HOW WILDCOAST WORKS WITH COMMUNITIES

Carrying out conservation programs is challenging at all levels. It requires partnerships and collaboration with government agencies and officials, the private sector and the people in communities who are in and around the ecosystems, wildlife and protected areas that WILDCOAST strives to conserve. 

Scallop divers, Magdalena Baj, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Photo: Miguel Angel de la Cueva

Probably the most important part of the conservation coalitions that advocate for the protection of coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife are the diverse community members and organizations in coastal communities. 

Working them is essential and rewarding to protecting our coast and ocean. But it is not an end inself. That is because WILDCOAST is not a community development organization. Our mission is to carry out coastal and marine conservation and address climate change through natural solutions. 

We work with communities and local organizations because it is the right thing to do and it is the most effective way to advance conservation. There is no nature protection without community engagement, because people are part of nature everywhere WILDCOAST works. 

Here are some ways that WILDCOAST is working at a community level for nature protection and especially addressing climate change. 

Stewardship

One of the most important elements of conservation for WILDCOAST is the actual on site protection and management or stewardship of the protected areas we work in. To be effective, stewardship requires active local volunteers and organizations to help defend ecosystems and protected areas. 

In La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico, Las Guardianas del Conchalito is a group of women who work with WILDCOAST, as well as Mexico’s Protected Area Commission (CONANP), to manage a mangrove reserve called  ”El Conchalito.” 

According to WILDCOAST’s Mangrove Conservation Manager Celeste Ortega, “These local conservationists have helped to install reserve information signs for visitors; painted murals with local artists and carried out really extensive cleanup campaigns.” 

More recently the Guardianas worked with law enforcement authorities to stop the destruction of mangroves by a poacher. The women of Conchalito illustrate the power of local stewardship to protect carbon sequestering mangroves, which combat the effects of climate change and help safeguard their community. 

Education

Working with local communities and especially students on education campaigns is critical in the defense of threatened ecosystems and wildlife. In the case of marine protected areas in California, WILDCOAST, carried out extensive in-field and classroom education programs about marine protected areas to reach the community at large as well as thousands of students. During the pandemic this helped to reduce the people illegally harvesting sea life from fragile tide pools in and around marine protected areas in California. 

One of the ways that WILDCOAST has gone deeper into the education side of things is to recognize the need for additional leadership to help advocate for our coastal areas. That is why we developed the Coastal Leaders Internship program.

 “I am thrilled for the opportunity to continue to work with our local Indigenous students and communities as well as to work for an organization that acknowledges Indigenous land and stewardship practices,” said WILDCOAST’s Jules Jackson. “The Coastal Leaders Internship is an innovative leadership program that provides a teaching platform for both Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge and modern-day environmental conservation, thus enabling students the unique platform to develop their scientific understanding in a way which aligns with their culture and values while providing a pathway for future employment. 

Likewise, wildlife protection is impossible to carry out in rural and remote areas like southern Oaxaca without the involvement and education of local residents, especially in the indigenous coastal communities that help to protect nesting sea turtles. 

“The Oaxacan coast is home to two of the most important beaches in the world for olive ridley nesting,” says Luis Angel Rojas Cruz of WILDCOAST. “We have  educated more than 1,000 children and young people from coastal communities of Chontal and Zapotec origin on the issue of sea turtle conservation including developing outreach material in their native languages. 

As a result, we have noticed that community participation in the conservation of sea turtles has generated a change of consciousness in part of its inhabitants, especially in children and young people.” 

Restoration and Research Partnership for Natural Climate Solutions 

Carrying out natural climate solutions programs to restore coastal wetlands in California and mangrove lagoons in Mexico, requires extensive partnerships and participation through local conservation groups, students as well as academic partnerships with research institutions such as the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Queensland in Australia. 

To carry out a mangrove restoration project in Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, Mexico, “WILDCOAST partnered with local residents, especially youth and women’s groups in this remote UNESCO World Heritage Site and protected area,” said Francisco Martinez of WILDCOAST. “The mangrove project provides employment and training opportunities for local residents and helps create a natural defense system against coastal flooding in a region that is routinely hit by hurricanes.”

In California, WILDCOAST, is partnering with local conservation organizations such as the Batiquitos Lagoon Conservancy to restore wetland and riparian habitat in a state marine protected area, and involve local youth in restoration efforts as well. That way there is local buy-in for the project and local investment in supporting its success.

Volunteers at the Batiquitos Lagoon in Carlsbad, CA help plant 100 trees as part of a commitment with San Diego Gas and Electric to plant 10,000 trees in 2021.

Right: Youth groups help remove scattered and submerged trash during an annual Batiquitos Lagoon Cleanup. Left: Students help clear invasives + Arundo plant, making room for local plants to thrive and enhancing the lagoon’s overall ecosystem function. Together, we are helping strengthen the lagoon’s ecosystem services such as recreation, carbon storage, and critical wildlife habitat. 

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To be successful in conservation, local ecosystems and wildlife need all the friends they can get. And that means that for every conservation action taken, a robust coalition of community members and organizations is involved every step of the way. That is because conservation must be a team effort all the way. That is why WILDCOAST will continue its deep partnerships and collaborative work with local communities and vibrant organizations in order to give our coast and ocean as well as our planet a helping hand.

Five Reasons Why Protecting Coastal Oaxaca Matters

Diane Castaneda with a leatherback sea turtle in Oaxaca. Photo: WILDCOAST

(Originally published in The Inertia) With the endless barrage of swell raining down on Oaxaca this time of year, the eyes of surfers around the world are always fixated on the elevator drops and deep barrels at Puerto Escondido. But right now with the World Surf League’s Corona Open Mexico running, the tranquil village of Barra de la Cruz has both the world’s best surfers visiting and a global gaze on the surreal sand bottom tropical cylinders of Oaxaca.

Oaxaca is more than just a destination for waves, though. It also contains globally important coastal ecosystems, a myriad of unique wildlife species, and vibrant indigenous communities. The undeveloped state of this wave-rich zone (with the exception of Puerto Escondido) and its unaltered watersheds and coastline contribute to the exceptional quality and diversity of point waves. That, in turn, fuels the rare ecological conditions that result in wildlife and rich ecosystems seen in few other locations in coastal Mexico.

Coastal Oaxaca is influenced by the Isthmus of Tehuantepec whose Tejuano winds and other biogeographic features have produced rare coastal dunes next to patches of tropical forest as well as upwelling in the Gulf of Tehuantepec, which in turn results in an amazing abundance and diversity of ocean life. It is these contrasts that make its protection vital, not just for surfing, but for the health of the oceans worldwide.

This also includes the continued well-being of Oaxaca’s residents, especially indigenous communities that depend on natural resources, many of whom still deeply feel the stinging loss of their villages from the development of the coastal resort city of Huatulco.

With all that in mind, here are five resources we must continue to protect to preserve the miraculous and stunning coastal resources of one of North America’s most unique regions:

The coastline of Oaxaca includes some of the world’s most important sea turtle nesting beaches, vibrant coral reefs, pristine beaches, carbon storing mangroves, tropical forests and abundant wildlife. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob.

1. Connected and Undeveloped Coastlines and Watersheds

The coast of Oaxaca offers up what is increasingly rare in a tropical Pacific Mexico that has been hammered by urbanization, coastal tourism development, pollution, and deforestation (especially in the states of Michoacan and Guerrero): undeveloped coastal ecosystems connecting mangrove wetlands to watersheds and tropical forests.

Looking southeastward from Barra de la Cruz, endless green mountain vistas of the Sierra Madre del Sur fill the view and culminate in the 12,200-foot Cerro Nube at its southerly edge. Just down the beach from Huatulco is the mouth of the Copalita River that offers up whitewater rafting and hundreds of thousands of acres of tropical forests, home to some of Mexico’s most important watersheds, now referred to as “water reserves.”

While Huatulco is obviously a tourist resort, its development included the formation of the 29,400-acre Huatulco National Park and the preservation of local coral reefs and coastal wetlands and forests. That forward-thinking conservation is unique among Mexico’s heavily developed coastal resort cities.

The coral reefs of nearby Huatulco National Park are among the most well preserved in southern Mexico. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob.

2. Coral Reefs

Coral bleaching is a threat to coral reefs worldwide. But somehow the corals of Mexico’s Pacific have not seen the type of damage faced by Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The coral ecosystems of Huatulco National Park are the southernmost in Pacific Mexico and home to a wide variety of wildlife species. Unfortunately, they have been impacted by overuse from tourists. Currently, the organization WILDCOAST is working with Mexico’s National Protected Area Commission to train outfitters in best management practices and place mooring buoys around the most fragile reefs to prevent damage from anchor drops.

During the nesting season, 100,000 olive ridley sea turtles can arrive at Playa Morro Ayuta in Oaxaca to lay their eggs in a single day. Photo: WILDCOAST.

3. Sea Turtle Nesting Beaches

Starting in the summer months, especially Escobilla and Morro Ayuta, tens of thousands of olive ridley sea turtles arrive to lay their eggs on Oaxaca’s beaches. In Barra de la Cruz, the protected beach and RAMSAR Wetland of International Importance play host to the most important remaining population of nesting leatherback sea turtles in Mexico. These marine reptile leviathans that face extinction due to threats caused by industrial and commercial fishing, only leave the ocean to lay their eggs (and only the females).

The sea turtle activity in Oaxaca is remarkable given that the now hipster tourist village of Mazunte down the coast from Puerto Escondido was once the site of Mexico’s notorious legal sea turtle slaughterhouse. Sea turtles have come back thanks to government protection, the cooperation of local communities who benefit from sea turtle conservation, and the preservation programs of the Mexican Sea Turtle Center at Mazunte.

The watersheds and tropical forests in the mountains above Barra de la Cruz and Huatulco, Oaxaca help to store water and atmospheric carbon and are critical in the fight against climate change.  Photo: Miguel Angel de la Cueva.

4. Blue and Green Carbon Ecosystems

The mangrove wetland and tropical forest ecosystems found widely in Oaxaca help to store vast amounts of carbon to mitigate climate change.

“By preserving natural ecosystems, the carbon they have already sequestered remains stored in the ground. When these blue and green carbon ecosystems are destroyed, they end up releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, worsening the climate crisis,” affirms WILDCOAST Associate Director Zach Plopper. “So we need to not only protect every inch of Oaxaca’s treasured natural ecosystems for the sake of the people and wildlife that thrive there but for the sake of preserving our planet.”

These ecosystems are also home to humpback whales off the coast, along with jaguarundi, jaguars, anteaters, resident and migratory birds, deer, iguanas, and rare and other threatened marine species.

The sand-bottom breaks and raw beauty of Oaxaca make this area an unparalleled site for surfing. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob.

5. Globally Unique Surf Spots

There is increasing recognition of the need to safeguard globally unique surfing sites as protected areas and World Surfing Reserves. The sand-bottom breaks of Oaxaca, which include Punta Conejo, now threatened by the proposed expansion of the port in Salina Cruz, are more than worthy of permanent protection. They are rare and treasured ecological features, coastal and marine ecosystems, wildlife habitats, and recreational, cultural, and economic resources that help to drive an important part of the local economy in Oaxaca.

Without more formal conservation protections, Oaxaca will fall prey to the same forces that have ravaged coastlines and natural ecosystems around the world. There is still time to make sure that this magical coastline retains its extraordinary resources and raw beauty so local communities and surfers continue to benefit from and enjoy Oaxaca’s natural wonders.

A set at Barra.
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