In Memory of Don Pachico

Pachico Mayoral

Pachico Mayoral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pachico in his element.

Pachico in his element.

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Todos Santos 1994

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Threat to Baja’s Underwater Rainforest

My friends and colleagues Homero Aridjis and Roberty Kennedy Jr. wrote this op-ed in the San Diego Union-Tribune on the need to preserve Cabo Pulmo.

By Robert F. Kennedy Jr. & Homero Aridjis

Coral reefs, often called rain forests of the sea, shelter a quarter of all marine fish. In February, the most detailed scientific assessment ever undertaken of these spectacular ecosystems revealed that fully 75 percent are under threat – the most immediate being local pressures for coastal development.

Cabo Pulmo Bay in Baja California – home to one of these underwater “rain forests” – is facing one of those threats. Among only three living coral reefs in North America, it lies 40 miles north of San Jose del Cabo, on the eastern cape of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. John Steinbeck described this 20,000-year-old reef as filled with “teeming fauna” displaying “electric” colors. When decades of overfishing threatened the reef’s existence, the local community convinced the Mexican government in 1995 to protect it by declaring the area a 17,560-acre National Marine Park. In 2005, the reef became a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Fishing was banned inside the park, and today Cabo Pulmo Reef’s recovery is considered a prime example of marine conservation in the Americas. It provides refuge for 225 of the 875 fish species found in the Sea of Cortez, including marlin, manta rays, giant squid and several kinds of sharks. Whales, dolphins, sea lions and five of the world’s seven species of endangered sea turtles frequent its waters. Indeed, the coral reef hosts the highest concentration of ocean life within this 700-mile long arm of the Pacific Ocean that separates Baja California from the Mexican mainland. Ecotourism (diving, snorkeling, whale watching) is thriving among the 150 residents of the coastal town surrounding this spectacular marine park.

But now Hansa Baja Investments, a Mexican subsidiary of the Spain-based real estate development firm Hansa Urbana, plans to build a massive resort complex directly north of the National Marine Park. The developer has proposed what amounts to a sprawling new city on the scale of Cancún: 10,000 acres including 30,000 hotel rooms and residential housing units, at least two golf courses, 2 million square feet of office and retail space, a 490-boat marina and a private jet port.

The construction of the Cabo Cortés project would bring in close to 40,000 workers and their families. This fragile region of desert, dirt roads and traditional small communities would be overwhelmed. Cabo Pulmo Reef would die, killed by saline effluents from the planned desalination plant, chemical fertilizers whose runoff causes eutrophication, and the city’s pollution flowing south on ocean coastal currents straight toward the reef.

In early March, Mexico’s secretariat of the environment and natural resources gave the go-ahead for much of Hansa Urbana’s proposal: not only the marina and land developments, but also a 10.5-mile-long aqueduct and 324 acres of roads and highways. The energy-intensive desalination plant – which would discharge 500 liters per second of salt water – and a sewage treatment plant to deal with an expected 39,000 tons a day of solid waste once Cabo Cortés is going full tilt are not yet authorized, but it is considered only a matter of time, as is permission for the pending jetties and breakwaters.

The government’s approval came despite the company’s woefully inadequate environmental impact statement, which claimed that pollution from the development wouldn’t affect the reef because ocean currents flow only from south to north, away from the reef. Recent studies show the area’s currents move in multiple directions, largely depending upon the season.

In a region of water scarcity, Hansa has been granted a concession of 4.5 million cubic meters per year, meaning it will suck dry the Santiago aquifer, depriving the local population of resources it has depended on for hundreds of years.

In authorizing the deal, the government is violating its own laws, disregarding the rules governing environmental impact assessments in Mexico and ignoring its zoning plan for the entire region of Los Cabos.

It is up to the Mexican government to stand by its 1995 decision to protect this flourishing and irreplaceable marine nursery. The government must cancel its authorization of the Cabo Cortés development. Only then can the Cabo Pulmo coral reef remain a stellar example of ocean conservation and sustainable ecotourism. For Cabo Pulmo and its people, it is wreck or rectify. How does Mexican President Felipe Calderón want to be remembered?

Kennedy is a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance. Aridjis, a poet and novelist, is the former Mexican ambassador to UNESCO and founder of the Grupo de los Cien environmental organization.

Praise for Wild Sea

One of the best things about writing Wild Sea, was having the opportunity to get some great feedback from writers who I really respect. And luckily not only did Dick Russell, Homero Aridjis, Kem Nunn and especilaly Drew Kampion and Ben Marcus provide some good suggestions and support, but they were kind enough to provide some blurbs for my book:

Serge Dedina writes with both passion and clarity about a subject he  knows like the back of his hand.  For anyone with an interest in the
issues that define life on the U.S./Mexican border, Serge’s book is  indispensable.  For anyone with an interest in Southern California
Surf lore, with its attendant iron men and holy goofs, Serge’s book is a pleasure to read.” -Kem Nunn, author of Tijuana Straits

“In Wild Sea, Serge Dedina tells the true story of a wondrous world that’s become his life’s work. Dedina’s eloquent narrative leads us on a harrowing journey through the complex and evolving realities of a threatened and forgotten land.” —Drew Kampion, author of The Way of the Surfer: Living It 1935 to Tomorrow

“From San Juanico Bight to the HBO series John from Cincinnati, Serge Dedina details the trials and tribulations of a desert coast under assault by man and nature, from land and sea.” —Benjamin Marcus, former editor for Surfer magazine and author of Surfing USA! An Illustrated History of the Coolest Sport of All Time

“Serge Dedina has dedicated his life to preserving the coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife of the Californias, researching, writing, fighting battles, and working with local residents to conserve their precious natural heritage. . . . You must read this inspiring book by one of the country’s most articulate and courageous defenders of the environment to find out what’s happening now in Baja California and on the southern California coast, and what we can do about it.” —Homero Aridjis, Founder and President, The Group of 100; Former Mexican Ambassador to UNESCO

“In an era when our last pristine places are being threatened by rampant development, Serge Dedina’s account of his ongoing battle to preserve the Baja Peninsula should inspire environmentalists everywhere. With a surfer’s passion and ingenuity, he takes on the corporate powers – and, along the way, gives us a fascinating history of others who ride the waves.” —Dick Russell, author of Eye of the Whale

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