Mexico creates vast new ocean reserve to protect ‘Galapagos of North America’

Fishing, mining and new hotels will be prohibited in the ‘biologically spectacular’ Revillagigedo archipelago

Finally a leader with the environmental intelligence to recognize the critical need to protect our ocean resources.  Thank you President Nieto.

Mexico’s government has created the largest ocean reserve in North America around a Pacific archipelago regarded as its crown jewel.

The measures will help ensure the conservation of marine creatures including whales, giant rays and turtles.

The protection zone spans 57,000 sq miles (150,000 sq km) around the Revillagigedo islands, which lie 242 miles (390 km) south-west of the Baja California peninsula.

Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, announced the decision in a decree that also bans mining and the construction of new hotels on the islands.

He said on Saturday that the decree reaffirmed the country’s “commitment to the preservation of the heritage of Mexico and the world”.

read more:
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/25/mexico-creates-vast-new-ocean-reserve-to-protect-galapagos-of-north-america

Eco-Alianza “Soundings”

 

SOUNDINGS
The ecological e-newsletter of Eco-Alianza de Loreto, A.C.
July 2017

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

Photos by Megan Rogers and Eco-Alianza staff.

 

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:
https://youtu.be/iAnWjejqIxA

Here’s a link to a video on the Totoaba issue, in Spanish
https://youtu.be/lXc6CZ7NmNo

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.

Links:
http://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/unesco-postpones-in-danger-designation/
?utm_source=Mexico+News+Daily&utm_campaign=ab7aafc164-July+6&utm
_medium=email&utm_term=0_f1536a3787-ab7aafc164-347997877

http://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/gillnet-fishing-ban-becomes-permanent/

https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/mammals/vaquita
/pdfs/Gulf_of_California_WH_In_Danger_Petition_5_13_15.pdf


Sister City Committee Reaching Across
the Border for Cooperation

Linda Kinninger, Arely Arce, Caryl Cantrell, Rosa Campos.
Eco-Alianza staff photo.
Loreto’s Sister City Committee has held several meetings this spring and summer to investigate ways to work cooperatively with a similar committee in our Sister City of Ventura, CA.

Among other topics, the group is considering a variety of fundraising ideas to support cross-cultural trips for exceptional Loreto children to visit Ventura and  participate in an exchange program focused on environmental education.

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.
Wilson’s Plover, already an adept crab catcher at a few days out of the egg.
Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, crab specialist with a crushing bill for the job.
Little Blue Heron, won’t turn blue for months, but has the crab thing figured out.
Ring-billed Gull, take ’em or leave ’em, yummy when ya can get ’em.
Photos courtesy of Tom Haglund/BCS Birds.

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:
https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/8J6RTH7

Survey in Spanish:
https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/KHB3KSC

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!

https://www.ourair.org/air-pollution-marine-shipping/

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
Esq. Romanita
Col. Contro, CP 23880
Loreto, B.C.S., México
http://www.ecoalianzaloreto.org
http://espanol.ecoalianzaloreto.org
Our USA mailing address is:
Eco-Alianza de Loreto, A.C. – CenCoMA
3419 Via Lido, Suite 637
Newport Beach, CA 92663
USA

For more information, questions & requests our email address is:

ecoalianzaloreto@gmail.com 


Copyright ©  2017 Eco-Alianza de Loreto, A.C. All rights reserved.

SUP, Sea of Cortez

soft light
still waters
the sky the color of the sea

blue footed boobies make like diving jets
silvery fish dance and skate on the water’s edge

yellowtail and small dorado race from shallow to shallow
stingrays ruffle the sand
puffer fish skitter across the sandy bar
shimmering cerulean sardines leap en masse

pelican wings glide millimeters from the water
cormorants beaks glow golden against black feathers

my paddle eases my board quietly toward the light
no real destination but exactly where i am ….

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

Always Dreaming …

Even when I’m not in Baja, I dream of her. The starkness and beauty of her deserts. The rugged cliffs of her mountain ranges. The two faces of her seas – the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. Blessed with a 2 hour reach of either side, I can trade surfboard for SUP board – cold fish for warm fish – crashing waves for serene waters.

Last evening, I paddled the Sea of Cortez and was rewarded with leaping fish and soaring birds. Here’s a small sampling:

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.

Gifts from the Sea …

Morning paddle out past the point and back. I had headed out with nothing really in mind except some exercise. Chewing on life issues and decisions that need to be made, I was preoccupied and distracted. I should have known the sea would change everything.

On the horizon, small black protrusions. Marlin? No, too close to shore. Nor were they the fins of sleeping seals. Instead, a pair of small bat rays had caught my eye, ‘flapping’ their ‘wings’ in an undulating pattern as slowly they made their way through the glassy early seas. In the distance, one of their buddies did a couple of back flips. When one crossed under my board, I tried to grab a photo – but the image doesn’t do justice the the ray’s elegant form.

Bat Ray : Sea of Cortez

But the rays presence triggered a clearer focus of the richness around me. Overhead, the gentle glide of the Elegant frigatebird. Nearby, a cormorant surfaced, a small fish gleaming from his beak. A school or rainbow runners, their hypnotically blue fins trailing, raced under my board, likely chased by a bigger fish. Several jellies drifted just below the water’s edge, the flower patterns in their gelatinous bodies so lovely from above.

And then, surprise of surprises – a marine show! A medium size fish began to leap and skip across the water – chased by a large green and yellow dorado, who leaped in equally high arcs following his prey.

Such wonder and beauty so near “mi casa.”

What was I worried about earlier?

Morning Count …

Sunrise : Sea of Cortez

Glassy seas. Sultry temps. SUP morning.

Heron studies baby fish from his long-legged perch, while the osprey hovers mid-air before diving to grasp a tiny sardine in his talons.

Overhead, Magnificent frigate bird chases down a gull that has stolen its fish.

An ‘army’ of baby puffer fish gathers together in the shallows near a point to the north, and beyond them, baby stingrays – round, cortez, and bullseye. It feels as if I’m paddling through a nursery.
A trumpet fish, then a coronet. Tiny yellowtail.

Pelicans glide inches above the water, splitting their formation to pass on both sides of me.

On my return, the morning’s gift : A giant sea turtle, his back covered with barnacles, escorts me as I paddle home.

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!