King Tides and Coastal Flooding in Imperial Beach

Over the past few days in Imperial Beach we’ve had “King Tides” or the highest tides of the year (over 7 feet). The tides caused with larger than average surf (in the 4-8′ range and out of the west) resulted in coastal flooding. The San Diego Union-Tribune  came down to shoot this video and was lucky to have Dr. Bob Guza of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to explain why the flooding was happening. You can see the U-T video here: http://bcove.me/zyhb25e7

Cortez Street end in Imperial Beach on January 29, 2014.

Cortez Street end in Imperial Beach on January 29, 2014.

floodingIB

The end of Seacoast Drive in Imperial Beach on January 29, 2014.

coastalfloodingguyz_large

Dr. Robert Guza of Scripps Institution of Oceanography talking to a reporter about coastal flooding and king tides on January 30, 2014.

guzateam

Researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography monitoring conditions in Imperial Beach on January 30, 2014.

Advertisements

Miracle at Cabo Pulmo

In a small coastal community tucked away in a corner of Baja’s East Cape is Cabo Pulmo.

Cabo Pulmo

Cabo Pulmo (Photo credit: jeffgunn)

This seaside paradise inhabited by friendly fishermen and a colorful group of expatriates is ground zero for efforts to restore the ocean.

If in Cabo Pulmo, local fishermen can work with biologists, conservationists, divers and government park staff to make a marine reserve that is a global model for the protection of a marine ecosystem and fisheries, than our conservation efforts are on the right track.

I was in Cabo Pulmo last week to review efforts to preserve Cabo Pulmo from development threats. A Spanish company had proposed building a new city larger than Los Cabos adjacent to the reef.

My colleagues and I discussed future strategies needed to improve the protection of the coral reef that is home to humpback whales, sea turtles, manta rays, schools of giant fish and a growing population of sharks, including the elusive and docile whale shark.

“There really is nothing else in the Gulf of California like Cabo Pulmo,” said Dr. Octavio Aburto, a research scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who has studied Cabo Pulmo for years.

“Our family noticed that the reef and fish and Cabo Pulmo were not doing well,” said Judith Castro, the daughter of a fisherman and a longtime resident.

The Castro family has lived in Cabo Pulmo for generations. But by the early 1990s the fish were disappearing and, due to climate change, there were fears that the global wave of coral bleaching would forever damage the reef.

Breaching Mobula ray Schools of giant bat rays...

Breaching Mobula ray

I first visited Cabo Pulmo in 1996 as the founding director of The Nature Conservancy’s Sea of Cortez Program. Back then I attempted to develop a conservation program to manage the newly established national park at Cabo Pulmo.

But due to political conflicts, conservation efforts at Cabo Pulmo initially failed. Marine biologists who had studied Cabo Pulmo and had advocated for the development of the marine reserve were desperate.

It took a few years, but by 1999 conservationists, marine biologists, fishermen and the Mexican government came together to support a no-take reserve at Cabo Pulmo. Local fishermen, including the Castro family who had fished the waters of the region for decades, agreed to give up fishing inside the reserve.

“Our family had to learn to dive,” Judith said. Her family now runs a dive operation.

Ten years later Aburto and his Scripps team confirmed what marine biologists had only dreamed about, but that local fishermen and divers already knew was happening: The fish have returned to Cabo Pulmo. The reef is teeming with life.

“Fish biomass increased 460 percent over a decade, but even more critically the predator population increased over 1000 percent,” Aburto said.  “And abundant predators are key to healthy marine ecosystems.”

“No other marine reserve in the world has shown such a fish recovery,” he said. “There are so many fish that species like tuna are coming from outside the reserve to feed around the reef.”

Last year I went diving more than a mile from the Cabo Pulmo shore and was amazed by the schools of huge fish that hugged the reef. In my more than 25 years working in the Baja California peninsula, I had never encountered so many large fish.

Even sharks, whose slaughter and decline has alarmed marine biologists and conservationists, have returned to Cabo Pulmo.

“You can stand on the rocks at the end of Bahia de los Frailes at the western end of the reserve and see schools of sharks swimming around,” said Sofia Gomez, my WiLDCOAST colleague who is coordinating our Cabo Pulmo conservation program.

With additional recent good news from California’s Central Coast about the increase in marine species in marine protected areas, there is reason to be hopeful that we can reserve the decline of the ocean and the species within it.

Marine explorer and conservationist Sylvia Earle has called Cabo Pulmo a “Hope Spot” because of its importance in demonstrating that we can restore our oceans.

I am just glad that there is at least one place left where the ocean is as it is supposed to be—filled with fish and undisturbed by man.

David Helvarg on “The Golden Shore: California’s Love Affair with the Sea”

goldenshore

No one has done more to educate the public on ways to preserve our coast and ocean than David Helvarg. Author of six books and the founder and Executive Director of the Blue Frontier Campaign, Helvarg will be speaking about his newest book, The Golden Shore: California’s Love Affair with the Sea at the Birch Aquarium on Tuesday Feb. 26 from 6:30-8 p.m.

Serge Dedina: What is your first memory of the coast in California?

David Helvarg: Flying into San Diego at night to help out some friends in trouble in the Ocean Beach neighborhood and then staying up ’til dawn watching the Pacific lapping on the shore, small breaking wavelets sparkling with silvery luminescence. Two days later there was a concert on Sunset Cliffs. Watching the young OB residents dancing on the beach and wading into the bracing 68-degree water where silky-haired California girls in bikinis were tossing Frisbees, I knew I’d come home to a place I’d never been before.

Dedina: What does the coast mean for California?

Helvarg: The Pacific defines California and its spirit of adventure, exploration and enterprise. Teddy Roosevelt called California “West of the West.” It’s where U.S. expansion ended, but not the promise, where the frontier turned to liquid and a gold rush and World War transformed the golden shore. Without the ocean and coast, California is just a long skinny, seismically active clone of Nevada.

Dedina: What did Jack London have to do with the development of surfing in California?

Helvarg: Jack London arrived in Hawaii in 1907, saw the Hawaiians surfing at Waikiki and tried it himself. He was so taken with it, he wrote an article in the Women’s Home Companion (and a chapter in his next book), titled, “A Royal Sport” displaying the kind of unbridled enthusiasm for surfing he usually reserved for brave dogs. This was the first mass-media reporting on surfing on the U.S. mainland. He also wrote a letter of recommendation for Hawaiian surfer George Freeth, who used it to find work in California, where he is often credited with introducing the sport to the state.


Dedina: Sometimes we overlook the role of the military transforming our ports and managing our coast. How have our armed forces aided in the development and conservation of the California coast?

Helvarg: It started with the Navy and Marines seizing California from Mexico and expanded with the military port towns of San Pedro and San Diego (today SD remains the second largest naval complex in the U.S.).  The war in the Pacific transformed California during World War II with millions of Army and Navy personnel training and deploying from here.  California also became a major industrial war producer with its shipyards and aircraft factories.

Population increased, and the state became a center for the aerospace industry during the Cold War that followed. The Navy even jump-started the electronics industry in Silicon Valley. Today the Navy is working on reducing its C02 emissions by half in the next decade. Working on my book, I visited a new amphibious assault ship that burns one third the fuel of other ships of its class in a massive combat training zone off the coast.

Dedina: What was the role of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill in developing our California coastal protection system?

Helvarg: California was where the first offshore drilling was done on piers near Santa Barbara. And because of blow outs and oil pollution Santa Barbara banned drilling off its beach till 1969 when the federal government promised new technology made it safe. Within days of the first wells being drilled there was a massive blow out and oil spill. Three years later, still shaken by the spill’s impact, the people of California voted to create a Coastal Commission to protect our shore even though opponents of coastal protection (real-estate interests, PG&E and the oil companies) outspent its supporters 100 to 1. Today, 30 years later, the commission continues to limit reckless development along the shore while guaranteeing public access to our spectacular coastline.

485030_309927669121055_1576734659_n

Dedina: What is your favorite place along the California coast?

Helvarg: My home on San Francsico Bay, also most of what exists to the north (Mendocino, the Lost Coast, Del Norte) and the south (Monterey, Big Sur, Baja)

Dedina: Is the Coastal Act still relevant? Do we really need to worry about protecting our coast anymore?

Helvarg: To Quote Peter Douglas, who wrote the act and headed the Coastal Commission as executive director for many years, “The Coast is never saved, the Coast is always being saved.” The Coastal Act is for California what the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts are for the nation.

Dedina: California institutions such as Scripps lead the world in ocean exploration and research. How did California become a pioneer in marine research?

Helvarg: Appreciating what we had and how little we understood it, George Davidson began exploring the marine frontier that was California in 1850.   The newly established Stanford University set up the nation’s third-ever marine lab, the Hopkins Seaside Lab in 1892 and the Scripps family in San Diego supported zoologist Bill Ritter in creating another lab a few years later that became the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Today, California marine science is leading the world in understanding marine ecosystems, marine wildlife, upwellings, ocean acidification and other anthropogenic (human-caused) changes in the world ocean. Also exceptional is the fact that state ocean and coastal policies are driven by the best available science.

endless_summer

Dedina: How has the the mythology of the beach and the coast in California defined or influenced popular culture in the U.S and globally? Has Hollywood played a role in that?

Helvarg: From Gidget and The Endless Summer, to Sea Hunt, Baywatch and The OC, not to mention surf music and language, dude, California has taken on a mythic place in world culture. Southern California’s major industries are maritime, military and fantasy (Hollywood) and so they mix naturally along the shore. But that’s nothing new. When Richard Henry Dana wrote, Two Years Before the Mast in the 1830s, his tales of life along the California coast fascinated the nation and that sense of wonder, envy, inspiration and interest has yet to fade.

Dedina: What is the purpose and mission of the Blue Frontier Campaign?

Helvarg:  The Blue Frontier Campaign works to build the seaweed (marine grassroots) constituency of citizen activists needed to protect our ocean, coasts and the communities that depend on them. We do this through actions like this spring’s Blue Vision Summit in Washington DC May 13-16 that will include the largest Capitol Hill Healthy Oceans day in history with hundreds of people letting their elected representatives know we expect them to restore the blue in our red, white and blue – in other words to follow the California model.

A family (I suppose) of Sea lions in Santa Cru...

A family (I suppose) of Sea lions in Santa Cruz, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dedina: California is the home of the some the world’s most iconic and popular ocean animals – white sharks, gray whales, sea otters, harbor seals, bottle nose dolphins and even giant blue whales. What is your favorite California ocean animal?

Helvarg: The California Sea Lions (all 300,000 of them) because they’re loud, smart, kinda messy and often rowdy, just like us humans. Know what they call a congregation of sea lions?  A mob.

Why Marine Protected Areas Benefit Surfers

Cabrillo MPA in Point Loma, San Diego.

Any North County or southern Baja vet most likely has run into Garth Murphy intensely evaluating surf conditions from shore and gracefully riding the best waves of the season. A California icon who partnered with Mike Doyle and Rusty Miller in their infamous and pioneering Surf Research company, Garth is the author of the epic novel of California, The Indian Lover, and the son of noted fisheries biologist Garth I. Murphy, who was La Jolla’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography‘s first PhD, and a professor at the University of Hawaii.

Garth, who has lived, surfed and advocated for coastal and marine protection in Hawaii, Australia and Baja California, was a member of the California Department of Fish and Game‘s Marine Life Protection Act Initiative (MLPAI) Regional Stakeholder Group.

As a result of that effort a new network of marine protected areas (MPAs) was established in Southern California with reserves at Swami’s, Black’s-Scripps, South La Jolla, Cabrillo-Point Loma and the Tijuana River Mouth. These MPAs conserve key marine ecosystems such as kelp beds, reefs, sea grass beds – the ecological features that provide the foundation for some of our very best waves.

Serge Dedina: Why should surfers care about marine conservation and creating MPAs in Southern California?

Garth Murphy: Because we have 300 wave-rich surf spots to choose from and over a million Southern California surfers average 20 surfs a year – for 20 million yearly immersions in what usually happens to be our ocean’s most bio-diverse coastal marine habitats. The Marine Life Protection Act recognizes traditional surfing as a compatible recreational use of the ocean resource, permitted in protected areas except at mammal haul-outs, bird roosts and estuaries. A network of Marine Protected Areas, by protecting and conserving complete coastal ecosystems and habitat, enhances the biodiversity and abundance of marine life, enriching our experience, while minimizing and controlling potential habitat-destructive human activities, which directly affect us.

Looking toward the San Diego-Scripps MPA and Black’s Beach in La Jolla.

Dedina: Why is preserving marine ecosystems of Southern California so important for surfers?

Murphy: Southern California surfers and marine life share natural coastal ocean habitats of every important class: estuaries and river mouths, beaches and inter-tidal zones, surf grass and eel grass beds on composite reefs like Cardiff; rare cobble reefs like Trestles, Rincon and Malibu; rocky reefs like Windansea and Laguna; submarine canyons like Blacks, and sand bars at Newport and Pacific Beach; as well as man-made habitats like the Piers at Huntington and Imperial Beach, rock jetties like the Wedge and Hollywood by the Sea, and artificial reefs.

As a boon to surfers, thick coastal kelp forest canopies, which shelter the greatest biodiversity of coastal marine species, also protect us from the afternoon winds, refining ocean surface texture and grooming the swells to extend our surfing hours and the carrying capacity of affected surf spots. Habitat-based marine protected areas preserve everything within their boundaries, including our cherished surf spots.

Dedina: What about water quality? Would marine reserves help our efforts to keep beaches free from polluted runoff?

Murphy: Coastal ocean water quality is not just a function of land pollution runoff. Over-exploitation and depletion or collapse of important food web components causes imbalances that degrade marine ecosystems and make the ocean more vulnerable to disease outbreaks and opportunistic invasive species like stinging jellyfish, algae blooms and toxic red tides, diminishing water quality and habitat suitability for marine life and surfers.

On the contrary, robust, bio-diverse marine ecosystems with intact food webs are resilient, resisting and adapting to environmental change and pollution, maintaining water and habitat quality. Estuaries are marine life nurseries, fresh/salt water interfaces that empty into many of our finest surf spots. We absorb that same water through our eyes, ears, nose and mouths on duck-dives and wipeouts. Rebuilding and maintaining bio-diverse estuaries with a full range of marine life creates healthier nurseries, and encourages upstream compliance with pollution regulations. The result is better water quality for all of us.

Dedina: So in the end, how does preserving our marine heritage in Southern California benefit surfers?

Murphy: The California surfing style evolved in a unique marine environment of glassy peeling waves. Stylish surfing and our beach lifestyle have become an important part of California history and culture –and media focus – generating an endless wave of glossy-color surf magazines, surf videos and feature films. The success of the $7-plus billion surfing industry, centered in Southern California, depends on maintaining the high cultural value of the traditional California surfing experience: as exciting, invigorating exercise, as a get-away, as a sport, a meditation, a dance, a family get-together and photo opportunity –enhanced by a vibrantly alive and healthy ocean.

The ocean is Earth’s largest and most accessible enduring wilderness. Regular contact with wilderness is a human, and especially American, cultural value, manifested today in the ocean by the popularity of surfing. A full and abundant spectrum of marine species – from whales to hermit crabs to phytoplankton – is an integral part of our ocean-wilderness experience.

Marine Protected Areas enhance ecosystem awareness by exposing us to a broad diversity of marine life. They encourage monitoring of potential problems and upstream compliance with complementary air and water quality regulations. The positive water quality and life-giving effects of marine protected areas are a valuable gift to the surfers and marine species who share them.

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.

The Best of Wild Baja

3e48dcad3493e7d66265fee069ba7dab

From my Southwest Surf Patch.com column of October 26, 2011.

You don’t have to travel too far to experience the best coastal wilderness on the planet. There is no other place on Earth that provides the outdoor experience and friendly fishing folk in one location as the Baja California peninsula.

If you crave travel plans that bring you in contact with pristine waves, friendly whales and untrammeled wilderness, then pack up your gear and head south.

Whether you fly or drive, fish, surf or dive, the fact is that the real Baja is not found in the large tourist resorts but in the quiet and more remote fishing villages and mission towns far removed from the hustle and bustle of modern resorts such as Cabo San Lucas.

3ef2bae8281315647dda09c7ae86a1e6

Here are some areas in which it is possible to experience the best of wild Baja. These are all family friendly locations that provide either camping or small-scale hotel and eco-lodges to get you close to the water and wildlife.

San Ignacio Lagoon: This sheltered mangrove lagoon about 35 miles west of the mission village of San Ignacio is one of the world’s top destinations for whalewatching. Between late January and mid-April, hundreds of gray whales assemble in the shallow waters of this desert lagoon to give birth, mate and escape the cold water of the north Pacific. Numerous San Diego and locally based outfitters provide eco-camps and whalewatching services such as Kuyima, Pachico’s Eco-Tours, Baja Discovery, Baja Expeditions, and Baja Eco-Tours.6604819cee43ce4cc0a751ed8005c9cd

View of the bay with Isla Angel de la Guarda o...

Image via Wikipedia

Bahia de los Angeles:  Located about ten hours south of San Diego, this small fishing settlement on the shore of the Sea of Cortez is a haven for sportfishing, diving and wildlife watching. During the fall there are opportunities to observe whale sharks (with a certified outfitter). The numerous islands just offshore are filled with seabirds and excellent diving and snorkeling. There are a plethora of small eco-camps and a few hotels. If you are lucky you might catch a glimpse of a sea turtle, fin whale, or a sea lion or all three.

Loreto: This lovely and quiet mission town in Baja California Sur on the Sea of Cortez is the gateway to exploring white sand beaches, pristine islands, the jagged peaks of the Sierra de la Giganta and hidden missions. Loreto is also one of the best places for sportfishing and diving in Baja. To the north is Bahia Concepcion that provides more undeveloped beach camping and to the south are the dramatic peaks and beaches of Agua Verde.

cab3c1572d5827ada374154fe801451a

Magdalena Bay: This huge mangrove fringed series of bays is a maze of hidden waterways, sand dunes and mysterious islands that extends for more than 100 miles along Baja California Sur’s Pacific coastline. During February and March, gray whales are found near the fishing villages of Puerto San Carlos and Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos that also provide small-scale accommodations and basic restaurants. Sportfishermen have long been attracted to the area and birders are also discovering the wildlife of this long forgotten region.

7d6466ce4c7e1e9e92b2a7790db4df87

Cabo Pulmo: This tiny village of about 60 people borders the northernmost coral reef in North America. Cabo Pulmo National Park was recently listed by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography study as one of the world’s most robust marine conservation areas. A dec

ade ago, local community members, conservationists and the Mexican government joined forces here to ban sport and commercial fishing within the national park and fish and ocean wildlife have rebounced. Cabo Pulmo is now one of the best dive spots in Mexico and is a haven for whales, sea turtles and giant schools of fish and even sharks. Small-scale accommodations abound here and there are numerous sportfishing resorts located to the north. Unfortunately there are plans to build a new Cancun-style resort here so don’t delay visiting this world-class nature reserve.

Sexing it up at TEDx America’s Finest City

I spoke on Tuesday at the TEDx America’s Finest City forum at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The venue was amazing, the surf was firing, the lineup of speakers was incredible. The organizers did a great job of attempting to bring together a “new” San Diego. I was honored to be invited to participate and to be able to speak about WilDCOAST campaigns.

Me and Grant Barrett of Public Radio's "A Way with Words." Photo: TEDxAFC

My talked was titled: Sex, Soccer and El Santo: The New Rules for Communicating about the Coast and Ocean. Photo: TEDxAFC

As always our "Don't Eat Sea Turtle" campaign poster went over very well. Photo: TEDxAFC

I always wanted to be one of those TED guys--with the headphone microphones in a blue shirt talking about "cool" stuff. Photo: TEDxAFC

The theme of the event was "Get your fix." Photo: TEDxAFC

Shark Attack at the Tijuana Sloughs

Dempsey Holder. Photo: Ramos

An excerpt from my book Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.

For those of you who think that it is difficult to surf in our modern wetsuits, with leashes and lightweight boards, just remember that Dempsey and his hardcore crew of IB, Nado and La Jolla locals were surfing the Sloughs back in the 1940s and 50s on redwood surfboards with no wetsuits.

Dempsey Holder: We had an El Niño kind of condition during the summer of 1950. The water was really warm and there was a south swell — southern hemisphere swell. Made for some beautiful surfing.

Dr. Cark Hubbs, Scripps Institution of Oceanography: An unusual number of sharks have appeared in our waters as a result of prolonged southern winds.

Dempsey Holder: Bob Campbell, Jim Lathers, Dave Hafferly and I went down to the Sloughs. Bob and Dave were bodysurfing. Jim had an air mat he wanted to try out there and I took out my surfboard. I was the first one out. The other guys were real slow in coming out. They were at least fifty yards behind me.

All of a sudden I heard Bob Campbell holler something. Then Jim Lather hollered “Shark!” Bob hollered “Shark!”

He had a real frightened tone in his voice. I was sitting there on my board thinking that he had come out here for the first time in deep water.

He saw a porpoise go by and just panicked. “Boy,” I thought, “He’s going to be embarrassed. He really hollered.” Jim hollered at me again. It was a shark. I went over there but I didn’t see the shark. There was blood in the water and Bob grabbed Jim’s air mat.

San Diego Union—October 9, 1950: A man-eating shark tore a chunk out of the thigh of a 31-year-old swimmer off Imperial Beach yesterday morning in what may be the first shark attack ever reported in local waters.

Dempsey Holder: I put the board right underneath him and took him in. Got bit. I’m sure he pulled his legs up. He had marks on his hands. He said it got him twice. Jim Lather saw it. He said it looked like two fins and then it rolled over. We didn’t take long. Everybody was on shore. I took him on my board. He was bleeding from his legs. We took him to see Doc Hayes. He had a little office in the VFW. Bob looked kind of weak. He had that gray look. That shark must have taken a chunk of his leg the size of a small steak.

Surfing in Sewage

 

Beach closure sign--a common sight in Imperial Beach, California.

Imperial Beach, California, my hometown is just north of the Tijuana River. When it rains and sometimes for weeks afterward, millions of gallons of sewage polluted water flows out of the rivermouth and into the ocean.

That makes Imperial Beach difficult to surf if you value clean water.

For the past six years WiLDCOAST has carried out a “Clean Water Now” campaign. The campaign has helped to get millions and millions of dollars allocated for the construction of new sewage treatment plants on both sides of the border.

Image via Wikipedia

That is good. But when it rains, the sewage pours. Our beach was closed between December 18 and January 5th. It was opened for one day yesterday and closed this morning (January 7th).

Yesterday I paddled out to take advantage of the clean NW groundswell. The water was fine. On the way in I smelled it–the odd detergent like smell of treated and or untreated sewage. It is specifically a sweet chemical weird smell.Around noon I paddled out again and did not notice any smells.

I notified County of San Diego authorities. This morning I paddled out again and once again got a whiff of that weird sewage odor. Bummer. Right afterward the beach closures signs were posted by the County of San Diego.

We use the Scripps Oceanography plume tracker to monitor ocean conditions and correlate sewage flow with the direction of the nearshore plume. The combination of a south wind and south to north current is a death sentence for surfing in IB.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography Plume Tracker for Tijuana RiverThis is arguably the world’s best tool for proactively managing ocean pollution. It requires water quality testing and field observations. But this plume tracker has helped us understand when pollution is hitting our beach.

And tomorrow I’ll be taking a pickup filled with groms to Trestles. That is why we campaigned so hard to “Save Trestles.” Because when the water is polluted we head north to clean waves and water!!!

 

Cabo Pulmo in the Huffington Post

Cabo Pulmo National Park in Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Here is a photo essay/article I wrote for the Huffington Post.

CABO PULMO, Mexico – By the 1990s, decades of overfishing the waters of the Sea of Cortez left the coral reef at Cabo Pulmo, in the East Cape region of the Baja California Peninsula, almost void of life. To reverse this process the local community convinced the Mexican federal government to establish a marine protected area at Cabo Pulmo in 1995. Ninety-nine percent of the 17,560 acre Marine Protected Area that was established is ocean.

Today the Cabo Pulmo Marine Park is one the most successful examples of marine conservation in Mexico. Fishing was banned inside the park and local residents, along with the Mexican government, helped to bring the reef back from complete destruction.

Unfortunately, development pressures along the East Cape now threaten the fragile beauty, abundance, and diversity of the marine species for which it is famous.

Photo: Octavio Aburto

“Coral reefs are very fragile ecosystems, explains Dr. Octavio Aburto Oropeza, from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and an Associate of the International League of Conservation Photographers. “They are nurseries essential to populating the oceans. Cabo Pulmo is estimated to be 20,000 years old, and is home to 226 fish species”.

Yellowfin tuna are being fished as a replaceme...

Image via Wikipedia

A Spanish company, Hansa Urbana, plans to build a tourism mega-development on 9,875 acres adjacent to the marine park. If the development goes through, the sleepy and white sand fringed Cabo Pulmo will be joined by 40,000 new residents in a complex that will include hotels, condominiums, a 490 slip marina, two golf courses, and shopping centers.

Mexican environmental authorities had already given the green light to the Spanish company but eight months of legal and media pressures by a coalition of local residents, non-profit organizations, and researchers have made the Secretary of the Environment reconsider the project. It has temporarily revoked Hansa’s building permits pending new evidence on the impacts of the development on the coral reef.

Badly planned marina developmet at La Ribera near Cabo Pulmo. Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins

The director of the Cabo Pulmo National Park, Javier Alejandro Gonzalez, told the media in an interview that the National Commission on National Protected Areas (CONANP) found that Cabo Cortes’ environmental-impact statement “was vague in several points” and contained figures that “had not been validated”.

“We have spoken with experts, such as Dr. Octavio Aburto Oropeza, from Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Dr Ezequiel Escurra, and others, and they all warn of dire consequences if the resort project is not cancelled’, says Fay Crevoshay, communications director of WiLDCOAST, and part of the coalition called “Cabo Pulmo Vivo!”, that is trying to raise public awareness about the threats to the reef.

Enrique Castro, whose family has lived for five generations in the small community, says, “fifteen years ago we stopped fishing and started taking care of the reef. Today we offer tourist services such as diving, snorkeling, boat rides, sport fishing [outside of the park], and lodging. And now they are going to kill the reef and what about us? Tourists will not come to see a dead reef.”

“Following 15 years of protection the Cabo Pulmo coral reef has recovered from overfishing, becoming the marine area with the highest concentration of fish in the Sea of Cortez,” said Serge Dedina, Executive Director of WiLDCOAST and author of the forthcoming Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.

Photo: Carlos Aguilera

%d bloggers like this: