Thoughts from Mark Spalding & The Ocean Foundation

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

Vet in Loreto

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.

Mangroves Planted by TOF

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.

Yard Sale at EcoAllianza

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.

http://www.oceanfdn.org/blog/?p=2203

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.

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/

Island Living

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.

“On the Island”

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!

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.

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.