It’s no surprise that I have a deep connection with the city of Loreto in Baja California. Ten years ago I went to visit my girlfriend, Val Wilkerson, and left with a house, a decision that I have never regretted. Loreto sits perched at the edge of the Sea of Cortez against a backdrop of the craggy and towering Sierra de la Giganta. Marine and mammal life forms abound.
Aside from it’s natural beauty, Loreto is home to some of the kindest people I have ever known. The original capital of California, the city grew from five founding families,and their descendants carry on on century old practices of family first.
Just before I had been introduced to Loreto, an organization to which I am now an advisor, The Ocean Foundation, had become an integral part of the development of Loreto Bay, billed as a sustainable community to the south of the city proper.
This morning, President of TOF, Mark Spalding, posted a blog piece about Loreto, and if you’d like to know more about his work in and out of our Baja community, please read what he has to share. He provides an overview of the natural resources, their current and threatened state.
Two presentations by
Mark Spalding, President, The Ocean Foundation
Please join Mark Spalding on Friday, April 10, at 3pm at the indoor restaurant at the Inn at Loreto Bay, or on Saturday, April 11, at 5pm at the Community Center for the Environment (CenCoMA) at Eco-Alianza headquarters for an informative presentation and discussion regarding his ongoing research on the various mining projects throughout Baja California Sur, including Loreto.
Is mining actually good for the economy for more than the short term? Or does it do more harm to long-term sustainability of natural resources (land, water and sea) and the plants, animals and people who depend on them? What does it mean for the tourism sector?
Three major projects are currently in various stages of development:
- Loreto/San Basilio: Azure Minerals Limited is an Australian mineral exploration company focused on developing mining projects in the richly mineralized Sierra Madre Occidental mining province in northern Mexico. In 2013, Azure successfully bid for the Loreto Copper Project, which covers 9,571 hectares on the east of the Baja California peninsula, 6 kilometers north of the town of Loreto.
Todos Santos: Los Cardones is proposed open pit metallic mining project. The EIA for the project predicts that Los Cardones will occupy 543 hectares and will include two massive open pits from which 173 million tons of material will be extracted. 135 million tons of extracted material will be placed in material banks of waste rock and 38 million tons of the contaminated processes material will fill a massive tailings pond. The project will require the construction of a desalination plan on the Pacific coast near as Playitas that will extract 7500 cubic meters of water per day.
- Ulloa Bay (between San Carlos and Abreojos): Exploraciones Oceánicas a Mexican subsidiary of Odyssey Marine Exploration (OMEX)is in the permit process for underwater mining for phosphates in Baja’s Pacific coast. Known as the “Don Diego project” Ocenanica has received it’s concession for the Gulf of Ulloa but does not yet have its permits. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for proposed dredging and recovery of phosphate sands from the “Don Diego” deposit has been filed with the Mexican Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) as of Sept. 4th, 2014.
Mark is President of The Ocean Foundation in Washington, D.C., and a Senior Fellow at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Center for the Blue Economy. He is an environmental expert and attorney, tirelessly advocating on behalf of the world’s coasts and ocean. Mark has engaged in numerous environmental challenges in BCS, including last year’s successful challenge to the Cabo Pulmo development, and the successful prevention of a second industrial saltworks at Laguna San Ignacio. Mark also has a particular affinity for Loreto, serving as a member of Eco-Alianza’s advisory board since its founding, and having helped to establish and steer the Loreto Bay Foundation.
There are two separate opportunities to learn more about mining and associated risks in Baja California Sur with Mark Spalding, President of The Ocean Foundation. Come and increase your knowledge about environmental concerns and add your voice to the conversation.
Friday, April 10, 3pm
The Inn at Loreto Bay
Saturday, April 11, 5pm
The Community Center for the Environment
Eco-Alianza Headquarters (CenCoMA)
#3 Miguel Hidalgo esq. Romanita
World Oceans Day: A Chance to Remember Complex Connections
By Mark J. Spalding, President, The Ocean Foundation
In advance of my most recent trip to Mexico, I had the good fortune to participate with other ocean-minded colleagues, including TOF Board member Samantha Campbell, in an “Ocean Big Think” solutions brainstorming workshop at the X-Prize Foundation in Los Angeles. Many good things happened that day but one of them was the encouragement by our facilitators to focus on those solutions that touch the most ocean threats, rather than address a single problem.
This is an interesting frame because it helps everyone think about the interconnectedness of different elements in our world—air, water, land, and communities of people, animals, and plants—and how we can best help them all be healthy. And when one is thinking about how to address the big threats to the ocean, it helps to bring it down to the community level—and thinking about ocean values being replicated over and over gain in our coastal communities, and good ways to promote multi-pronged solutions.
Ten years ago, The Ocean Foundation was founded to create a global community for ocean conservation minded people. Over time, we have had the good fortune to build a community of advisors, donors, project managers, and other friends who care about the ocean everywhere. And there have been dozens of different kinds of approaches to improving the human relationship with the ocean so that it can continue to provide the air we breathe
I went from that Los Angeles meeting down to Loreto, the oldest Spanish settlement in Baja California. As I revisited some of the projects we funded directly and through our Loreto Bay Foundation, I was reminded of just how diverse those approaches can be—and how it is hard to anticipate what might be needed in a community. One program that continues to thrive is the clinic that provides neutering (and other health) services for cats and dogs—reducing the number of strays (and thus disease, negative interactions, etc.), and in turn, the runoff of waste to the sea, predation on birds and other small animals, and other effects of overpopulation.
Another project repaired one shade structure and added an additional smaller structure for a school so that children could play outside at any time. And, as part of our effort to make already permitted development more sustainable, I was pleased to see that the mangroves we helped plant remain in place in Nopolo, south of the old historic town.
Still another project helped Eco-Alianza on whose advisory Board I am proud to sit. Eco-Alianza is an organization that focuses on the health of Loreto Bay and the beautiful national marine park that lies within. Its activities—even the yard sale that was happening the morning I arrived to visit—are all part of connecting the communities of Loreto Bay to the incredible natural resources on which it depends, and which so delight the fishermen, tourists, and other visitors. In a former house, they have built a simple but well-designed facility where they conduct classes for 8-12 year olds, test water samples, host evening programs, and convene local leadership.
Loreto is just one small fishing community in the Gulf of California, just one body of water in our global ocean. But as global as it is, World Oceans Day is as much about these small efforts to improve coastal communities, to educate about the rich diversity of life in the adjacent marine waters and the need to manage it well, and to connect the health of the community to the health of the oceans. Here at The Ocean Foundation, we are ready for you to tell us what you would like to do for the oceans.
It would be brilliant if environmental intelligence simply rose in the minds of all humans, but that isn’t the case. It takes dedicated and committed individuals to expand educational programs that can be absorbed by a broad swath of the population. And it takes funding … of select programs, of staff, of equipment … to facilitate change.
Eco-Alianza of Loreto celebrates its 6th Anniversary this week – 6 years of dedication to protecting Loreto’s natural environment. To commemorate the occasion, the organization is hosting a fundraiser – a night of cocktails, dinner created by La Mision’s Master Chef, live and silent auctions, a raffle, and dancing – at the Hotel Mision in Loreto, Saturday, the 9th of November, starting at 5:30pm.
The funds raised by this event benefit the Environmental Education Programs for Loreto youth. The evening is made possible by the generous donation of Scott Serven, owner of La Mision, and is the second annual event.
Tickets are on sale for $27.00 and may be ordered online at Eco-Alianza’s website — http://www.ecoalianzaloreto.org – or with Edna Peralta at Eco-Alianza’s headquarters, the Community Center for the Environment on Miguel Hidalgo in downtown Loreto. This will be a great and fun event, and benefit not only the youth, but the entire community of Loreto.
Imagine … a cadre of youth educated and dedicated to protecting and nurturing their environment and sharing that knowledge with family and friends …
Imagine … a group of energetic hands-on volunteers committed to solving local issues of water quality, waste management and resource protection …
Imagine … a community center where like-minded individuals come together, a gathering space for researchers, government organizations, local partners and fishermen to chart paths to preserve natural resources and their ways of life …
Imagine … a staff of talented enthusiastic leaders guiding and directing activities of such a center with outreach programs in support of environmental goals …
Imagine … partners, sponsors, supporters, and Directors with the resources and connections to fund and support a foothold and voice in the stewardship of a wide range of environmental activities …
Imagine … relentless visionaries with tireless energy determined to make a difference, to manifest a dream, in a small seaside city …
Imagine these things … and then stop imagining, because they are real.
CenCoMa Building (Photo Credit: Rick Jackson)
On October 19, 2013, the Community Center for the Environment, CenCoMA (Centro Comunitario para el Medio Ambiente), in Loreto, BCS, Mexico celebrated its formal dedication. Over 150 people turned out in support of the celebration, which began a blessing by the Padre of Our Lady of Loreto Mission, and was followed by a ribbon cutting by the representatives from the Local government, the Director of the Bay of Loreto National Park, Everardo Mariano Melendez, and Yvo Arias Salorio, Board President.
Delicious food and beverages were served to the enthusiastic guests who toured the new facility. A large screen display provided a backdrop amongst the café tables set up for the event, with images that illustrated some of the perils that challenge the local environment The dedication solidified the physical framework of an on-going dream, where making a difference isn’t just something spoken, but actually taking place on a day-to-day basis.
Advisory Board Members/ Richard Jackson, Jill Jackson, Charles Mitchel and Roberto Lopez (Photo Credit: Rick Jackson).
At the heart of CenCoMA is Eco-Alianza de Loreto, founded in 2007 by a group of concerned citizens and friends in the Loreto municipality to support smart growth strategies in response to rapid development by outside interests. Over the past six years, Eco-Alianza has strived to establish a sustainable community devoted to conserving the abundance and diversity of terrestrial and marine life.
In less than a year since it’s opening, CenCoMA has already become a valued asset to the community of Loreto. The Center is strategically located in the center of town and was made possible through a gift by the Linda and Anthony Kinninger Trust. Renovations converted the property to offices and a public meeting space and were made possible by a donation from Engineer Hugo Quintero Maldonado, founding President of Eco-Alianza, Kathryn and Charles Mitchell, and an anonymous donation from a U.S. foundation.
The Center currently houses a Water Quality Lab for testing and office space for a professional staff of eight who conduct programs that include:
- A Campaign for a Clean Loreto
- Citizen Monitoring of our Marine Environment
- Loretanos for a “Sea Full of Life”
- Sustainable Fisheries Project
- The Loreto Watershed Conservation Campaign
- The Environmental Leadership Club
- Environmental Education for Loreto Youth and Community
- Outreach programs to celebrate conservation days, such as Earth Day, World Ocean Day, World Environment Day, World Water Day, Recycling Day
Along with those programs, Eco-Alianza is working with Loreto’s decision-makers to create responsible growth policies, a watershed conservation ecological ordinance, and fisheries regulations. It is hoped that these endeavors will become an example for other coastal communities to follow worldwide.
Caption: Tony Kinninger, Kenneth Quintero, Hugo Quintero, Lorenzo Ochoa, Everardo Mariano, Linda Kinninger, Horacio Cabrera, Jorge Magdaleno, Antonio Verdugo, Mayra Gpe Lopez Lemus, Lizandro Soto, and Lizandro Soto Martinez (Photo Credit: Rick Jackson).
Eco-Alianza has embarked on collaborative effort to establish a “Sister Park” program to advance eco-tourism and job opportunity in the region. To support this endeavor, it has partnered with the Bay of Loreto National Park, the Channel Islands National Park, the University of California Santa Barbara, and the Nature Conservancy.
The Center allows Eco-Alianza to expand its program capability, visibility, and outreach. The Center will serve as a permanent symbol of conservation and preservation for the entire Loreto region for generations to come.
The Ocean Foundation (TOF) has been an integral part of Eco-Alizana since its inauguration. TOF President, Mark Spalding and Vice-President of Programs, Kama Dean are members of the Eco-Alianza Advisory Board. TOF has supported educational programs, the annual calendar, and general activities. The original funding for the “Pride Campaign,” as well as a fisheries program begun by RARE Conservation were provided by TOF. Advisory support was provided for CenCoMA.
Phase II of the expansion of the CenCoMA facility has just begun. A fundraising campaign is underway to build a Natural History Museum and an Interpretive Learning Center on the property to support of the Bay of Loreto National Park and the Sierra de la Giganta region.
To continue the expansion of CenCoMA and help further the efforts of Eco-Alianza and its programs, your help is needed. To find our more information about Eco-Alianza’s programs, or to make a donation, please visit Eco-Alianza’s website at: www.ecoalianzaloreto.org.
Donations are tax deductible in the U.S.A. or through our fiscal sponsor in the U.S.A., The Ocean Foundation. Click here to donate!
Thank you for being part of our dream.
How do you teach someone to love the ocean?
We know that to love something means to embrace, cherish and protect it. One of the keys to developing a sense of love and understanding is a sound educational program. To instill sense of caring for our seas is critical to the health of our blue planet’s waters.
In the small Baja California Sur city of Loreto, a community-based environmental group, Eco-Alianza, continues to spearhead educational programs for the local youth. They are committed to introducing the sea in all her aspects – above and below the surface – and the problems facing her – with hands on programs. Theses programs serve multiple purposes:
- To awaken a deeper understanding and love of the sea that supports their community and lifestyles.
- To introduce more effective ways to care for the resource, such as proper trash handling and problems associated with plastic
- To clarify problems associated with overfishing and capture of protected species, such as turtles.
“Cursos Naturales” is one of Eco-Alizana’s programs. Organized and taught by course director, Edna Peralta, the curriculum familiarizes children 8-12 years old with the treasures of the sea. The study program is funded in part by local fundraising efforts and by The Ocean Foundation, a Washington, D.C. based philanthropic organization dedicated to reversing the trend of destruction of ocean environments.
During the course of study, the students were introduced to sea kayaking, experienced whales and dolphins, and spent time simply playing on the beach. These activities were mixed with selected readings, learning games and lectures. Toward the end of the classes, EcoAlianza paired with Loreto Art School. Easels were set up, paints provided, and each student was asked to paint a picture of what they had learned and loved.
At the end of their course, a celebration was held in the newly dedicated Community Center for the Environment – CenCoMA of Eco-Alianza. Family members, friends and community members attended the event which included sharing and song. Each student stood in turn and gave a short explanation of what was represented in their painting. Ms. Peralta asked pointed questions, such as, “Why do you love the whales?” “What threats face them?” and “What can you do to help protect them?” Without falter, each student provided answers that reflected an absorbed knowledge base that was now integral to their belief system. “What makes me the happiest,” Ms. Peralta shared with her students, “is when you go home and teach your family and friends what you have learned here.”
What they have learned they now share with their peers, their extended family, and their community – an extension of their education. Their voices become a guiding force for tomorrow. These young new stewards carry the future health of our oceans through their knowledge, their actions, and their commitment to protect the seas.
Eco-Alianza de Loreto, A.C. is a grassroots nonprofit organization committed to protecting the coastal, marine and terrestrial eco-systems of the Loreto region, engaging different sectors of Loreto society, carrying out education and outreach campaigns, promoting and conducting research and actively engaging the region’s decision makers.
The northern terminus of the Sea of Cortez is an arrid and parched land where once the Colorado flowed into the sea. It was an area teaming with abundant life and provided vital nutrients to sustain marine life.
Naturalist and writer, Aldo Leopold, traveled the Delta with his brother in a canoe in 1922. His ensuing essay, “The Green Lagoon,” provided lulling description of the Colorado River Delta at the time:
Dawn on the Delta was whistled in by Gambel quail, which roosted
in the mesquites overhanging camp. When the sun peeped over the
Sierra Madre, it slanted across a hundred miles of lovely desolation, a
vast flat bowl of wilderness rimmed by jagged peaks. On the map the
Delta was bisected by the river, but in fact the river was nowhere and
everywhere, for he could not decide which of a hundred green lagoons
offered the most pleasant and least speedy path to the gulf.
The still waters were of a deep emerald hue, colored by algae, I
suppose, but no less green for all that. At each bend we saw egrets
standing in the pools ahead, each white statue matched by its white
The place that Leopold described no longer exists. Like too many precious and vital places on the planet, the Colorado Delta long ago gave way to dusty sand and desicated land – the victim of water practices in the Western United States that divert water to hydroelectric plants and the thirsty communities of Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
It could easily be argued, that without the water, the expansive growth of these communities would have stalled or been curtailed decades ago.
Today, the Colorado supports about 30 million people and 1 million acres of irrigated farmland. It pours its flow out to Los Angeles and San Diego, Phoenix and Tucson, Las Vegas, Denver and Mexicali. Its waters make the desert burst with tomatoes, melons, alfalfa and cotton. But with no water reserved for the river itself, the Colorado dries up long before it reaches the sea, and much of its delta is at death’s door.– Sandra Postel, LA TIMES
The resulting paucity in nutrients reaching the Sea of Cortez has manifested in loss of marine life in the area. Without the cascading effect of constant replenishment provided by the river, fish no longer spawn in the waters, and basically, that area of the sea has entered a period of deep decline.
Caught between humans jockeying for control of the resource, the river itself holds little sway. It falls on the shoulders of a small number of activists who recognize an earth-based need to create a voice and speak for the river.
“A Changing Delta,” narrated by Alexandra Cousteau and sponsored by The Ocean Foundation and Marine Ventures Foundation premiered at the Wild And Scenic Film Festival on January 12th. The film explores the history of the Colorado Delta from its original vibrancy to the present day restoration efforts by groups such as BlueCloud Spatial and Pronatura. Says Ocean Foundation President, Mark Spalding, “I cannot imagine a better way to document the story of how we have changed the Colorado Delta over time.”
It is only through the ceaseless desire to make the Delta right again, that change slowly has begun to take place. One of the complications with the Delta property is that it exists entirely within the Mexican borders, but is fed – or was fed – by a river that has its origins in the United States. When the Glenn Canyon dam was built in the 90s, water reaching the Sea of Cortez vanished. Mexican outrage was ignored.
And so it was history in the making, when on November 20, 2012, Mexico and the United States turned a new page in their relationship to the Colorado River. The two countries united to sign a 5-year bilateral Colorado River agreement. Minute 319 is probably the most important water treaty since 1944.
The term of the agreement is short, and the Delta is but one provision of a large number of terms, but it establishes a framework for cooperation and recognizes the river needs on both sides of the border. With continued efforts, maybe the rich riparian Delta that Leopold and his brother canoed in 1922 will once again flourish.
Morning SUP in post-Hurricane Paul waters with Kama Dean and Samuel Young. Paddled down to the Kinninger’s Rancho Jaral to ‘pick them up’ and headed north up the Loreto coastline. Fun to be with friends on a crisp bright morning. Hard to imagine that a mere 36 hours earlier we’d been hunkered down to weather out the storm. The Sea of Cortez – tranquil, if not loaded with lots of floater palms, cactus parts and bits of broken tree trunks.
A small swimming eel-like creature was very attracted to my board – and I thought he might want to hitch-hike, but kept swimming along head up and searching. Identification anyone?
A massive school of stingrays at Cabo Pulmo (Photo: Fleur Schultz)
In an unprecedented move, Mexican President Felipe Calderón withdrew the development permit for the 9,400 acre development of Cabo Cortez on the southern tip of Baja California. The land, adjacent to Cabo Pulmo National Marine Reserve, had become a regional – if not national cause – among ocean conservationists and environmentalists because of its proximity to the only intact coral reef in the Sea of Cortez.
The reef itself is estimated to be 20,000 years old and is home to 226 of the 875 species that exist in the region. Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park was created in 1995 and encompasses 17,750 marine acres. Parts of the shallow coral mountain lie just 10 miles offshore. In addition to sea turtles, dolphin, tiger and bull sharks, migrating blue and humpback whales, and rare whale sharks congregate in the area. (For a stunning collection of Cabo Pulmo photographs, see National Geographic’s Pictures: Best Marine Park? Booming Fish Leap and Swarm)
Decades of overfishing and the commercial practice of dragging anchors and nets had left the reef nearly devoid of life. In the early 90s, local fishermen recognized the need for protection, and rallied for the reserve. Four years after its establishment, monitors from Autonomous University of Baja California Sur (UABCS) and Scripps were astonished at the changes in the sea life. Enforcement of the no fishing/no take zone had given rise to Gulf groupers larger than anywhere else in the Gulf, dense schools of predatory jacks, increased numbers of black top reef sharks, and other predators.
In 2005, Cabo Pulmo was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in 2008 it was added to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. A great deal of credit goes to the local population, who made a dramatic shift from fishing to eco-tourism, and put their muscle to enforcing the marine protections. A study released by Scripps Institute of Oceanography reported that in August 2011, Cabo Pulmo’s biomass – the total weight of living species – had increased by 463 percent from 1999 to 2009. “No other marine reserve in the world has shown such a fish recovery,” wrote researcher, Octavio Aburto-Oropeza.
Such great results made the Mexican government’s permit of the upscale/uber-development Cabo Cortez all the more mind-boggling. For a local population to have worked so hard to bring life back to the sea, and to be sanctioned and honored by numerous world-wide organizations, it seemed impossible to believe that a permit for 9,380 acres with seven hotels, 27,000 guestrooms, two golf courses, a marina for 490 boats, and 5,000 residents for workers could even be considered.
Groups such as U.S. NGO Wildcoast, the Mexican NGO Niparajá, Pro Natura Northwest, Community & Diversity, Friends of Cabo Pulmo, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, and UABCS joined together to protest Cabo Cortez. Their efforts proved that grassroots campaigns could be effective.
An onslaught of media outlets – websites, newspapers, radio spots, and prime time television segments – garnered attention. A photo exhibition was staged in the Federal Senate and Legislative Palace in Mexico City to highlight the importance of the Reef, and led to motions against the proposed project. Pressure was placed on Mexico’s environmental protection agency to revoke the development permit.
In his announcement on Friday the 15th of June 2012, Calderón restated environmentalist concerns. “Because of its size,” he said, “we have to be absolutely certain that it wouldn’t cause irreversible damage, and that absolute certainty has not been proved.”
Omar Vidal, the head of WWF Mexico, called the announcement, “an important victory, because it shows that when the public organizes, it can achieve great things.”
For the moment, we who care most deeply have spoken for the sea, and we have been heard. The fragile resuscitated reef is safe – temporarily. The chemical run-offs, garbage and waste water, which would have resulted form the enormity of development – and killed off reef life once again – has been halted. However, the owners of the land, a Spanish development group, Hansa Baja Investments, stated in a press conference, that they would re-apply, and would take counsel from qualified advisors. Their new plan will be, “… compatible with the conservation and preservation of the area’s environment.”
Residents of the area would prefer no development at all. With their shift from fishing to scuba tours, kayaking trips and other eco-based activities, the community is working to develop their own model for sustainable tourism in southern Baja. Integral to the program is to maintain the rustic environmentally friendly atmosphere of the community, and to expand that vision to other towns in the region.
In other words, there is no need for another Cabo or Cancún. We need more places that are safe to swim, to snorkel, and be in the sea. We need seas that are healthy, free of pollutants and teaming with life. Our underwater friends and partners depend on us to make that happen. So join hands with The Ocean Foundation, and put your heart and spirit into protecting the seas.