Teaching Children to Love the Sea

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 Colorado River Delta

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
reflection.

Sea of Cortez meets what's left of the Colorado River (ie, nothing)

Sea of Cortez used to join the Colorado River

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 with Friends

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?

Cabo Pulmo Saved!

Mexican President Calderón withdraws permit for development of Cabo Cortez

by Catharine Cooper, for The Ocean Foundation

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.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/08/pictures/110815-worlds-most-robust-marine-park-cabo-pulmo-science-mexico-baja-california-public/

Tsunami debris: Garbage wave could hit Hawaii, U.S. West Coast & Baja California

The ocean does link us all,and whatever we toss into it, it simply floats through its cycles and currents. Think about her, before you toss random garbage, drain your car wash into the streets, or imagine that somehow, your actions don’t count …

Fukushima (global-adventures.us): Massive amounts of debris are floating in the Pacific Ocean; and between one and five percent of the garbage could wash up on the shores of Hawaii, Alaska, British Columbia, and the U.S. west coast. The ocean debris, estimated at 3.6 million tones, is a result of the magnitude-9 earthquake and the resulting tsunami in Japan (Global Adventures reported here). Several large buoys, possibly originating from Japanese oyster farms, already washed up on Alaska shores, and Nikolai Maximenko, a senior researcher and ocean current expert at the University of Hawaii, says that 0.9 – 1.8 million tons of debris could reach the islands in early 2013.

“In a year, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument will see pieces washing up on its shores; in two years, the remaining Hawaiian Islands will see some effects; in three years, the plume will reach the U.S. West Coast, dumping debris on Californian beaches and the beaches of British Columbia, Alaska and Baja California,”

read more ::: ”

via Tsunami debris: Garbage wave could hit Hawaii, U.S. West Coast « Global Adventures, LLC.

beauty where we find it …..

Baja : Pacific Morning

For the uninitiated, there is little that can be said to fully express the beauty of Baja California Sur.  From the moment one leaves the populations of Colonet & San Quintin, makes a requisite gas stop in El Rosario, and heads into the heart of undeveloped land of cardon, bojum, cholla, poloverde, cirrius and more …  the heart slows, the shoulders drop, and the mind begins to embrace again that primal space of undeveloped land.

Mex One zigzags across the peninsula in undulating rhythms, following for the greater part, the easiest passage through rough terrain.  That translates to switchbacks, mountain climbs and descents, and arroyo crossings.  Wide plains, dry lakes and craggy rock piles – the spewn evidence of long-ago volcanoes litter the landscape.  I’ve stopped counting the trips. I never fail to be inspired.  I am always stunned by her beauty.

For those who are afraid to travel, I am sorry.  So much the greater landscape and less crowded roads for me.  While the horrors of the drug cartels are not to be ignored, the city streets of any major metropolitan area has its own body and assault count.  I feel safer in my home in Loreto than I ever did in the states.

The Pacific side teases with waves that follow distant swells.  Spots like the Wall, Shipwrecks, the local spots of Ensenada .. and of course, Pescadero, Todos Santos and Cabo San Lucas beckon surfers from across the globe.

The east coast, the beautiful bountiful Sea of Cortez, is filled with dolphin, sea turtles, fish of every color and size, rays and whales – blue, pilot, fin and orca.  Sunrises, sunsets .. kayaking, paddling, surfing, hiking, sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling .. exploring ..  magic.  To be with and surrounded by such beauty is to me – pure magic.
And then there are the people – beautiful kind warm family loving folks.

Food!  Beverages!  Music!  Dancing!  Camping under stars and/or a full moon. Yes : Baja : I love and dream of you always.

Blue Mind …

Sunrise

“This is Your Brain on the Ocean,” is a must read article about our ‘own’ Wallace J. Nichols – who’s research and perseverance has led to protection and enhancement of turtle nesting grounds in and around Loreto (okay, and the globe).  The interview of Nicols by Jeff Greenwald for onearth,  a survival guide for the planet, explores the work of J. and the foundations he has created and supports.

When asked the question by Greenwald, “What do you mean by ” Blue Mind,” J. answered, “When we think of the ocean — or hear the ocean, or see the ocean, or get in the ocean, even taste and smell the ocean, or all of those things at once — we feel something different than before that happened. For most people, it’s generally good. It often makes us more open or contemplative. For many people, it reduces stress. And that’s ‘Blue Mind.'”

J. organized this past summer, the first Blue Mind Summit: “a revolutionary new approach to studying — and energizing — the complex relationship between humans and the sea.”  Nicoles believes that the our connection with the ocean is neurological, and an awareness of this inter-relationship can change the way we treat the seas.

The article and J.’s research opens the question and dialog : What is your own personal relationship with the sea?  What actions can you take to protect her bounty and beauty?  Check out : Blue Marbles for ideas of ‘random acts of ocean kindness.’

Conservation and the Plight of the Vaquita

‘The last fallen mahogany would lie perceptibly on the landscape, and the last black rhino would be obvious in its loneliness, but a marine species may disappear beneath the waves unobserved and the sea would seem to roll on the same as always.”
– G. Carleton Ray in “Biodiversity”, National Academy Press, 1988

Last week I had the honor of attending the Conservation Science Symposium in Loreto, BCS, sponsored The Ocean Foundation and a consortium of charitable organizations. Researchers, scientists, and resource managers from both the United States and Mexico, joined with local community members in a dialog about conservation in the Gulf of California and Baja.

For the most part, Baja California is a rugged and arid desert region with mountain ranges that separate the Pacific Coast from the eastern Sea of Cortez. There are small eco-systems within the overall peninsula that affect fisheries, agriculture, and the availability of water.

The symposium was broken into multiple tracks with presentations ranging from “Protected Areas and Biodiversity” to “Species of Concern.” Overarching was a discussion of community involvement, government interaction, and how to manage conservation for the most effective outcomes, both to habitat and to human populations.
The conversations were lively. Everyone is a stake holder – whether a developer who wants to grade down a mountain for a real estate development (and disrupt and/or destroy a watershed in the process) or a fishermen, whose entire livelihood is based on the bounty of the sea. In many ways, it is only now, in this age of rapid and constant information exchange, that we become increasingly aware of the effects of our actions and activities.

In the northern Gulf of California, there is small dolphin, the Vaquita, which has been seen by very few human beings. It is the smallest – less than 5’ long, with calves the size of a loaf of bread – and rarest cetacean on earth. It is estimated that less than 200 remain. When they are seen, they are tangled in the shrimp fishermen’s gillnets and drowned – adults, juveniles, and newborns.

Vaquita, or “The Desert Porpoise,” came into a small spotlight after a 2006 expedition led by Bob Pitman to search for the Baji dolphin on the Yangtze River in China. After two months of searching, not one dolphin was spotted, nor had the local population seen any. The Baji had become extinct because of human population expansion and related activities. Extinct: as in no more, never again, gone forever.

The situation in the upper regions of the Gulf of California is similar to that of China. The men who fish the region know no other trade, nor are there opportunities for change. They do what they know how to do to feed their families, and in most instances, live a subsistence existence. How to convince a man who needs to eat, that his activities, which are killing off a small sea mammal, need to be changed?
Several approaches have been developed and are being tried simultaneously. Education about the plight of the Vaquita is a keystone.

A protected zone – a no-take area – was established with the northern waters around the known Vaquita habitat. Alternatives to gillnet fishing are being explored. The Mexican government, along with several NGOs, developed a plan that either bought out fishing permits or ‘rented’ them.

If all the programs fail, then the Vaquita – like the Baji – will no longer swim in the Sea of Cortez.

It did not go unnoticed by the attendees at the Conservation Symposium that the US administration voted not to list the Bluefin Tuna as an endangered species. The rationale was that no one could prove, that without protection, that the tuna would disappear.

There were cheers from the fishing industry, where one Bluefin can sell in the Japanese market for up to $400,000. There were wails from those whose research has followed the majestic tuna’s decline. Between 1970 and 1992 the eastern Atlantic’s stocks declined by 80 percent; the western stocks by more than 70%.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration classified the fish as a species of concern. The Bluefin’s’ fate now lies in the hands of international management, which has high levels of infighting and insufficient oversight.

Which brings the conversation full circle to governance. How to we choose what to protect – be it a watershed, a desert porpoise, a wolf, or a migrating swan? And when we collectively decide, how do we implement agreed upon standards to ‘police’ those protections, whom do we choose to enforce them, and how do we fund the process?

The Conservation Science Symposium opened a dialog that is valuable to continue. Since human activities appear to be the cause of modern day species extinctions, it is up to us to change that course.

First published in the Coastline Pilot, “Chasing the Muse: Reversing the Course of Species Extinction,” June 3, 2011.

Morning Birthday Gifts

Loreto Sunrise

Quiet seas and shimmering dawn. Early morning osprey calls. The whiz of hummingbird wings next to my face. The splash of hungry pelican. A brisk walk to a thought provoking seminar by Mark Spalding the Ocean Foundation on environmental governance, part of the three-day Simposio de Ciencia de la Conservación en Loreto (Conservation Science Symposium). A vulture parked atop a palapa waiting for???

A seven mile SUP on glassy blue green seas filled with fleets of small yellowtail, puffer fish, sulking rays, fat faced puffer fish …. and … a sea turtle! First time paddling I’ve had that kind of up/close encounter. Cormorants and gulls. Lots of wonderful messages from friends all over the world.

Now, to hop a flight back to the states just in time for dinner with my mother, Kay Wright. It just happens to be her birthday, too! Happy Birthday, Mom ….

Homage to the Home Planet

Earth Day-Loreto Pride 2011

Earth Day – Loreto Pride were celebrated on April 10, 2011 with a community cleanup of the Arroyo Candeleria.  The event was sponsored by the Waterkeeper Alliance, Parque Nacional Bahia de Loreto, Loretanos por un mar lleno de vida, and Eco-Alianza de Loreto. A.C.

As in years past, the arroyo had been used by those less educated about the affects of garbage as a dumping ground for unimaginable waste.  During the dry winter season, the arroyo serves mostly as a road from Mex 1 into the beach front community, but in the rainy season, it can/does become a roaring torrent, pushing everything in its path into the Sea of Cortez.  Hence, the need to remove the accumulated refuse, and save the waters from unnecessary pollution.

Discarded Refuse in the Arroyo Candeleria

There was grousing in the community about ‘cleaning up “that” place again’ … accompanied with ‘they’re just going to fill up up with trash when we’re finished’ … but the choice of the arroyo was the right one.  Intelligent and needed, no matter who caused or created the refuse.  At the end of the day, it was the sea that won – and those who live near it and call upon it for their livelihood.

Waste management is an on-going concern for every community, not only pickup, but what to do with our collective garbage once it leaves our doorstep?  It’s not only a residential problem, but a commercial one, as well.  The nuclear fuel crisis in Fukishima, Japan heightens awareness of exactly what we humans create, and the havoc we face in disposal.  Batteries, florescent tubing, toxic motor oils, paint thinners, industrial cleaners, acids …substances poisonous enough to cause serious and even deadly harm to man.  We create them, we use them, but what do with do with them when we are ‘done’?

On Earth Day this year in Loreto, something wondrous happened.  Over 200 school age youth arrived at the registration desk, ready to put their energies into their community.  They were not the creators or the garbage mess, nor did they necessarily live in close proximity, but there they were, ready to put muscle and heart into protecting the waters that they love.

Over 200 Local Youth Signed Up to Help with the Cleanup!

Rubber gloves and contractors trash bags were disseminated at both registration, and along the cleanup route.  There was a water truck to make sure that everyone was hydrated, and multiple pickup trucks to cart the collected refuse to the dump – where is should have been deposited in the first place.

They brought friends, cellphones, and great attitudes.  In fact, I don’t think the arroyo has ever been cleaned as quickly as with this small energetic army!  There were expected ughs and gags.  I mean, not only garbage but dead animals were in the mix.

Some of the things I personally picked up : plastic, plastic, plastic (remind me NEVER AGAIN to use a plastic bag to carry something)((when it sits in the sun, plastic doesn’t degrade, it merely hardens – so that when you go to pick it up, it breaks into millions of itty bitty pieces of plastic!!)), dirty diapers, plastic bottles (yes, more plastic), tin cans, empty food containers, partially full food containers, cigarette boxes, broken and unbroken bottles, cardboard boxes, broken plastic cracks, broken trash cans, toilet paper, Kleenex, more plastic bags wrapped around cactus and trees, building materials, old bits of rubber piping, florescent light bulbs shattered into millions of pieces –

SIDEBAR : As I sat in the dirt trying to pick up as many tiny fragments of glass as possible, I was struck by the beauty of the sunlight on the shards, and my thoughts was – wow – if I were a fish or a dolphin or whatever – I’d be attracted by the shimmering beauty and for sure take a bite!  Sudden – or maybe agonizingly slow – death.

… and still more : old bricks, broken tiles, trashed appliances – and/or parts of appliances, motor oil cans, paint cans, foam cups, foam bits and pieces, school books, notebooks, papers, cigarette butts, plastic trays (does the uses of plastic never end?), plastic water bottles, lamp shades …… There was more – over 30 filled trucks and trailer trips to the dump!

Students Created a Demonstration Board on Value of Clean Seas

And when we were done?  Amazing.  A clean arroyo, just as it should be.  Filled with mesquite and paloverde.  For a few minutes, we all sighed, smiled, and congratulated ourselves on our work… and then set to thinking how to educate those who do not understand the relationship between their actions and the health of the seas.

The crowd of dusty dirty volunteers headed up the beach to Rancho Jaral, where a celebratory barbecue was held.  Hats off to all community volunteers, including the Marine Park, ZOEFEMAT, Hugo Quintero, Tony and Linda Kinninger, Pam and Kent Williams, Mary and Nick Lampros, Catharine Cooper, the students and their participation in the EAL workshop under the direction of Edna Peralta, Program Administrator for Education and Outreach, Horacio Gabrera – Exectutive Director of Eco-Alianza, and Gaby Suarez – Program Director for the new Waste Management Program.