for the following:

 

Shark Park

The federal government has designated 40 square miles south east of the Baja peninsula as a shark sanctuary. It was being commercially fished, with only six miles around the four volcanic islands safe for the top of the food chain predators.

But researchers found that the big guys travel away from the islands as they cruise between the islands, and that’s when they’re vulnerable. These predators are necessary to keep marine life in balance. And to fuel Hollywood movies.

Here is a map of the newly protected area. The yellow dots represent sharks that have been tagged.

The Mexican Navy has agreed to patrol the safe area with boats and drones, while the Pew Charitable Trust will peek through satellites.

The sharks took it well, breathing a collective sigh of relief, and promising to stay within the new National Park.