Trash ,Tires and Sediment in the Tijuana River

If the multiplicity of agencies working along the U.S.-Mexico border from both the U.S. and Mexico did their job, there would be little trash, sediment and waste tires in the Tijuana River. Unfortunately most look the other way until they are pressured to clean things up. Now WILDCOAST is pressuring agencies to clean up the river before winter or more unusual summer rains happen.

A pedestrian bridge made from waste-tires in the Tijuana River in Tijuana.

A pedestrian bridge made from waste-tires in the Tijuana River in Tijuana.

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The Tijuana River in Tijuana just next to City Hall. There are thousands of “Zombies” or homeless men and women (mostly men) living in the river which authorities in Tijuana have shown little effort in dealing with (many were deported from the U.S.). Besides the social and crime problems as a result, the trash that is accumulating is awful. Many of the men wash in the sewage waters of the river. The minute it rains all of this will be washed downstream.

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More garbage and sediment in the Tijuana River just upstream from the international border line. This scene is repeated throughout the river and its watershed. One solution would be to hire the mostly homeless “Zombies” to clean up the river and Tijuana. That would be much cheaper than letting the trash and garbage wash across the river on the other side of the border in the U.S.

 

Tijuana Sewage Solutions: Ecoparque

One of the great fallacies about dealing with untreated wastewater is that solutions require huge government investments in giant and expensive centralized sewage treatment plants. But not only is this not a solution in the cities of the developing world (because those plants can’t treat sewage for people who aren’t hooked up to the sewage line), but when those plants break down, there are major problems with sewage spills and then polluted waterways and beaches.

Tijuana has historically been unable to deal with its high volume of wastewater due to its rapid growth and difficult terrain. Tijuana has relied on the U.S. for must of its  wastewater treatment infrastructure. In the past 20-30 years Tijuana has built a series of small-scale treatment plants.

In the late 1980s, a group of conservationists in Mexico and the U.S. developed a small-scale decentralized project, Ecoparque, in eastern Tijuana that was designed to treat wastewater and reuse it for gardens, compost and even wetlands. The project was built and treats sewage from a nearby neighborhood, but because of the inability of agencies to think outside the box beyond giant projects, more Ecoparques were not built.

I recently toured the Ecoparque facility in Tijuana. It is being upgraded and expanded by COLEF in Tijuana and has the potential to serve as a great model for other low-cost and simple wastewater treatment projects that can provide much needed water for community gardens, wetlands, native plant restoration projects, and native plant nurseries. Additionally it can provide low-cost compost for all of these activities. Back in 1987 or 1988 I volunteered for a day on the construction of Ecoparque. I had also volunteered for the construction of the first module that was tested in the Tijuana River Valley on the U.S. side.

At the end of the day, the current model of mid to large treatment plants is not a solution. They are too expensive and too centralized. Projects like Ecoparque should be the future. After all, not a single drop of wastewater, especially in our climate and with this drought, should ever reach the ocean.

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The primary sewage treatment module at Ecoparque. Sewage gravity flows from an uphill neighborhood.

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Future wetlands.

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A cool design for a future plant nursery.

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Native plant garden.

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Vermiculture facility.

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Creating compost.

 

The Baja Malibu/Campo Torres Sewage Gulch

These photos were taken at a sewage gulch at the south end of Baja Malibu or Campo Torres on July 23, 2014 (same beach different development). The sewage is released from a development east of the coastal toll road. WILDCOAST is following up with CONAGUA and PROFEPA in Mexico to file complaints. Residents complain of foul odors, fouled ocean water and tons of mosquitoes.

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4th Annual Walter Caloca Surf Contest in San Miguel Day 1

On Saturday March 22, 2014  young surfers from Mexico and the U.S. gathered in San Miguel, Baja California to participate in the 4th Annual Walter Caloca Surf Contest. Organized by Alfredo Ramirez and United Athletes of the Pacific Ocean (UAPO) with the help of Zach Plopper and WILDCOAST/COSTASALVAJE, the event provided a forum for young surfers to rip 2-4′ waves and celebrate international friendships. Additionally, Day 1, included the SUP and bodyboard divisions.

It was a great day. Day 2 on March 23, is the open event. The photos here are all from Day 1.

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Daniel Dedina with San Miguel local and artist Jaime Noia.

Daniel Dedina with San Miguel local and artist Jaime Noia.

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Afredo Ramirez of UAPO with competitors. The best part of this contest is bringing together surfers from Mexico and the U.S.

Afredo Ramirez of UAPO with competitors. The best part of this contest is bringing together surfers from Mexico and the U.S.

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Girls contestants.

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Daniel Dedina, Jack Stewart and Cameron Bartz from IB.

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Jack Stewart and Cameron Bartz await their final heat.

Jack Stewart and Cameron Bartz await their final heat.

Cameron Bartz.

Cameron Bartz.

Lance Mann

Lance Mann

Paul Stewart.

Paul Stewart.

Daniel Dedina

Daniel Dedina

Dakotah Hooker

Dakotah Hooker

Josh Johnson

Josh Johnson

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Dakotah Hooker.

Dakotah Hooker.

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Paul Stewart.

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Javi Meza

Javi Meza

Daniel Dedina

Daniel Dedina

SUP finalists.

SUP finalists.

Grom finalists.

Grom finalists.

Girls finalists.

Girls finalists.

Bodyboard finalists.

Bodyboard finalists.

Junior finalists.

Junior finalists.

Cameron Bartz, Paul Steward, Lance Mann and Daniel Dedina.

Cameron Bartz, Paul Steward, Lance Mann and Daniel Dedina. It is great to see so many young surfers surfing and making friends south of the border. It is great for them to travel and make lots of friends up and down the coast. That is the true spirit of surfing.

A Trip to Todos Santos Island

A couple of day’s before Christmas we celebrated my oldest son’s 18th birthday with a day-trip out to Baja’s Todos Santos Island. It was a magical day in a very special place.

Israel.

Israel celebrating his 18th birthday.

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A cyclops wave.

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The lighthouse dominates the land and seascape.

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Because the waves come out of deep water, it is hard to see the sets coming until they break on you.

The wave at Todos Santos is a beauty.

The wave at Todos Santos is a beauty.

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That’s me on a fun one.

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My youngest son Daniel (15)  gets a set wave.

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One of the sets rolling through.

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Israel.

Israel and Daniel sharing a small one.

Israel and Daniel sharing a small one. It gives me great pleasure to watch my sons surf together.

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Daniel after a long day in the water.

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Israel after his birthday surf session. He’d been asking me to take him for a couple of years.

Tijuana-Ensenada Toll Road Alternative Route Update

Traffic backing up on the start of the descent just south of La Mision

Traffic backing up on the start of the descent just south of La Mision

For those of you wondering about the toll road closure from La Fonda to San Miguel (northern end of Ensenada). I traveled on the La Mision-San Miguel free road twice in the past week. Expect the trip to take 30-45 minutes depending on traffic. Don’t try to pass on curves, don’ expect to travel more than 25-35 mph on average. Just enjoy the scenery and be safe. Get used to it because we’ll all be traveling that road a lot.

The section of the toll road that collapsed. This was totally preventable.

The section of the toll road that collapsed. This was totally preventable.

 

My estimate is that 75% of the free road could be widened with little enviro-social-and economic impact within the existing highway/utility easement which is very wide. The exception is the La Mision section and hill which is incredibly dangerous anyway and areas near businesses and homes.

Truck accident just south of La Mision on what is one of the most dangerous curves on the entire transpeninsular highway.

Truck accident just south of La Mision on what is one of the most dangerous curves on the entire transpeninsular highway.


The fact is that the entire Ensenada community needs to pressure federal and state governments to quickly expand and make safer the free road and then seriously make an attempt to address the shocking underinvestment in upgrading the safety of the toll road area that collapsed. Anyone who traveled that road knew that authorities were making a less than stellar effort to improve the highway.

In Memory of Don Pachico

Pachico Mayoral

Pachico Mayoral

Laguna San Ignacio whalewatching guide and fishermen extraordinaire, Francisco “Pachico” Mayoral, passed away recently. He was a longtime friend to me and my wife Emily and to generations of scientists and conservationists in Laguna San Ignacio. To me he will always be the “Profesor de la Laguna.”

Emily and I met Pachico and his wife Carmen at their lovely house on the shoreline of Laguna San Ignacio on our first day in the field there when we arrived in October 1993 to carry out our dissertation research on gray whale conservation and fishing and ecotourism.

On a tour of Laguna San Ignacio with Don Pachico and a Profepa inspector in early 1994.

On a tour of Laguna San Ignacio with Don Pachico and a Profepa inspector in early 1994.

Pachico played a major role in uncovering the plans by ESSA/Mitsubishi to build a $180 million salt facility on the shore of Laguna San Ignacio, when he gave me and Emily the blueprints to the project in early 1994. We later informed Homero Aridjis of the Grupo de los Cien about the proposed salt project who initiated a major campaign to stop it. It was a courageous act on the part of Pachico considering that he lived in a wooden shack with sand floors at the edge of the Lagoon and wasn’t the least bit politically connected.

It was never quite clear to me how he obtained a fresh set of blueprints for the project since he didn’t drive much, had no telephone and his only way of communicating with the outside world was via radio and his pickup that seemed to be in need of repair more than it was roadworthy.

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Whether he was assisting scientists or conservationists or inspiring his sons to continue the family business of conservation and ecotourism, Pachico’s insights into the Lagoon, the wildlife there (of which he was a keen observer) and its need for protection were invaluable.

And we could always count on Pachico to provide a moving and inspiring quote about the need to conserve the Lagoon and its whales to the New York Times, LA Times and NBC News among other media outlets from around the world that featured his inspiring message of the need to live in harmony with whales and nature.

Here is a video from NBC Nightly News with Maria Celeste where Pachico was the subject of a story about “Making a Difference.”

Here is how Pulitzer winning reporter Ken Weiss ended his feature story in the Los Angeles Times on Laguna San Ignacio:

Mayoral said the gray whales, once hunted nearly to extinction, have much to teach humans about resolving conflicts. After all these years, he marvels how the curious cetaceans behave, the mothers sometimes boosting their calves out of the water so tourists can scratch their heads or rub their baleen gums.

“They were attacked by men and yet they look to get closer to people,” Mayoral said. “That is a great lesson for all of us.”

Pachico in his element.

Pachico in his element.

Baja Crafts and Culture: Pottery in Tecate

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Leño Contreras of Alfareria Contreras

After a trip to visit Finca Altozano in the Guadalupe Valley, we returned via Tecate and passed one of the many pottery stands along Highway 3. Pottery in Baja is one of those things that you assume has no real origin and is somehow magically made.

Anytime I find people who are creating things by hand in our rational, industrial and highly mechanized and computerized economy, I am filled with admiration (which is why I have interviewed so many custom surfboard craftsmen).

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But as we stopped to check out the pottery of Leño Contreras of Alfareria Contreras (Carr. Tecate-Ens 15 1/2 -Cerro Azul, Tecate), I realized that the art of turning clay from the hills into pottery is more than likely a dying tradition and is representative of long-standing cultural traditions that are pre-Hispanic in origin throughout Mexico and the Southwest.

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“We’ve been here since the early 1980s,” said Leño. “We gather the clay in the hills. In order to fire our kilns, we used to gather dead trees from a nearby forest, but the Forest Service stopped that. Now we buy recycled wood that is collected from the factories in Tijuana.”

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“The widening and improvement of the Highway has brought us more tourists, as has the tourism of the Guadalupe Valley. A few years ago when the economy was bad, things were not good. Now we’re doing better.”

Emily and I purchased some luna and sol wall hangings for our backyard. Now we have a nice reminder of our nice with visit with Leño.

Alfareria Contreras is on Highway 3 (Km 15 1/2) just about 10-15 minutes south of Tecate on the highway to Ensenada.

Tijuana Art Walk

TJartwalkArtists, musicians and the TJ hipster scene have two little alleyways  in Tijuana, or Pasajes (Gomez and Rodriguez), that provide an an alternative to the grinding old school tourist scene of Tijuana’s Avenida Revolucion. On Saturday September 14th, Pasaje Gomez (between 3rd and 4th on Revolucion on the East side of the street) was the location of Tijuana Art Walk.

The Pasaje’s in theory are open Friday and Saturday afternoon and evenings, but hours appear to be random. But if you are on Revolucion it is worth a shot.

The entrance to Pasaje Gomez from Revolucion.

The entrance to Pasaje Gomez from Revolucion.

We arrived in mid-afternoon and artists, restaurants, and retro vendors hawked their wares. Everyone was very friendly despite the fact that there were very few artists or original art. The scene reminded me of Tijuana’s punk scene in the 80s headed by Luis Guerena and his friend Omar that centered around Luis’s tiny apartment nearby to the current Pasaje’s.

You have to admire the energy and desire of Tijuana residents to create new things in the face of overwhelming obstacles. I’m a big believer in the capacity of art to bring new life to cities and urban spaces. If only local authorities did more to support alternatives to what is a moribund tourism industry in Tijuana.

The thriving gastronomic scene is one example of a new tourist alternative, but cleaning up the city and replacing ugly graffiti that mars streetscapes throughout the city with more murals, would be a start.

As always change in Tijuana is bottom up and grassroots. But I guess that is the point.

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These kids run a design studio called Rusty Nails Productions.

These kids run a design studio called Rusty Nails Productions.

Todos Santos 1994

dedina:young BajaHere is a photo of me and my wife Emily  on Palm Beach in Todos Santos sometime in November 1994 with our dogs Julius and little Tecate (who was a “street dog” who came with the house we cared for). We  spent the previous year living in Laguna San Ignacio and Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos carrying out field research for our University of Texas at Austin doctoral dissertations in Geography on gray whale conservation (me) and the cultural ecology of fishing and eco-tourism (Emily).

Our stays in those amazingly hospitable and wonderful communities were followed by a month in La Paz to do interviews and carry out archival research and then another month in Mexico City to do the same.

After a great year in Mexico, we faced the prospect of returning to Austin to write up our research and work as teaching assistants (Emily) which is what smart grad students do (it is best to be near your committee members and advisor). Thanks to a series of encounters in Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos with Kimberly and Ken who introduced us to Lee Moore, who then set us up with Roswitha Mueller (who owned a stunning 19th century home on the Plaza in Todos Santos) we ended up living in that emerging art colony and now-hipster village in southern Baja for a year.

For two literally penniless grad students it was a dream come true. The house overlooked the Palm-fringed coastline of Todos Santos. I dawn-patrolled each morning and after a long surf returned to the house where Emily and I shared breakfast and then sat down to the task of writing dissertations. After a long day of writing, we would retreat to Palm Beach for a walk with the dogs and to play in the waves.

I unwisely decided to write my dissertation as a book, which wasn’t a very strategic way of getting my committee to approve it (I later had to substantially modify the manuscript to make it more academic–which I should have done in the first place). My original manuscript later became my book, Saving the Gray Whale.

In retrospect making the decision to stay in Todos Santos was the smartest thing we have ever done. That year launched our careers in international conservation. After having discovered that ESSA (and its 49% partner) Mitsubishi planned to turn Laguna San Ignacio, a gray whale lagoon and Mexican federal protected area, into a 500,000-acre industrial salt harvesting facility, we joined up with Homero Aridjis and Betty Ferber of the Grupo de los Cien, to help launch a campaign against the project.

That initial effort turned into one of the largest ever international efforts to save a wild place that ended successfully when Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo cancelled the project in March, 2000.

Other things we did that year included convincing the School for Field Studies to open a study center in Bahia Magdalena and working to advise RARE on the launch of a very successful and ground-breaking eco-guide training program for whale guides in Bahia Magdalena and Laguna San Ignacio.

The most important part of the year is that Emily became pregnant with our oldest son Israel, and then got a job teaching geography at the University of Arizona. Despite my misgivings about living in Tucson (for a surfer, exile to the desert in Arizona is a slow death), in the end, I could never have launched my career in conservation without having lived there.

After completing my Ph.D. a year after we moved to Tuscon, The Nature Conservancy hired me to launch their Northwest Mexico Program. That profoundly gratifying, rewarding and educational experience  was the equivalent of attending Harvard Business School–but for Conservation. I was damn lucky to have worked there.

While at TNC, I helped to launch their still vibrant Baja California and Sea of Cortez Program and helped to launch successful initatives to preserve Loreto Bay National Park, Isla Espiritu Santo and Cabo Pulmo.

So that moment on the beach really was just before we became adults and understood that chasing dreams requires sacrifice, hard work, discipline, vision, and passion. We chose to do what was right for us, rather than please everyone else.  I also realized that if you want to get anything done, you can’t depend on anyone else to make it happen.

I will never forget our year in Todos Santos and how it changed our lives forever.

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