Just Another South Swell in Baja

The surf has been dismal in SoCal this summer so far (we had some fun south swells in May). So finally we had a little 3-5′ swell to light up reefs and points south of the border.

So the boys and I headed down to northern Baja to catch a few waves with our surfing exchange student Eneko, who is Basque. Let’s just say he thoroughly enjoyed his first trip to Mexico.

Wouldn’t be a Mexico surf trip without dogs following the boys into the lineup.

Daniel gets a fun one–the light was perfect in the afternoon for photos.

Israel on an inside corner.

Eneko on the move.

A post surf session pit stop at Los Traileros in El Sauzal is required for northern Baja surf trips.

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Victory in Cabo Pulmo

President Calderon’s announcement yesterday on Twitter that he was cancelling the Cabo Cortes project that would have destroyed the Cabo Pulmo coral reef in Baja.

Yesterday I  spent the morning at the world’s most important sea turtle nesting beach, Morro Ayuta beach in Oaxaca, Mexico. The area is largely cut off from communications.

After picking up my son in Barra de la Cruz where he had spent the week with a local family, my WiLDCOAST team and I returned to our hotel in Huatulco and were greeted with the news that Mexico‘s President Felipe Calderon had cancelled the Cabo Cortes project that would have destroyed the Cabo Pulmo coral reef.

upon hearing the amazing news of the cancellation of Cabo Cortes by President Calderon.

WiLDCOAST has spent the past two years mountain a campaign to stop the Cabo Cortes project. We brought the issue international attention and organized people in the streets of Los Cabos and the East Cape. We made it a truly grassroots and global campaign.

Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park is considered the world’s most important marine conservation area–fish have rebounded there by more than 460% since fishing was banned in 1999.

My favorite part of the campaign was our finale–where we worked with Napanda-a freestyle rapper and graffiti artist to work with students in Los Cabos and La Paz to pain Save Cabo murals. In addition we placed two billboards in La Paz.

I have an amazing team at WiLDCOAST and I am lucky they did such a great job of working passionately and tirelessly to bring attention to the plight of Cabo Pulmo and additionally work with the Mexican government to conserve the federal coastal save of the park through federal conservation concessions.

And thanks to all of our supporters for helping us to conserve a world-class ocean ecosystem and proving that you have to fight hard to make conservation a reality.

The Baja Bash

It is not everyday that your charity event appears in a super cool music video. But on June 2nd, WiLDCOAST held the 1st Annual Baja Bash to benefit our efforts to conserve the coast and ocean of Baja California. Nortec Collective: Hiperboreal played an amazing set and the video above is from the concert. We were also lucky to have the participation of Javier Plascencia of Mision 19, Solange Muris and Benito Molina of Manzanilla and Diego Hernandez of Corazon de Tierra. Thanks to a great team and all of our sponsors!!

It was also an honor for me to give our first ever Ocean Defender awards to Maria Celeste of Telemundo’s Al Rojo Vivo and Dr. Octavio Aburto of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Maria Celeste after receiving her Ocean Defender Award during the Baja Bash with me in the background.

Surf and Turf: The Baja Renaissance

Javier Plascencia of Mision 19.

“Last week I surfed K-38’s,” said Javier Plascencia, the chef and proprietor of Tijuana’s Mision 19. “But the surf was pretty bad.”

Plascencia is from Tijuana, attended high school in Chula Vista, and grew up surfing in Imperial Beach, OB and his home breaks in Baja.

The rock-star handsome Tijuana surfer, along with fellows chefs such as Diego Hernandez of Corazon de Tierra, Benito Molina and Solange Muris of Manzanilla, and brothers Javier Martinez of Boules and David Martinez Muelle 3 in Ensenada are leading a gastronomic revolution and Baja Renaissance that is bringing the endemic and earthy colors, tastes and textures of Baja’s land and sea into our palates and hearts.

“Baja is undergoing a virtual renaissance now with a renewed interest in the region’s gastronomy, culture, eco-adventures, lifestyle and unique accommodations,” said Jim Pickell, CEO and founder of Baja.com, a Baja-based company dedicated to helping travelers enjoy an authentic Baja California experience.

This new renaissance and revival of the authentic in Baja is an important and much needed antidote to the ongoing doom and gloom reporting on Mexico that has convinced many Baja fanatics to stay away from their favorite home away from home.

But due to the amazing things happening in the kitchens of these chefs and the still heartbreaking beauty of Baja’s wilderness landscapes and coastal treasures, there has never been a better time to head south across the border.

My first trip across the border was in 1967, when I was three. My mother, an English immigrant, and I joined our Los Angeles neighbors, a Mexican-American family, on weekend trips to Ensenada, where we rode horses on uncluttered beaches.

Later we traveled to San Felipe with my Aunt Jill and Uncle Emile who were visiting from Switzerland. There we reveled in the fresh fish, unfiltered kindness of local fishing families, the endless beauty of the Gulf of California and the towering peaks of the Sierra San Pedro Martir.

That me on the right with my brother Nicky, my mother, and my Uncle Emile in San Felipe either in 1972 or 1973.

After I started surfing at the age of 13 in 1977, I frequently traveled south of the border to surf the coastline between Tijuana and Ensenada. Those quick trips turned into longer expeditions with my father and friends to central Pacific Baja in a beat-up olive green 1964 six-volt Volkswagen van.

We found friendly fishermen, pristine beaches and surfed perfect waves.

In the 1990s my wife Emiy and I spent two years in the remote coastal lagoons of southern Baja to carry out our dissertation research on gray whales and fisheries management.

During those two years, besides the perfect waves I surfed and the incredible encounters Emily and I had with gray whales, sea turtles, sea lions, osprey and sharks, some of the best expeiences I had were sharing freshly harvested seafood with ourfishermen friends and their families.

In San Ignacio Lagoon, Maria Luisa, a fisherman’s wife and daughter, would lead me and my wife on low-tide searches for pulpo, or octopus. These elusive creatures hid in the empty shells of callo de hacha, or hatchet clams. Maria Luisa would use a gancho, or metal hook, to pry the shells out of the tidal flats and then open up the shells to occasionally reveal an octopus hiding in a shell.

A couple of hours later she would serve us up ceviche de pulpo in the dining room of her plywood house on the shore of the lagoon accompanied by a cold Pacifico.

I thought of those meals when I sat down with Plascencia last week at Mision 19 in Tijuana’s modern Zona Rio district and ate grilled pulpo with pistachio and garbanzo. The complex and satisfying dish was a direct connection to Maria Luisa’s pulpo ceviche.

Sashimi is one of the other signature dishes in northern Baja that is offered up at Manzanilla, Muelle 3 and Boules.

“The only time I had eaten sashimi in Baja,” I told Javier, “was with the fishermen of Punta Abreojos.”

Years ago after being hit by an obnoxious mantaraya or stingray, I savored fresh yellowtail sashimi while sitting under a ramshackle fish shack in Estero Coyote, a mangrove lagoon midway between San Ignacio Lagoon and the rocky points of Abreojos.

My fishermen friends Javier, Isidro and Miguel plied me with cold cerveza that combined with delicacy and sabor of the sashimi, dulled the acute pain of the stingray barb.

For the Baja fans who long to return across the border, you can no longer afford to miss out on the experience offered up by these chefs and the great waves in Baja.

But if you need to quickly experience the sabor of the Baja Renaissance, you can catch, Javier, Diego, Solange and Benito at the Baja Bash on June 2nd at the Harbor Pavilion on San Diego Bay. There these master chefs will offer up the best of their innovative cuisine to the background of Tijuana’s genre busting musical innovators Nortect Collective: Hiperboreal.

You can’t afford to miss out on the new taste of Baja.

Dazzled by Mision 19 in Tijuana

The foodie world exploded when the New Yorker published a seminal piece on Tijuana‘s master chef Javier Plascencia and his new temple of gastronomy Mision 19. Additional rave reviews followed an another important article in the New York Times. Javier grew up on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, is a surfer and has done a lot to help revolutionize the image of Tijuana and Baja. Along with Diego Hernandez of Corazon de Tierra in the Guadalupe Valley, Benito Molina and Solange Muris of Manzanilla in Ensenada and Javier and David Martinez of Boules and Muelle 3 in Ensenada have really helped to bring about a food revolution in Baja and Mexico.

Javier Plascencia, who told the New York Times, “I am proud of being from Tijuana.”

Since Javier has kindly agreed to be one of the featured chef’s at the WiLDCOAST BAJA BASH on June 2nd (along with Molina, Muris and Hernandez and music by Nortec Collective-Hiperboreal), I paid him a long overdue visit at his temple of food in Tijuana’s Zona Rio district. Buy your tickets now and get them here.

Let’s just say it was on of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. Javier is super gracious and obviously a genius at taking the authentic food of Baja and Mexico and creating a new, unique and brilliant cuisine that is nothing like I’ve eaten before.

I started off the meal with a nopal salad. Delicioso!!

Octopus with pistachio and garbanzo. I love pulpo and this was grilled and incredible.

After an amazing vegetable soup, I dug into my main course, fresh tuna.

Coyotas with cafe granizado and dulce de leche ice-cream.

Mision 19 is located in the Via Corporativo bulding on Mision de San Javier 10643, Zona Rio, Tijuana. Don’t wait to go there.

Seafood Suite at Ensenada’s Muelle 3

On Thursday I spent the day at the WiLDCOAST/COSTASALVAjE office in Ensenada. Our team went out to a simple but delicious meal at Muelle 3, David Martinez’s stunning simple new restaurant in Ensenada.

Our first course was sashimi and seafood ceviche. Both were fresh and sumptious.

We then had a sort of new twist on a fish taco, with smoked marlin. It was amazing.

Gigliola the chef at work.

That was followed by a bowl of steamed mussels and almejas blancas.

Muelle 3 is at the north end of the malecon in Ensenada. This is where the pangas leave to head out to Todos and where fishermen bring in their daily catch. While we were there a parade of pescadores walked by with sharks slung over their shoulders.

Historic Surf Weekend in San Miguel

Sean Fowler nails it during the final heat.

“My brother Travis and I were competing in the Vans Pier Classic and lost out on Friday, March 30th,” said Mexican-American ripper Dylan Southworth, who lives in Sayulita, north of Puerto Vallarta. “We saw the swell was on the rise and figured we would head down to Ensenada.”

Dylan and Travis were part of an international crew who found themselves surfing a historic swell at San Miguel in Ensenada on Saturday and Sunday as part of the 2012 2nd Annual Walter Coloca Memorial Open Surf Contest organized by United Athletes of the Pacific Ocean (UAPO) and WiLDCOAST.

Luis from Venezuela during the opening heat.

That wasn’t all that was going on.

“On Friday March 30th, the day before the surf contest we held the first ever forum, La Nueva Ola, on the state of surfing in Baja at CETYS University in Ensenada,” said Alfredo Ramirez of UAPO.

“Scientists, surfers, coastal conservationists, politicians and business owners discussed issues related to coastal access, water quality, the economic value of surf spots and efforts to improve the current situation of the region’s coastline.”

Speakers from Pronatura, Autonomous University of Baja California (UABC), WiLDCOAST, Surf Ens, CETYS University, Locales Surf School and UAPO presented their collective efforts to engage youth in the sport of surfing and reestablish a clean and accessible surfing environment.

“Although limited coastal access and poor water quality is currently limiting economic and recreational opportunities for surfing, there is a new wave in Baja California to improve the situation,” said Zach Plopper of WiLDCOAST.

Alfredo Ramirez of UAPO.

The forum was a good way to launch the Walter Coloca Open over the weekend. More than 60 surfers from Mexico, Venezuela and the U.S. came together to surf in the second year of an event organized by Ramirez.

“The contest is about one ocean, one passion and one family,” he said. “We share the same ocean so it is important to come together and surf together. Waves bring us together across the border. We are all part of a surfing family.”

Saturday was for the junior, school and body board divisions. Venezuelan Derek Gomez ripped his way to both finals in both the age 12-15 and 16-18 divisions. Judges and spectators were amazed by his solid style and explosive surfing.

Travis Southworth.

Equally impressive was Imperial Beach’s Josh Johnson who scored a perfect 10 (the only 10 of the event) in the 12-15 semi-finals with a double barrel ride across the entire cove section of San Miguel. Josh placed second in his division.

Zach Randall, 13, from East Lake Middle School came in third. Second place in the 16-18 division went to Andres Aguirre from Ensenada.

Also making the final were Michael Roccoforte from El Cajon, and Jorge Olvera from Ensenada. Paloma Aguirre of San Diego won the Open Body Board division with Ensenada’s Jose Peralta coming in a close second.

The Open Division of the contest took place on Sunday with an increasing combination of swells. I joined Imperial Beach surfer Sean Fowler and South Mission Beach’s Craig Macias in the rising swell Sunday.

Dylan Southworth

“The swell was the product of a compact, but intense, storm that was located just a few hundred miles off the California coast,” said Kevin Wallis, surf forecaster for Surfline. He said it brought 30-50 knot-plus winds and seas of over 30 feet.

“Because of the storm’s proximity to California, the swell it created rapidly filled in and it was kind of like someone flipped on a light switch, going from small to moderate size surf from a previous swell to very large surf in a matter of 30-60 minutes as the new west swell filled in. Definitely a cool thing to witness.”

Mysto waves north of San Miguel.

When I arrived at San Miguel on Sunday, the surf was in the 3-4’ range. By the time the contest was over the sets were 6-10’.

“This was definitely the latest I can remember seeing a swell of that size and westerly direction, which allowed it to get into many SoCal breaks,” said Wallis.

“Thirty surfers put on an exceptional show of surfing for the spectators and judges,” said Plopper, who helped to sponsor and organize the contest.

Women's finalists.

Dylan Southworth surfed consistently to the final and took home first place. In a close second was Imperial Beach’s Sean Fowler.

Placing third and fourth were Cheyne Willis from Hawaii and Travis Southworth. In the women’s division big-wave surfer Narra Nunez took the win and Everardo Montoya won the longboard division. Both surfers are from Ensenada.

Zach Plopper and Men's Open Finalists.

“The 2012 Walter Caloca contest at San Miguel in Ensenada was one of the best contests. The vibes were great; surf was pumping all weekend, especially with only three other people out,” said Fowler. “Thank you to the locals and all the sponsors for throwing such a great contest.”

“Travis and I we found ourselves in the final with great waves,” said Dylan. “Super stoked to get the title,” said Dylan. “A lot of good competitors entered and everyone was ripping.”

Travis Southworth.

Zach Plopper after the contest was over when the swell started pumping.

That's me in my first or second heat. I stared the semi right after finishing my second heat, competing against the Southworth brothers and Luis from Venezuela. I was super tired and they all ripped! it was an honor to surf with them--all great guys and great surfers!

Surf and Boules in Ensenada: A Super Day in the Biarritz of Mexico

Zach Plopper ripping San Miguel after the surf started pumping after the contest was over.

Spend the day yesterday in Ensenada at the 2nd Annual Walter Coloca Jr. Memorial Surf Contest organized by UAPO and WiLDCOAST. It was an epic weekend with one of the craziest NW swells I’ve ever seen in April (the surf jumped from 2-4′ in the morning to 6-10′ in the afternoon). I’ll post more about the contest later this week.

Javier Martinez the propietor of Boules in San MIguel in Ensenada.

But besides the great surf the highlight of the day was strolling over to Boules, a 2-year old restaurant that is perched above the inside break at San Miguel. Located inside a restored vintage building, Boules is a great addition to the Ensenada food scene. Owned by Javier Martinez (Javier’s brother David owns the insanely great Muelle 3) and his wife Galia Ahlborn, Boules is Biarritz meets Mexico. An earthy unpretentious and rustic location and similar tasty, simple, but delicious food.

Efrain with the mushroom and roasted zuchini appetizers.

While I sampled roasted zuchini with parmesan, roasted artichoke, mushrooms, fresh yellowtail (jurel) sashimi, and risotto with mushrooms and duck, with my staffers Sofia and Efrain, I watched the surf roll into San Miguel and chatted with Javier.

The bar at Boules.

Surfing is just part of the reason to visit San Miguel. But like a lot of surfers and foodies, I am finding that the innovative and original food being offered up throughout Ensenada is what is going to have me coming back for more. Don’t wait to visit Ensenada before the whole scene blows up. But for now get down to Boules for a pleasant afternoon lunch or dinner. You won’t regret it.

WiLDCOAST staffers Efrain and Sofia at Boules.

Risotto with mushrooms and duck.

Sofia and Javier. For such a cool place, Javier and Galia are incredibly down-to-earth. Javier sat and chatted with us for a while. We had a mutual friend, Luis Guerena the legendary founder of Tijuana No! a seminal Mexican ska-punk band who passed away and who I wrote about in my book Wild Sea.

Mural at Boules.

What could be better than great food and watching world-class surf. That's me in one of my contest heats. My bottom turns couldn't match the vertical surfing of fellow competitors who were half my age and seriously ripped.

Around the Cape

Whale shark. Photo courtesy of Ralph Lee Hopkins.

I caught my first glimpse of the Sea of Cortez as I rounded the farming and fishing village of La Ribera, on Baja’s East Cape.  The sea was turquoise.

A pod of humpbacks breached in the distance.

My guide was Cecilia Fischer, a Baja native who works with me as the WiLDCOAST Cape Region Coordinator.

“We’re almost to Cabo Pulmo,” said Cecilia as we left the pavement in my rented Jeep, and headed down a rutted dirt road to the tiny fishing village that proudly abuts the only coral reef in the Sea of Cortez.

East Cape in Baja. Photo courtesy of A.J. Schneller and Wildcoast.

I was in southern Baja to give a talk to the residents of Cabo Pulmo and the Cape Region to update them on our efforts to conserve the reef, a marine protected area, and the coastline that surrounds it.

A Spanish company, Hansa Urbana, has proposed building a new city larger than Cancun in the empty desert just next to Cabo Pulmo National Park.

If the project is built out, conservation biologists and marine ecologists fear the reef will not sustain the impacts that are sure to come.

We arrived in the ramshackle hamlet of Cabo Pulmo and made our way to the Cabo Pulmo Resort.

“I first came here years ago,” said Cole, the operator of the Resort’s Coral Reef Restaurant. “The reef was dead and the fish were gone. But now, diving the reef is incredible.”

Back in 1999, local fishermen and the Mexican government brokered a deal to ban all fishing around the reef. The fishermen switched from harvesting the locally dwindling supply of fish to taking tourists to dive the reef.

More than ten years later, researchers from Scripps announced the results of their decade long monitoring project in Cabo Pulmo.

The population of fish or “biomass” increased 460%.

Cabo Pulmo, they declared was “the world’s most robust marine reserve.”

“We never used to see whale sharks here,” said Cole. “Now this is one of the few places in the Sea of Cortez we can dive with them.”

Marine biologists and conservationists from around the world now visit Cabo Pulmo to learn about how Mexican fishermen saved the reef and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Last fall, Sylvia Earle, the renowned ocean explorer came to Cabo Pulmo to dive and named the 18,000-acre Cabo Pulmo National Park a “Hope Spot.”

After meeting with the friendly residents of Cabo Pulmo, Cecilia and I returned to San Jose del Cabo. The sprawling city is a world apart from the desert solitude and emerald brilliance of the East Cape.

The next morning I made my way through the bustle and traffic of Los Cabos on my way Todos Santos. My wife Emily and I lived in he artsy and historic village on the Pacific Coast 18 years earlier while we were finishing up writing up our dissertations on Baja’s gray whales and the fishing folk who make their living from whalewatching.

Todos Santos is still one of my favorite towns in Baja with great food, historic buildings, excellent surf and art galleries.

I caught a few waves at a beach south of town. The surf was 3-4’, the water was 70 degrees.

On the outskirts of Todos Santos I met up with Jim Pickell, the CEO of Baja.com who has an office in a renovated historic brick building. “Baja is back,” said Jim. “Tourism is up and people are excited to come to Baja and rediscover the peninsula.”

At the Café La Esquina in Todos Santos, an airy and friendly neighborhood hangout on the west side of town I ordered a veggie panini and a carrot-beet-spinach-apple smoothie from Paula Angeloni, a local surfer.

“I came Todos Santos to surf,” said Paula, who is originally from Uruguay and moved to Mexico to study marine biology in La Paz. “But now I’m raising my daughter here.”

That evening I have dinner at the La Dolce restaurant in San Jose del Cabo. Ramiro Rivas, the owner and native of Mexico City moved to Baja more than 11 years ago.

When Ramiro is not working at his lovely Italian restaurant just off the plaza in San Jose, he loves to visit Cabo Pulmo.  “I love Cabo Pulmo,” he said. “It is so beautiful.”

Over the next couple of days I greeted the sunrise each morning while surfing Costa Azul. The waves were small but the water was warm and crystal clear.

At the San Jose del Cabo Farmer’s Market, I ate the best pizza in Baja and was delighted with the quesadilla like vampiros stuffed with portabella mushrooms.

I bought beautiful abalone jewelry for Emily from Victor de la Vega. Besides making unique and original jewelry, Victor transforms driftwood into unique art.

“The farmer’s market started out pretty unofficially,” said Jim Tolbert of Baja Books and Maps who hosts a stall in the market each Saturday with his wife Judy. “But now we’re a non-profit. Thousands of people come here each week during the season.”

On my last evening, Cecilia and I drove out to the East Cape again. Our destination was the Crossroads County Club at Vinorama. Joan Hafenecker, the owner has created an impeccable oasis with a incredible view of the coast and savory food.

After giving a talk to a collection of local residents and visitors from Los Cabos, I settled down to a dinner of Asian stir-fry with pasta. When an American celebrity strolled in with his wife, no one even batted an eye.

We were too busy watching the sunset, looking for humpbacks, and absorbing the stars as they settled into Baja’s never ending nighttime sky.

Another perfect evening on the Cape.

Magnificent Animals: Why Sharks are Good for the Ocean and For Us

Dovi Kacev at work. Courtesy: Dovi Kacev.

Dovi Kacev grew up in South Africa and San Diego. A longtime La Jolla surfer, Dovi is finishing up a joint SDSU-UC-Davis Ph.D. in Ecology. For the past 11 years he has carried out research on shark ecology and conservation which has allowed him to study sharks in the wild in San Diego, Baja California, and the Caribbean.

Serge Dedina: As a surfer who grew up in South Africa where there are a lot of sharks, why did you choose to make your life’s work the study of the ocean’s apex predators?

Dovi Kacev: From as early as I can remember I have been interested in sharks, but I did not think of becoming a shark biologist until I was in college. Learning about how important their roles are to maintaining balanced ecosystems, how little we know about their biology, and how much trouble they face due to human pressures, led me to realize that there is a lot that we need to understand better about sharks.  This led me to a career in shark biology.

Dedina: On Tuesday, surfers and a photographer spotted what appears to be shark in Imperial Beach. What is the typical migratory pattern of these animals and what is their conservation status?

Kacev: We have many different species of shark in Southern Californian waters and each species has different migratory behavior and habitat preferences. The shark in the photograph in question looks like it is either a white shark or a basking shark, both of which are known to use local waters and both are protected species due to conservation concerns. Recent tagging studies have shown that adult white sharks tend to come to California in the fall but migrate offshore to an area in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for much of the year. Juvenile white sharks are known to spend more time in the the Southern California Bight. Much less is known about the behavior of basking sharks, but scientists are trying to learn more about them with a new tagging study. Much like it is difficult to identify the species from the photo, it is not possible to estimate the size without some sort of reference.

Dedina: Is it likely the shark is still hanging out in Imperial Beach? Is there enough food locally to sustain them? And what are they typically feeding on?

Kacev: This all depends on the size and species. Last year basking sharks were sighted spending time off of Imperial Beach. They primarily filter feed on small copepods in the water column. Juvenile white sharks seem to take up residency in Southern Californian waters. As juveniles, they are fish feeders, and pose little risk to people. Adult white sharks are known to be seasonal residents in certain locations in central California and Mexico, but to the best of our knowledge tend to be just transient in our waters. If that was an adult white shark, there is no reason to expect that it is still in the area.

Dedina: How many white sharks are out there along our coast?

Kacev: This is a difficult question to answer as sightings are so rare and therefore data on white shark abundance is hard to come by. The most recent study of adult white shark abundance in Northern Californian waters estimated that there are between 200 and 300 adult individuals, which is a pretty small population. Another recent study suggests that the population size may be growing, but growth of shark populations happens at such a slow rate because they take a long time to mature and reproduce at a slow rate. The simplest answer to this question is that the population is likely quite small and that they are more threatened by people than they are a threat to us.

Dedina: Are there any locations in Southern California and especially in San Diego County that you have identified as having larger numbers of sharks?

Kacev: There are areas of seasonal aggregations of leopard sharks and smoothhounds, but none for the larger, more pelagic sharks.

Photo courtesy Dovi Kacev.

Dedina: You have been carrying out research outside of Black’s Beach. What are you and your colleagues observing there?

Kacev: The area off of Black’s Beach is interesting because of a large submarine canyon. We see a lot of leopard sharks, guitarfish, and bat rays. We occasionally catch juvenile thresher sharks in the area, which we tag and track.  In all of my time surfing, diving and fishing in that area, I have yet to see any large, potentially dangerous sharks.  This is not to say they do not exist there, but not in particularly high densities.

Dedina: What is the role of sharks in maintaining the balance of the ocean? Do we really need sharks?

Kacev: Sharks often act as apex predators and as such they are important for controlling the population sizes and behaviors of the species they feed upon.  Research on the East Coast has shown that in certain areas where sharks have been over fished, populations of rays have blossomed leading to the collapse of shell fish fisheries, because the rays feed on the shell fish. Healthy ecosystems need to be in balance and this requires maintenance of all the levels of the food web.

Shark carcasses in Mexico. Courtesy Dovi Kacev

Dedina: You have been traveling down the coast of Baja California to carry out shark research. What have you found there?

Kacev: We have found that in Baja there are a lot of fishing camps that catch a lot of sharks and rays, particularly juveniles. These fisheries are likely to have a large impact in the shark populations in the region. We have also found that in general the fishermen in Baja understand the importance of sustainable fisheries because their livelihoods depend on there being healthy populations of these fish. As a result, most of the fishing camps have been very accommodating to our research.

Dedina: There seems to be a lot of documentation and reporting now about shark sightings along the California coast. Is the population of sharks increasing?

Photo courtesy of Dovi Kacev.

Kacev: It is difficult to say whether shark populations are increasing, the population of ocean users is increasing, or the likelihood of people reporting sightings is increasing. It may also be a combination of all three factors. It is important to note that most shark populations are low relative to historical abundances, so even if their populations are increasing they are still of conservation concern. Even if shark populations are increasing, they do so at a very slow rate. Also, since sharks play such an important role in our coastal ecosystems and many species are of conservation concern, we should be celebrating if their population are indeed increasing. I hope that with continued increase in public curiosity and education, people will realize that sharks are a welcome part of our ocean system.  Instead of fearing them, we should respect them.

Dedina: California just passed a ban on the sale of shark fins. Why should we care about the plight of these animals?

Kacev: We should care about the plight of sharks because they are magnificent animals and our ocean ecosystems rely on them. Beyond just the value of sharks for their ecosystem services, it is important to remember that many people’s livelihoods revolve around the oceans and fisheries. Any disturbance that effects the balance of the ecosystem could eventually lead to the collapse of various fisheries.

Photo courtesy of Dovi Kacev.

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