An international team of experts has gathered in San Felipe, Mexico at the request of the Mexican government (SEMARNAT) and has begun a bold, compassionate plan known as VaquitaCPR to save the endangered vaquita porpoise from extinction. The vaquita porpoise, also known as the ‘panda of the sea,’ is the most endangered marine mammal in the world. Latest estimates by scientists who have been monitoring the vaquita for decades show there are fewer than 30 vaquitas left in the wild. The vaquita only lives in the upper Gulf of California.
The project, which has been recommended by the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), involves locating, rescuing and then temporarily relocating the vaquitas to an ocean sanctuary off the coast of San Felipe. The explicit goal of CPR is to return the vaquitas to their natural habitat once the primary threat to their survival has been eliminated. Experts from Mexico, the United States, Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom are all working together on VaquitaCPR.
“Rescuing these animals and placing them in a temporary sanctuary is necessary to protect them until their natural habitat can be made safe,” said Dr. Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, lead vaquita expert and chair of CIRVA. “We realize that capturing even a few vaquitas will be very difficult, but if we don’t try the vaquita will disappear from the planet forever.”
The ecological e-newsletter of Eco-Alianza de Loreto, A.C.
Eco-Alianza de Loreto’s mission is to protect and conserve the natural and cultural environment by empowering civil society and government to jointly create healthy and prosperous communities.
Our vision is that communities believe their quality of life is related to the health and vitality of the environment and citizens act accordingly.
Eco-Alianza Teams Up to Support Totoaba Program
By Megan Rogers, Eco-Alianza Intern with contributions by Eco-Alianza staff
More than 50 volunteers rolled up their sleeves on July 14 at the Santispac beach on Bahía Concepción in Mulegé, determined to do whatever is necessary to support a critically endangered fish, the Totoaba. On that day, the task was to release 30,000 young fish into the bay, a bucketful at a time.
When the 244 islands and islets of the Gulf of California were declared a World Heritage Site in 2005, the Totoaba was one of the reasons – an endemic, endangered species that historically has been an important food source in the area. Currently it is also the center of controversy, as illegal fishing operations target the species and sell it covertly to a black market in China that covets only part of the fish, its swim bladder. The gill nets that are used to catch Totoaba in its range in the northern Gulf also are blamed for the precipitous decline of the world’s most endangered cetacean, the Vaquita (see article below).
As Totoaba have become rarer and rarer, the Mexican government has taken a variety of steps to conserve both the Totoaba and the Vaquita. One of the efforts for the Totoaba involves a privately-owned company called Earth Ocean Farms in La Paz, which operates a hatchery for the fish and raises them through aquaculture until they are large enough to have a fair chance for survival.
This is the third year that Eco-Alianza has taken part in the fish release, sanctioned by México’s secretariat in charge of fisheries, Sagarpa, as well as Semarnat. Part of the reasoning for the release site is that it’s an area within the natural range of the Totoaba, but is nearly 400 miles south of the range of the Vaquita.
Although the program has a bit of a wait-and-see, experimental element to it, helping an endangered species in any way is a positive step, says Eco-Alianza President and CEO Hugo Quintero. “Even if all the Totoaba babies released are eaten by larger fish, events like these not only aim to help the ecosystems, but to change the mind-set of all the participating people, engaging them in conservation and in a responsible consumption of seafood products.” Releasing the animals, he says, “brings hope to young kids and helps them feel both connected to nature, and part of a potential conservation solution.” This year, he said, several special needs children from Santa Rosalía took part, giving them a rare opportunity for a hands-on conservation experience.
Amidst a diverse crowd of passionate adults, my camera lens gravitated most towards the glowing faces of the children at the Totoabas release. Though I come from a dramatically different climate and culture, I could relate to the excitement of the children in full, recalling my own Salmon release experience when I was their age. The physical impact of the Totoabas release will remain largely ambiguous, as the fish were not tagged in any way; however, the greatest impact of the release could be in the memories made by children. It is experiences like the Totoabas release that cultivate the next generation of environmentally connected and conscious citizens. Witnessing the joy of the children as they liberated the precious fish gave me immense hope that as they grow into teens and parents one day, environmental awareness will be a part of their identity.
Thank you to Eco-Alianza volunteer José Gregorio Ruiz Cheires for creating this video of the event:
Here’s a link to a video on the Totoaba issue, in Spanish
UNESCO Meeting Yields Surprising Results Regarding Vaquita
Photo courtesy of Center for Biological Diversity.
Earlier this month, the annual meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, in Krakow, Poland, resulted in some unexpected results for many involved in the struggle to save the Vaquita, the world’s most endangered cetacean.
The small porpoise, which lives in the northern Gulf of California and nowhere else, has dwindled over the past decades from an estimated population of almost 600 in the late 1990s to 245 in 2008; 200 in 2012; 97 in 2014, 60 in 2015; and now 30. The marine mammals’ main cause of mortality has been entanglement and subsequent drowning in fishing nets, many aimed at another endangered species, the Totoaba fish (see article above).
In a 1972 convention the United Nations created the World Heritage Committee to identify and designate specific sites around the world that contain elements of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), including threatened animals and plants, unique physical or biological formations, and other natural features. The Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California were declared a World Heritage Site in 2005, partly because of the endangered Vaquita and the endangered Totoaba. As a signatory of the World Heritage treaty, it is incumbent upon the Mexican government to conserve and protect the 244 islands and islets that are part of the site, and also the elements of OUV.
Part of the World Heritage convention declares that sites can be declared at the annual meetings as “World Heritage Site in Danger,” a designation that allows for other countries to take extreme measures, and use UNESCO funding, to protect the OUV elements of the site. If the site loses its OUV elements, it also allows for de-certification as a World Heritage Site.
Since May 2015, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Animal Welfare Institute have lobbied for the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to apply “In Danger” designation for The Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California site, including all five islands in the Bay of Loreto National Park. This year the resolution was widely expected to pass, at the annual meeting in Poland. Part of the argument is that México’s government has not taken adequate measures to protect the Vaquita and Totoaba. The petition paper is linked below.
Surprisingly, however, less than two weeks before the meeting, México announced that the temporary gill net ban in the upper Gulf, where the Vaquita live, has been made permanent. The committee at its meeting voted to delay for a year the decision to attach “In Danger” designation to the site.
Sister City Committee Reaching Across
the Border for Cooperation
The trips would also have cultural components, as well as informal opportunities to experience life with American families.
The Sister City Committee in Ventura, as reported previously in Soundings, is considering ideas for a “Migrant Club” project that would benefit Loreto. The group’s Migrant Club was initiated earlier this year by 10 Mexican nationals who now live in the Ventura area. Formation of the group may make them eligible for matching funds from the Mexican government for projects that benefit sister communities in México (i.e., Loreto).
Currently, both groups are investigating the feasibility of initiating a used motor oil collection facility for Loreto, which could ultimately result in used motor oil being recycled. The municipality of Loreto is helping to explore the idea, which would require approval of an appropriate site, as well as a variety of environmental and other permits. On the plus side, the facility would ensure that used motor oil is collected in an appropriate manner, instead of potentially being disposed of in ways that could leach into drinking water aquifers or the marine park.
Watch this space for more news on this project and other Sister City/Sister Park/Sister Mission happenings.
Meet Jimena Gallegos, Eco-Alianza’s Projects Manager
Jimena Gallegos, Projects Manager.
Eco-Alianza staff photo.At the beginning of July, Eco-Alianza welcomed a new staff member, Jimena Gallegos Palos, who will serve as Projects Manager. Jimena earned a degree in Electronic and Telecommunications Engineering from the Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí, her home state in North-Central México. She is currently studying for a master’s degree in Environmental Management and Marine Technologies.
Jimena also has a strong interest in Eco-Alianza’s budding business incubator initiative and holds a degree in Social Incubators from the Cuernavaca campus of the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education. She has previously worked to link México’s national entrepreneurial support system to business acceleration platforms and a private capital management network, all to benefit budding entrepreneurs. Eco-Alianza staff members came to know Jimena through her work in La Paz on various StartUp Weekend events, supporting local entrepreneurs and helping to flesh out their ideas (previously reported in Soundings).
“My expectations with Eco-Alianza are to support the growth of the multidisciplinary team and the community in general for empowerment, education, and the conservation of our natural ecosystems,” Jimena says. “I believe in gratitude to the universe for each of the opportunities it offers us, recognizing that giving is not a cycle – sharing is part of living.”
Eco-Alianza President and CEO Hugo Quintero says he is thrilled to have Jimena on the team. “She is very well organized and has a mind for working in teams,” Hugo says. “She will help coordinate our efforts both internally and externally, and importantly, will bring increased effectiveness and efficiency to our many projects, resulting in maximum value from every penny donated by individuals and donor organizations.”
Summer Interns Fall for Loreto
If you’ve stopped by Eco-Alianza recently, you may have noticed the friendly smiles and diligent work habits of our two summer interns, who both head back north late this month.
Megan Rogers (17), from Woodinville, Washington, attends Woodinville High School, and was recently elected Student Body President. Megan’s proud grandparents are Linda and Tony Kinninger of Eco-Alianza’s Board of Directors and Advisors. Megan has enthusiastically worked closely with Edna Peralta, in the Environmental Education Program benefiting Loreto youth. Megan states, “The impact Eco-Alianza has made in Loreto over these past 10 years is truly incredible and something I was determined to be a part of since elementary school. Contributing to this organization has reaffirmed my passion of serving others and deepened my love for the beauty of Loreto and its people. Edna is a wonderful role model and I’m so thankful to learn from her and everyone at the office each day.”
Alex McBratney (17), from Santa Ana, California, attends Troy High School. Alex is the third member of his family to intern at Eco-Alianza. His sisters Kelly and Katie enjoyed the experience so much, it inspired Alex to spend a month working at Eco-Alianza and exploring the diversity of Loreto. Alex has been working along with Hector Trinidad, Director of Eco-Alianza’s conservation programs and Loreto Coastkeeper, and Edna Peralta, Coordinator, Environmental Education Programs. Alex says he was struck by the natural beauty of Loreto, which helped him understand why Eco-Alianza’s staff works so hard to protect it. Working on the Coastkeeper program with Hector, Alex says, also showed him the support that the community has for conservation and nature.
We’ll miss Megan and Alex as they head back to finish up high school, and we expect we haven’t see the last of them!
Eco-Alianza staff photos.
“Nature Notes” is a monthly short feature detailing some of the wondrous, seasonal activities taking place around us.
Clockwise order from upper left.
By Tom Haglund
As we approach Loreto’s rainy season it might be a good time to reflect a minute on what that means. The countryside will explode in greenery and butterflies, of course, but some of the other big benefits are more subtle. Vast amounts of new soil and nutrients will course down from the mountains through the arroyos and pump new life into the esteros (estuaries) all along the Baja coastline.
Here in Loreto, that means Estero las Garzas will receive its share of life’s basics to continue producing protein on an enormous scale. A walk along the beach around Las Garzas is an easy lesson in this amazing cycle, as we will see literally millions of holes, many surrounded by some tiny mud balls. These are mostly the homes of crabs. Various sizes of several species make up this incredible scramble of food looking for food. They are in the middle between their diet of even smaller life forms and the much larger shorebirds who harvest them.
Some birds are crab specialists, others just take them when convenient. Wilson’s Plovers eat little else and live their entire lives on a couple of miles of Baja shoreline. Yellow-crowned Night Herons also take crabs almost exclusively, whereas the Little Blue Heron, and Ring-billed Gull are opportunistic crab eaters. Obviously, these vital coastal interactive zones between land and sea are impacted by whatever comes down those arroyos. Be it a grand summer rain or some introduced runoff, they cannot dodge the flow.
Soundings is One Year Old – Take the Survey!
A little over a year ago, we embarked on a quest to inform more fully, and to interact more frequently, with everyone interested in Eco-Alianza’s mission. This initiative has included website upgrades, the beginnings of the Loreto.com website, frequent postings on social media, and Soundings – our monthly e-newsletter.
So what do you think? We’d appreciate two minutes out of your busy day to help us make Soundings even better. Take our 10-question readers survey, and you may find yourself the lucky winner of an Eco-Alianza cap or T-shirt – our way of saying thanks for your time and your opinions!!
Survey in English:
Survey in Spanish:
Unique Experiences – Key to an Amazing
10th Anniversary Event
Photo courtesy of Richard Jackson Photography.
At Eco-Alianza, our CenCoMA headquarters is already abuzz with talk about November’s 10th Anniversary dinner/auction gala. The hallmark event promises to be the best ever, even topping last year’s elegant soiree in the newly refurbished courtyard.
To make the event extra special, we need your help. One of the highlights of the event is always the live auction, which not only raises critical funds for Eco-Alianza programs and initiatives, but offers up some pretty amazing items and experiences. For our 10th Anniversary, we really need the WOW factor, and that’s where you come in!
Photo courtesy of Richard Jackson Photography.The vast majority of NGOs either burn out or fizzle in their first decade, so this really is a momentous occasion. Do you have an item, or a unique experience, that could be auctioned off to help the cause?? A lot of our bidders are doers, and aren’t always attracted by “stuff,” so we’re especially looking for out-of-the-ordinary outings or passes or tag-alongs or special trips with a unique flair! Our silent auction needs items and experiences, as well, so now’s the time, as we begin putting together our auction catalog.
All donations are tax-deductible in the U.S., so if you can pitch in, or just want to discuss an idea, please email Edna Peralta at Edna.Peralta@ecoalianzaloreto.net . And thank you so much for your support – we’ll see you November 11.
Blue Whales Lead to Blue Skies in Santa Barbara Channel
Most of us remember the first time we saw a blue whale, probably the largest animal ever to roam the planet. Their elegant grace almost belies description, and it’s easy to forget for a moment their massive size as one listens to their breathing or watches their tail slip beneath the waves.
Slower container ships means safer whales.
Photos courtesy of Earth Media Laboratory.
Shipping lanes bisect the Santa Barbara Channel.
Unfortunately, their tremendous size translates into an inability to turn on a dime, or to get out of the way of passing ships – which becomes a huge problem when blue whales cross shipping lanes. But just as we’re in love with blue whales here in their southern sanctuary of the Bay of Loreto National Park, cetacean enthusiasts in our Sister City of Ventura, and neighboring Santa Barbara, are taking steps to protect the whales on their migration route.
As it turns out, shipping companies can have a heart, too, especially when compassion is coupled with an improved bottom line. The video linked below explains the win-win situation that is now in play. Shipping companies are slowing their vessels as they traverse the Santa Barbara Channel, resulting in fewer problems for the whales, improved fuel efficiency for the ships, and also far less air pollution. Proving again that cooperation often beats confrontation, and it never hurts to ask. Enjoy!
Save the Date for an Evening to Remember
Our Loreto office address is:
Centro Communitario para el Medio Ambiente (CenCoMA)
Miguel Hidalgo SN, Loc 3
Col. Contro, CP 23880
Loreto, B.C.S., México
http://espanol.ecoalianzaloreto.orgOur USA mailing address is:
Eco-Alianza de Loreto, A.C. – CenCoMA
3419 Via Lido, Suite 637
Newport Beach, CA 92663
For more information, questions & requests our email address is:
Copyright © 2017 Eco-Alianza de Loreto, A.C. All rights reserved.
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.
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:
“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.
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.
Loreto is surrounded by seven islands, which lend themselves to abundant snorkeling, diving, fishing, whale/dolphin/manta watching, sailing, SUP. and beaching opportunities. It’s a water paradise with sea temps in the 80s in July, August and September.
The peninsula itself is a long finger of land surrounded wrapped by the Sea of Cortez on the east coast and the Pacific on the west. A day’s drive and a traveler can experience two vastly different environmental climates. The middle of the Baja can be more like an inferno mid-summer, with temps not unusual in the 110+ range.
It is the sea that draws me, holds me, keeps me waking next to water and all her power to soothe, to invigorate and to heal. My new neighbor, Dave, took this photo this morning of my Casa de Catalina using an iPhone ap : http://www.photosynth.net.
It certainly appears from this image that I live on an island. What a whoop! Better get the paddles out!
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.
‘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.