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.

Coastal Conservation in Barra de la Cruz, Oaxaca

(Originally published by the World Surf League) From the lineup at Barra de la Cruz, located in Oaxaca, Mexico, the next stop on the World Surf League’s professional surf tour (August 10-20), you would be forgiven for thinking you are in Hawaii. After the rainy season starts, the mountains shimmer endlessly under the green wave of tropical forest.

Barra de la Cruz. Photo: Miguel Angel de la Cueva

The pristine beaches that extend for miles southeastward from the point at “Barra,” like much of this part of Oaxaca’s coastline, include some of the world’s most important nesting sites for sea turtles, including the globally endangered leatherback, ancient behemoths that only come ashore to lay their eggs and travels thousands of miles of ocean to arrive there.

Barra is the most important leatherback nesting beach in Mexico, a species that faces extinction due to industrial and commercial fishing gear entanglements, poaching, coastal development, and other threats.WILDCOAST GranteeDuring 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. – CLAUDIO CONTRERAS KOOB

“There are few places in the world that are home to such unique wildlife and pristine coastline as Oaxaca. Barra de la Cruz is no exception,” explains Luis Angel Rojas Cruz, WILDCOAST’s Oaxaca Program Manager. WILDCOAST is working with communities and Mexico’s National Protected Area Commission along this coastline to protect its nesting beaches, mangroves, and coral reefs.

“It is really extraordinary to witness the miracle of Oaxaca’s protected and gorgeous coastline,” adds Rojas Cruz. “The fact that this globally important coastal zone is still relatively pristine is due to the conservation focus and commitment of the coastal indigenous communities of Oaxaca. The indigenous residents of Barra de la Cruz deserve global recognition for their heroic and successful initiatives to protect the world-class wildlife and ecosystems within their community.”WILDCOAST GranteeBirds of a feather taking advantage of their natural feeding grounds. – CLAUDIO CONTRERAS KOOB

Over the past 15 years Barra de la Cruz has become a model for how communities can proactively protect natural resources they depend on for their livelihoods. “The combination of the importance of our beaches for surfing, leatherback sea turtles, and as a hot spot for migratory and resident birds is what makes Barra so special,” says Pablo Narvaez, a Barra resident, eco-guide, and environmental activist.

“In the case of Barra,” according to Zach Plopper, Associate Director of WILDCOAST, “we have a great example of a proactive community that recognizes the importance of protecting their most important and vulnerable ecosystems and wildlife as well as a world-class wave.”https://www.worldsurfleague.com/socialembed?embedId=HNt2D6g_yFI&embedType=youtube

“By not developing the coastal zone and using surfing to provide collective economic benefits for the locals, the community of Barra has set a sustainable example of effective ecosystem conservation,” continues Plopper.

In Barra de la Cruz the community decided to prohibit coastal development, with the exception of a collectively managed restaurant.

“What also makes Barra so unique is that we can promote ecotourism activities that benefit local residents, without ruining the natural resources that make Barra de la Cruz such a world-class surf spot and wildlife habitat,” adds Narvaez.WILD COASTThe coral reefs of nearby Huatulco National Park are among the most well preserved in southern Mexico. – CLAUDIO CONTRERAS KOOB

“What now also makes conservation efforts like these so globally important is that the tropical forest and wetland and mangrove ecosystems that are being conserved along the Oaxacan coast, and especially in Barra de la Cruz, sequester carbon and helps in the fight against climate change,” echoes Rojas Cruz.

Down the coast in Playa Morro Ayuta, a globally important olive ridley sea turtle nesting beach and world-class surf spot, indigenous Chontal community leaders have also committed to protecting their 16-kilometer-long coastline, as well as safeguarding nesting sea turtles and the hatchlings that emerge by the millions. In contrast, further south in Punta Conejo, a major development proposal by the government has once again threatened a surf spot and an important coastal ecosystem.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 CuevaThe 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. – MIGUEL ANGEL DE LA CUEVA

Places like Barra, that are trying to protect their resources including waves, and benefit the local economy, “just need some help with a sustainability model that can benefit everyone in the community and continue to respect the natural environment. That’s really our challenge,” says Narvaez.

In the case of Oaxaca and Barra de la Cruz, these extraordinarily successful locally driven coastal conservation initiatives provide a hopeful template for how we can protect world-class waves and wildlife while saving the planet.

WILDCOAST INAUGURATES PHOTO EXHIBIT IN CUBA, “CONSERVATION TREASURES OF MEXICO”

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In July, WILDCOAST partnered with the Embassy of Mexico of Cuba and Patrimonio Comunidad y Medio Ambiente to inaugurate a photo exhibit at the Sala de Diversidad in Havana, Cuba. The exhibit that will run through the September highlights the conservation success stories of WILDCOASTDSC_0206 in Mexico featuring stunning images by Claudio Contreras, Dr. Octavio Aburto of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Miguel Angel de la Cueva and Ralph Lee Hopkins. Photos featured globally significant sites that WILDCOAST works to conserve including Cabo Pulmo, Oaxaca, Bahia Magdalena and Valle de los Cirios Pacific Coast. On hand to open the exhibit were Executive Director Serge Dedina, Mexico Director Eduardo Najera and Communications and Policy Director Fay Crevoshay.DSC_0207

“We are grateful to the Embassy of Mexico in Cuba for sponsoring this exhibit and their role in fostering international cooperation to help preserve the world-class coastal and marine ecosystems in Mexico and to partner with the Cuban National Park Service to assist in the preservation of world-class coral reefs and mangrove lagoons,” said Dedina. “This was an incredible opportunity to highlight our work and we were so pleased that Ana Lourdes Soto Perez, President of Patrimonio Comunidad y Medio Ambiente agreed to host the exhibit in the Sala de Diversidad in Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”


IMG_1329The WILDCOAST exhibit is being showcased to the growing numbers of  tourists who visit Old Havana which now officially includes Americans, due to the recent opening of relationsbetween the U.S. and Cuba. “We were very happy to work with the Mexican government to highlight the conservation successstories in Mexico to help increase awareness in Cuba about the importance of continuing to preserve globally important coral reefs. Sites like Jardines de la Reina in Cuba, like Cabo Pulmo in Mexico, are considered among the world’s most successful marine reserves. It is important to continue to collaborate internationally together to help preserve them.” 

As part of the trip to Cuba, WILDCOAST staff presented papers at the International Congress on Conservation and Sustainable Development in Havana. Then they visited Guanahacabibes National Park in the southwest corner of the island, which includes the pristine Maria la Gorda coral reef. “It was amazing to dive the reef and see how pristine it is,” said Najera. During their visit, WILDCOAST staff met with high level Cuban National Park Service officials as well as a visiting delegation of officials from the NOAA and the U.S. National Park Service. 

Thanks to the support of a generous donor, WILDCOAST is launching a Cuba Conservation Initiative to support efforts to preserve globally important coastal and marine ecosystems in Cuba. “Our first effort will be to bring Cuban park staff from Guanahacabibes to Cabo Pulmo to learn

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Mangle es Vida: Music for Relief, Linkin Park and WILDCOAST Partner to Protect Mangroves and our Oceans

Dave Farrell, Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda of Lincoln Park.

Dave Farrell, Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda of Lincoln Park.

Linkin Park has always been one of the world’s most iconic, innovative and groundbreaking bands. In 2005, the influential artists started their philanthropic arm, Music for Relief (MFR) to help respond to the devastating tsunami in Indonesia.

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Here’s more on the MRF history and mission:

Since inception in 2005 Music for Relief has raised over $7 million for survivors of multiple disasters across four continents including Hurricane Katrina, China’s Wenchuan earthquake, a cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, earthquakes in Haiti and Japan in 2010, and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. MFR has organized benefit concerts, online auctions, and events with multi-platinum musicians and celebrities to help rebuild and donate supplies to people in need. Music for Relief has also planted over 1 million trees to help reduce climate change.

So I was elated a few months ago when MFR asked WILDCOAST, the organization I co-founded and am Executive Director of, to partner in its effort to help combat climate change and storm-related flooding through the conservation of mangrove ecosystems in the Baja California Peninsula.

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Mangroves on Isla Magdalena, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California Sur.

Since WILDCOAST has been working to preserve mangroves in Baja California and throughout Northwest Mexico through the innovative use of conservation concessions in partnership with Mexico’s Protected Area Commission, this offer of support was right up our alley. More importantly the programs seeks to help to prevent climate related storm damage by protecting the natural ecosystems that help to mitigate coastal flooding, protecting wildlife and coastal communities.

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Divers hunt for scallops in Bahia Magdalena.

In the amazingly vast and stunningly beautiful Bahia Magdalena in Baja California Sur we have been carrying out an ambitious plan to preserve mangroves through the application of federal conservation concessions. Here’s a description of the program from MFR:

Mangroves are botanical amphibians that form forests, which are among the most productive and biologically complex ecosystems on Earth. They are the tropical rainforests of the ocean. The plants’ interlocking roots stop riverborne sediments from coursing out to sea – making them natural land builders.  Their trunks and branches serve as a palisade that diminishes the erosive power of waves. Following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, research demonstrated that where mangrove forests were intact, they served as natural breakwaters, dissipating the energy of the waves, mitigating damage, and saving lives. Mangroves are threatened by development, oil spills, chemical pollution, sediment overload, climate change, and disruption of their sensitive water and salinity balance. Music for Relief has partnered with WiLDCOAST to conserve 61 miles of mangroves in Magdalena Bay, Baja California Sur, Mexico. The program will help restore wildlife habitats, protect coastal areas, and keep our ocean pristine.

Bahia Magdalena, Baja California Peninsula, Mexico, June

Bottle nose dolphins, Bahia Magdalena. Photo: Claudio Contreras-Koob

This past April we launched this new partnership at the Mobli Beach House in Venice Beach. Linkin Park guitarist Brad Delson attended along with MFR Director Whitney Showler and their incredibly creative and passionate team members.

Brad Delson of Linkin Park, Whitney Showler of MRF and Serge Dedina of WILDCOAST at the MFR Mangrove /Ocean Campaign Launch in Venice Beach.

Brad Delson of Linkin Park, Whitney Showler of MRF and Serge Dedina of WILDCOAST at the MFR Mangrove /Ocean Campaign Launch in Venice Beach.

Of the partnership Whitney said,

“This is an exciting night for us because it’s the first time we’re doing an ocean program. The environmental work we typically do is aimed at disaster risk mitigation, we plant trees in wildfire burned areas or we plant trees in an area where there is a potential for a mudslide and we’ve wanted to do something tho help protect the ocean.” Following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, research demonstrated that where mangrove forests were intact, they served as natural breakwaters, dissipating the energy of the waves, mitigating damage and saving lives.

According to Brad Delson:

“It’s a way for the entire music industry to come together after natural disasters and raise money and support people who are effected by these events. We’re really grateful that our music has given us a platform to affect positive change when we have the help of amazing people like some of the folks here tonight. It’s certainly one of the ongoing objectives of Music for Relief to be a voice and an extension of the music industry as a whole. So when other artists join us, when other people in the music industry join us, when fans online get involved in causes, that’s when we see the greatest impact of our efforts.”

The WILDCOAST team at the Arena Mexico for the June 23rd LP concert.

The WILDCOAST team at the Arena Mexico for the June 23rd LP concert.

So at the June 23rd Linkin Park concert at the Arena Mexico in Mexico City we fully launched the campaign in Mexico. On June 25th we also tabled at the Arena Monterrey in Monterrey. It was a great opportunity to get our message out: #mangleESvida (Mangroves are Life) and reach out to whole new conservation audience. The concert attendees couldn’t have been nicer and swarmed our tables to get more info and get a chance to win an electric guitar signed by band members.

LP fans.

LP fans at the WILDCOAST/MFR tables.

Overall it was a great start to a fantastic and critical partnership for preserving oceanic ecosystems that are absolutely essential in preserving life and protecting our oceans and our planet. I found the positivity, passion and earnest interest in social change and environmental protection on the part of LP’s fans really inspiring. It was a hopeful, exuberant crowd and exactly the type of audience conservationists need if we are to continue our effort to sustain the ecosystems that sustain life on earth. We are grateful to Linkin Park and their fans along with MFR for making it possible.

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LP fans in Mexico City-full of hope and optimism.

The day after the Mexico City LP concert, we took advantage of our stay in Mexico City to get our message out on Radio Red and meet with influential Mexican policy makers.  As always, it is not just enough to reach out–we have to make sure that every campaign actually makes a difference on the ground–and in this case we have to do everything possible to preserve the emerald green mangroves of Bahia Magdalena and Mexico’s incredible array of mangrove forests that are a natural buffer and shield against a climate changing future that is coming at us more quickly than we can imagine.

Eduardo Najera and Fay Crevoshay of WILDCOAST on Radio Red in Mexico City talking about climate change and the need for mangrove conservation.

Eduardo Najera and Fay Crevoshay of WILDCOAST on Radio Red in Mexico City.

We can pretend that climate change isn’t happening or we can act now. We are grateful to Linkin Park and their fans along with MFR for making it possible and inspired to action by these words of wisdom from LP:

‘Cause you don’t know what you’ve got Oh you don’t know what you’ve got No you don’t know what you’ve got It’s your battle to be fought No you don’t know what you’ve got ‘Til it’s gone ‘Til it’s gone ‘Til it’s gone

Surfing the Supermoon in Cabo

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Let’s dawn patrol tomorrow morning,” I told my son Daniel, 15, as we watched sets pound Zippers and The Rock as the sun set behind us and the supermoon rose over the ocean.

We were in San Jose del Cabo at the southern tip of Baja California to attend a wedding during the same weekend as the Los Cabos Open of Surf. The Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) contest meant lineups throughout southern Baja were full of talented surfers.

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Since surfers party hard in Cabo, most aren’t awake at the crack of dawn. So dawn patrolling was our only way to escape the aggressive crowds.

The next day Daniel and I slipped into the ocean at 5:30 in the morning. We could see sets hitting the reefs. With the supermoon illuminating the lineup, I spotted many rocks sticking out of the water I wish I hadn’t been able to see.

Unfortunately we didn’t realize that the super high tide the night before was followed by a very low tide the following morning. As we navigated the boils and rocks in the lineup, our dawn patrol was looking more and more like a bad idea.

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After we reached the outside Daniel quickly caught a head-high wave. He kicked out at the last minute to avoid an inside exposed rock.

“It’s pretty sketchy out here,” said Daniel, who wasn’t happy about being woken up so early.

“But think of all the street cred you’ll have by being able to tell everyone about your low-tide nighttime session at the Rock in overhead waves,” I replied.

Matt Banting in action.

Matt Banting in action.

Daniel wasn’t convinced.

After we both caught a few set waves he said, “It is way too shallow out here. Let’s paddle down to Zippers.”

Zippers, once a Trestles-like wave that is still the epicenter of the Cabo surf scene, has been vastly reduced in scope due to the loss of sand from its once large beach.

Garrett Parkes somewhere in southern Baja.

Garrett Parkes somewhere in southern Baja.

Adjacent development projects with their intrusive seawalls and what many surfers believe is the loss of sand from the San Jose Estuary due to the presence of a marina there, has turned what was the Queen of the Cabo Coast into a hit or miss wave at best.

As we paddled south the sun began to emerge in the eastern sky along with dreaded southeasterly winds. After catching a few bumpy rights and saying hello to shark researcher and La Jolla surfer David “Dovi’ Kacev and his friends (also there for the wedding), we paddled in.

That's me--my sons are coaching me on how to get more vertical--at this point I'm a work in progress.

That’s me–my sons are coaching me on how to get more vertical–at this point I’m a work in progress.

Daniel returned to our condo and promptly fell asleep.

Later that morning the wind died and The Rock fired. And pretty much everyone stayed away due to wind and the fact that they had apparently partied until dawn.

So Daniel and I paddled out and caught tons of waves with almost no crowd. We finally scored in San Jose.

Up until the wedding, we had spent a few days out on the East Cape, sampling a variety of no-name spots that are rarely surfed but offered up clean, fun waves.

Siesta time for burros in Baja.

Siesta time for burros in Baja.

At one spot we spent the afternoon sharing waves with Garrett Parkes and Matt Banting, two Australian pros in town for the Cabo Open.

“We’ve never even surfed out here on the East Cape before,” said Garrett.

For two hours Daniel shared rippable 2-4’ rights with traveling Aussie pros who gave Daniel a clinic in modern surfing. What more could a grom ask for?

Daniel was elated.

“Those guys really know how to ride these waves,” he said.

Indeed they did.

Daniel

Daniel

Adventure Mexico

The mud hole looked like a lake. I wasn’t about to risk losing a rental car by driving through it in order to surf point waves with no crowd.

I figured it was better to walk barefoot through the black, smelly water that harbored snakes, horse poop, clouds of mosquitoes, squishy stinky mud, sharp sticks and then traipse through a mile of dank marsh to find waves, then risk getting stuck in the pit.

The lake we decided not to drive through.

While Daren Johnson and I evaluated our chances of driving through the water feature created by Hurricane Carlotta, our sons Josh, 15, and Israel, 16, ran through a trail in the mangrove forest and crossed the dunes to check if there were any waves at the point that was a couple of miles away.

About 15 minutes later they returned. Both were out of breath, sweating and clearly not having a good time.

“The surf is flat,” said Israel. “Let’s go somewhere else.”

“If we go somewhere else it is going to take us hours to find waves,” said Daren. “Let’s surf here.”

So we parked the car on the only dry spot we could find, loaded our backpacks with food, water and sunscreen, took off our shoes and hiked barefoot through the swamp, mangroves, dunes, and finally what seemed like an endless beach.

As we neared the point I could see set waves breaking off the rocks.

Half an hour later we had settled into the lineup and caught dreamy rights with just a couple of other surfers in the lineup.

I caught a couple of waves that were as good as any I’ve ever surfed—looping barrels that I raced my 6’6” Novak quad down the line on to stay in position.

On my recent trip to Mexico, I spent a lot of time walking through the rainforest, swatting mosquitoes, being attacked by no-see-ums, and hoping that I’d come around the bend to find perfect waves.

During one foray into the forest to find a point the locals assured us had good surf, we found a local guide to navigate the rocky and hilly trail.

The sun was scorching and the humidity was overpowering. Pedro, our guide was barefoot and wore a thick long-sleeve rugby shirt.

“I crossed the desert in Arizona during the summer on my to Washington,” he said when I asked him if he was hot. “So this is pretty easy.”

Israel and Josh scrambled to keep up as Pedro ran up hills through the forest. With my long legs I was able to hang on.

After about 45 minutes we arrived at a giant jumble of rocks.

“The waves are down there, “ said Pedro pointing to the point. “Just climb down the cliff.”

I wasn’t too interested in risking injury sliding down the rocky precipice to find a few waves.

“We’ll paddle around the point Pedro, ” I said pointing to a small beach to the right of the point that was a safer entryway into the surf.

While we caught waves, Pedro patiently threw out his fishing line from atop the boulders.

On our return Pedro ran through the forest. I barely kept up. Josh and Israel fell behind.

We arrived back at the tiny village an hour later exhausted but were elated to find the beachbreak looking fun.

A couple of local kids were snagging the 3-4’ offshore A-frames.

Josh and Israel paddled out while I made arrangements for a local family to cook us up some freshly caught fish.

Out in the water the locals were stoked to see us. Very few traveling surfers visit the isolated village that depends mostly on government subsidies for growing a smattering of crops and protecting the leatherback sea turtles that nest there.

Out in the lineup I gave some wax to a grom.

“Thanks,” he said. “We don’t usually surf with wax on our boards.”

After catching a few waves, Esteban, the proprietor of the beach shack, waved us in.

Grilled fish, beans, rice and cocoanuts were waiting.

Just another adventure in Mexico.

 

Surfing Hurricane Carlotta

Hurricane Carlotta was located off the west co...

Hurricane Carlotta was located off the west coast of Mexico near 15.6N 105.1W with maximum sustained winds estimated at 130 knots, gusts to 160 knots. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the morning of June 13, three of my WiLDCOAST colleagues and I set out in search of waves on the southern coast of Oaxaca.

Our planned conservation activities for the day had been cancelled due to the rainfall and wind forecast due to the presence of Hurricane Carlotta off of the coast.

Burrito in Puerto.

Unfortunately the wind was sideshore and the surf was blown out. This wasn’t a case where the Hurricane was creating great waves.

However, we made the most of the 2-4’ point waves. After all, the water was 82 degrees, and every once in a while a fun wave would line up.

After a few hours, a couple of surfers from Cancun showed up. They were staying in adobe and thatch huts a couple of miles down the beach.

“You guys know about the storm coming,” I asked them.

“What storm,” they replied.

Burrito barrel riding in Puerto.

“There’s a hurricane coming,” I said. “You might want to seek higher ground.”

On the way back to Huatulco, we stopped in at Barra de la Cruz, famous for its world-class right point. My son Israel, 16, spent the week there with local surfer Pablo Narvaez and his family.

“Israel’s at the beach surfing,” said Pablo when we arrived at his two-story bamboo and wood house. “The surf is small anyway.”

A few minutes later Pablo and I arrived at the beach facing the point and were shocked to see 6-8’ shorebreak on the inside with 10-12’ waves hitting the point. The wind was howling.

“I surfed earlier,” said Israel who had spent the week living on stalks of bananas picked from the local huerta and grilled fish. “And then it started getting really gnarly.”

We chatted with Pablo for a bit. “In 1997, Hurricane Paulina really hit us hard,” he said.

I hoped Carlotta wouldn’t be so bad.

When we returned to Huatulco I was happy to find my good friend Daren Johnson and his son Josh waiting for us at the friendly Hotel Mision de los Arcos. They had been staying at some rustic huts at a spot further south.

That afternoon the National Hurricane Center had upgraded Carlotta to a Category 2 hurricane. Winds were expected to reach up to 120 miles per hour.

Later that evening, Israel and I gathered at a café on the Huatulco plaza with Daren, Josh and my WiLDCOAST colleagues Eduardo Najera, Ben McCue, and Zach Plopper along with a Swiss surfer-engineer who we had met earlier in the week while surfing.

The wind started howling and the rain started pouring. An electrical post exploded across the street.

After a round of tlayudas, we hit up the local ice-cream shop for paletas and headed back to our hotel to wait out the storm.

“Since I have experienced a big hurricane in the past (Wilma, category 5, biggest hurricane in Cancún history) I wasn’t that worried. However, I forgot about the mountains and rivers that were behind us,” said Eduardo.

The following morning the rain and the wind had stopped. We decided to check the surf. Cleanup crews were removing fallen trees from the roads. But overall in Huatulco, the damage seemed minimal.

“Despite hours of build up and uncertainty Carlotta whipped through overnight fortunately not wreaking too much havoc in the Huatulco-Salina Cruz region,” said Zach.

At the point from the day before we were surprised to see that the tremendous storm surf had dissipated. However, the waves resulted in local beaches losing up to six feet of sand, making it difficult for sea turtles to nest at some areas.

Further north it was a different story.

“The hurricane was really intense. My buddies and I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Anthony “Burrito” Zambrano, of Imperial Beach who had been in Puerto Escondido.

“The rain started around 6 o clock then it started getting really windy. The windows were whistling, the lights went out and our room got flooded with water, like 2 inches deep. We heard things getting blown around. The shingles from a bunch of houses and hotels got blown right off their roofs.”

“Over 30,000 homes where affected from Puerto Escondido to Puerto Angel. Mazunte and the surrounding area was a mess,” said Dr. Carlos Rodriguez, a veterinarian with the Mexican Sea Turtle Center in Mazunte.

“Roads where closed so nobody could leave their towns. In places like Mazunte, the community has really pulled together. But in other communities like La Escobilla, Vainilla, Barra del Potrero, Santa Elena and their surroundings aren’t as lucky. Families lost their roofs, food, clothes and didn’t have electricity for 10 days so there was no way to communicate.”

On July 8th, Mazunte will hold a concert to raise money for the reconstruction effort.

“It has been a tough two weeks but the communities are very positive they can pull through this mess,” said Dr. Rodriguez. “But there is still a lot of work to be done.”

Diane Castenada of WiLDCOAST has organized a fundraising effort to support those in need. Go here to donate.

Mexico’s election: Citizens seek to succeed despite government

Here’s my op-ed from the San Diego Union-Tribune from Sunday’s paper on June 24th (web-published June 23rd)

The campaign poster on a wall in Tijuana of Mexican presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, referred to as “Bombon,” or Eye Candy, for his preppie good looks, displayed the candidate grimacing while awkwardly hugging a much shorter, darker, Indian-looking woman. The odd ad might be the only kink in Peña Nieto’s seamless campaign about nothing that is designed to earn the trust of Mexican voters who have forgotten the economic disasters and semi-authoritarian rule the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) imposed upon Mexico for more than 70 years.

Enrique Peña Nieto, político mexicano.

The specter of the return of the PRI to Los Pinos, Mexico’s White House, is the reason that the polls show leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who is called AMLO for short, closing in on Peña Nieto, who until recently had a commanding lead (Josefina Vázquez Mota, the National Action Party (PAN) candidate is given little chance of winning). The victory of either Peña Nieto or AMLO on July 1 would mean a new but uncertain chapter in Mexico’s evolving transition to democracy. Both front-runners represent Mexico’s semi-authoritarian past in which the state plays a key role in the economy, press, culture and everyday life with little or no oversight and accountability.

El Lic. Andrés Manuel López Obrador en confere...

Although the 12-year rule of Presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón, who governed under the mantle of  the PAN, was a victory for the expansion of electoral democracy and the rise of a more robust civil society, it failed to create a political culture of transparency. Calderón’s war on narco kingpins has been a tragedy and a failure.

In my own frequent forays into the bustling cities and forgotten corners of rural Mexico to promote coastal conservation, the bedlam of the narco-war and absence of government is a sharp contrast to the entrepreneurial people I encounter and work with who are carving out a new Mexico that represents the emergence of an authentic civil society. This has resulted in a new optimism and sense of purpose that is propelling Mexicans forward to identify and solve their problems without asking permission of the once-omnipotent government.

Last spring while in Acapulco to host the Blue Ocean Film Festival, more than 30 people were murdered prior to and during my stay. As a result I assumed that our free film screenings would be sparsely attended. So I was surprised to find the restored art-deco cinema in the city’s seaside plaza packed with working-class families and beach lovers. Parents and their children sat rapt at the beautiful films and eagerly joined an open forum afterward about solving problems of beach pollution and coastal access.

In the Chontal indigenous village of Barra de la Cruz in Oaxaca, I met with residents fending off proposals to turn their coastline into a walled-off fortress in which they would be unwelcome guests. “We aren’t interested in development,” Pablo Narvaez, a fiery and articulate community leader told me. “We are only interested in receiving training to help us run our eco-businesses. If we have strong businesses, we’ll have a strong community.”

In Tijuana, the city’s new beacon of hope is chef and surfer Javier Plascencia, the proprietor of the elegant yet unpretentious Mision 19. While eating lunch with Javier recently, I was struck by his quiet and determined focus to create something new in the face the dark forces that should have caused him to flee his hometown. Javier’s pride in Tijuana and his driven creativity is changing the face and fate of this once embattled but now secure border city and inspiring a renaissance in music, art, architecture and gastronomy in Baja California and throughout Mexico.

It is the boundless enthusiasm and passion for life that I encounter in Mexico that will sustain our southern neighbor beyond the inadequacies of the current slate of presidential candidates. That is why so many Mexicans, although outraged at what they perceive to be the media-engineered campaign of Peña Nieto or the old-school paternalism of AMLO, are buoyed by their fierce desire for normalcy and the realization that “papá gobierno” is now an absent parent that always seems to let them down and lead them astray. Their future depends on staking out their independence from the government that has little connection to the ordinary citizens who make Mexico a marvel of contradictions, chaos and energy.

More from the Blue Tour in Mexico

Just a few odds and ends from my recent trip to the Mexican states of Guerrero and Oaxaca to give talks and show the Blue Ocean Film Festival.

Areceli Oregon, the Mayor of Barra de Potos at our press conference opposing the placement of a FONATUR cruise ship terminal on top of the village and mangrove lagoon.

This is Julio, a sea turtle conservationist giving a talk to kids in Barra de Potosi about why it is important to conserve sea turtles and not eat their eggs.

This is in Zihuatanejo. Fishermen are mad about being displaced there. It is a lovely city--that has not kept pace in terms of managing its rapid growth.

I gave a talk in Saladita at Lourdes's Bungalows. From left to right: Irwin of Azulita, Kristy Murphy of Siren Surf Adventures, Lourdes, Pato of Azulita, me, Cat of Siren Surf Adventures, and Natalia of Costasalvaje.

We had over 200 people attend our event in Puerto Escondido.A great crowd.

That's me addressing the kids in Barra de la Cruz, a village in Oaxaca.

Maybe the most surreal moment of the trip to Zihuatanejo was going to visit Dr. Enrique Rodriguez, wildlife and animal rights activist and not realizing until I walked into his small office on the second floor of building just off the malecon that he was a small animal vet. He was of course in the middle of spaying a cat (which he does for free)
He offered to let me watch the operation, but I really didn't want to.
Just another surreal magical moment in Mexico.
Always expect the unexpected.

The Coastal Wonders of Oaxaca

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Mazunte is a small fishing village about an hour north of Huatulco in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Its white sand beaches and tranquil waters obscure its deadly past.

“Up until 19990, when Mexico banned the legal sea turtle fishery,” said Manuel Rodriguez Gomez, the congenial Director of the Mexican Sea Turtle Center, “More than 2,000 sea turtles were killed each day in Mazunte.”

Today, Manuel and his team of biologists, manage a beautiful sea turtle aquarium and museum, as well as conserve some of the world’s most important sea turtle nesting beaches.

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“It is amazing to me that a little more than twenty years ago fishing communities in Oaxaca that made their living from killing sea turtles are the ones who are now investing their efforts in protecting these amazing animals,” said Manuel.

I traveled to this unique corner of Mexico to hold an ocean film festival and meet some of the leaders who have made the sea turtle recovery and other coastal conservation success stories possible.

I brought along my surfboard in the hopes of catching waves at Puerto Escondido and Barra de la Cruz.

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Mazunte was a stop on my way north from Huatulco to Puerto Escondido where WiLDCOAST, the conservation organization I run, was holding the first night of the film festival tour.

Known as the “Mexican Pipeline” Puerto Escondido is a balmy pleasant town that reminded me of Rosarito Beach back in the 1970s.

The beach at Zicatela, where south swells funnel into shallow waters to create arguably one of the world’s heaviest beach breaks, is lined with palapas, restaurants, surf shops and hotels.

During south swell season some of the world’s best surfers such as Greg and Rusty Long descend on Puerto to catch dredging barrels with elevator drops.

During our event in the town’s main plaza just north of Zicatela, about 250 people, enjoyed our ocean films and learning more about preserving sea turtles.

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Sergio Flores of WiLDCOAST and Manuel Rodriguez of the Mexican Sea Turtle Center.

“We need to take care of our beaches,” said longtime Puerto surfer Roger Ramirez at the event who runs the the Oasis Surf Academy along with his lovely Uruguayan wife Sol.

The surfers of Puerto are fighting efforts to develop nearby Punta Colorada, a world-class bodyboarding beach.

The next morning, I wandered down to Zicatela. The wind was offshore but the surf was 1-2’ and closed out. I still enjoyed surfing the warm water micro-barrels.

“It needs to be a bit bigger,” said Jason, a surfer from San Diego who knows Puerto well. “But there is swell on the way. So maybe we’ll get lucky. “

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The following day I found myself at a remote beach south of Huatulco surfing dredging barrels at a right-hand point with a few local surfers and my WiLDCOAST colleague Ben McCue.

The first south of the season had arrived.

Later that afternoon we drove into the village of Barra de la Cruz, about 45 minutes south of Huatulco for the final leg of our film festival.

“You have time for a surf,” said Pablo Narvaez, a leader in this indigenous village that is host to one of the world’s most perfect waves and a critical beach for the recovery for endangered leatherback sea turtles.

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That's me surfing Barra.

“But the sand isn’t right yet,” said Pablo. “We’ll need a few more swells to drag the sand from the beach out onto the point.”

At the beach, Ben and I threw on our trunks and jumped into the water to  share a few head high point waves with an eclectic group of local surfers and visitors from Brazil and Ireland.

About an hour later, we caught up with Pablo and the town’s leaders as we screened films for about 200 local children and their parents.

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Pablo pointing making a point with me and Ben McCue in Barra de la Cruz.

“We aren’t interested in development,” said Pablo. “We went through all that after the 2006 Rip Curl Search Pro we hosted. People made offers to buy our beach. We’re beyond that though.”

The community of Barra de la Cruz is run in the old ways. The beach has been left undeveloped. Residents volunteer their time to staff a small surfside palapa restaurant.

Surfers pay a twenty-peso entrance fee to use the beach and clean bathrooms with showers. Revenues from surfing tourism are reinvested back into the community.

“We are not interested in money,” said Pablo. “We are only interested in receiving training to help us run our eco-businesses. Money only brings us problems. But if we have strong businesses, we’ll have a strong community.”

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The coast beyond Barra.

During my dawn patrol the next day the surf was even bigger. The right point I surfed the previous morning was firing.

I snagged a few hollow rights for a quick session before my return flight home inspired by the beauty of coastal Oaxaca and the determination of its people.

Thanks to the Ayuntamiento de Puerto Escondido, Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga, Parque Nacional Huatulco, and the community of Barra de la Cruz for their hospitality.

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