A Blog from the Sea of Cortez – Part 3

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Chilling out on the islandDay 3, June 2nd (San Jose Island)

“Cafe Grande please!” That’s Michael. He’s a late riser and a big person. By this time, Tio Guero knew he would have to prepare enough coffee and food for Michael. Michael always starts his morning begging for a grande coffee.

Luis, who was showing off his very nice-looking Puma sneakers for hiking, was put out when the soles fell off yesterday. “Now I realize why they were selling it two-for-one!” They look more like boxing shoes today.

Pod of common dolphins in the Sea of CortezAfter breakfast, we gathered our things so we could move to the next point, which was San Jose Island. We became more efficient in what we did through the course of the journey.

It’s not just about arriving to the island, but also getting there. You see a lot of marine life along the way. The vast sea seems as empty as the desert until suddenly a dark beast bursts through the surface. We were laughing with excitement at a big school of common dolphins herding us along on the way to El Pardito, where we made a quick stop.

El ParditoThe guests said El Pardito was an impressive little island. The family (and three previous generations) who lives there is very warm and hospitable; they always invite people in to their home. Some of us asked, “How can people live with so little and be so happy?”

In 1916, a fifteen-year-old seeking the life of Robinson Crusoe on his own desert island settled here. Don Juan Cuevas Ramirez died at age 75, but not before he had sired three generations closely linked to the sea.

El Pardito VillageEl Pardito is about 150 km northwest of La Paz, between the islands of San Francisquito and San Jose. Its little chapel, school, solar-driven desalinization plant and radio help the isolated, tiny family community survive in this remote outpost on the Sea of Cortez.

These days overfishing by big international entities and illegal poachers threaten their modest livelihood. The need for national and international conservation pressure is great to preserve our Baja legacy.

The tiniest fishing village in the Sea of CortezThe younger generation has turned to music to supplement the islet economy – three of them have formed a ranchera band. The songs of Los Grandes Del Pardito celebrate the life of the island family.

We left the little island fishing village and headed to the mangroves of San Jose Island. First it was ocean and desert, and then suddenly you come into an area that is so green that the contrast between the colors is hard to comprehend.

Palma Sola BeachOn the way to the beach Palma Sola Island we saw another school of common dolphins churning up the blue. Palma Sola is called “lonely palm tree” because there is one sole palm tree on the beach, making you feel like you came across an oasis in the middle of the desert. But we couldn’t feel alone in the wilderness with that friendly squad of dolphins racing alongside.

We camped on this island beach for the night. First we anchored and then immediately provided shade and fresh water to everyone. This time people were more energetic and knew what to do.

Agua VerdeDay 4, June 3rd (Agua Verde Island)

Agua Verde is a beautiful place. The water is greener here because the type of sea bottom, the color of the rocks and sand there is lighter.

Oscar Ramirez, the other Oscar on the journey, expressed amazement at the beauty of his land. He feels prouder than ever to be a native of Baja California Sur and share his Baja heritage with us.

Ricky Ricky et alWe saw Don Jose, a person whom we met on our first islands trip back in 2009, during the flu outbreak.

Ricky Ricky is Mr. Everything. He cooks and helps out with everything. With his positive attitude, nothing is too difficult for him. Cabo Expeditions is lucky to have him on our team!

As we prepared for sleep tonight, we drank in the beauty of the stars so close and bright. The next day we would discover stars of many colors at the place we were to name “Stars under the Sea.”

To be continued…

Biodiversity: Mexico’s Way of Life

Danzante Island, Baja California SurMexico is no stranger to biodiversity. Conservation, preservation, and awareness of the importance of safeguarding the environment have long been championed in this region even before biodiversity became a byword for every nature protection cause.

It is more than an advocacy. For Mexico, it is a way of life. After all, Mexico has always been one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. Between 10 to 12% of the planet’s species are found in its territory, totaling to more than 200 thousand species. It has always lived to share its wealth with flora and fauna.

With this bountiful gift of nature, it’s only natural for Mexico to take the responsibility of biodiversity quite seriously. In fact, it has 17 million hectares of natural protected areas.

Humpback whales blowing in the sunsetCabo San Lucas Bay – One of the world’s deepest bays has one of the richest ecological communities. The reef fish and marine flora is joined by the majestic sighting of the humpback and gray whales from December to early April each year. This, on top of frequent encounters with orcas, dolphins and pilot whales. This, over and above witnessing marlins, sailfish, swordfish, dorados, roosterfish, and tarpons co-existing in perfect harmony.

Flight of the vultureSierra de la Laguna – Between the municipalities of La Paz and Los Cabos, there’s a mountain range in the middle of the desert where you can find the only dry jungle of the entire peninsula. The only pine-oak forest throughout the peninsula’s southern half. The only forest with around 70 plant species –15% of which are endemic.

Among the glory of fauna, the reserve is also home to woodpeckers, quails, hummingbirds, white-winged doves, hawks, owls, deer, coyotes, black-tailed jackrabbits, bobcats, mountain lions, gray foxes, over 40 species of reptiles and almost 100 different insects.

Night dive in the Sea of CortezCabo Pulmo Marine National Park – The 25-thousand year old, 3-kilometer long and 2-kilometer wide only living coral reef in the Americas resides here. It is earth’s most valuable underwater treasure. Its 7,000-hectare stretch serves as the natural habitat for 100 species of fish, 40 species of algae and sea fans, as well as pelagic species like the bull, tiger, blacktip sharks.

“Friends of Cabo Pulmo,” an assocoation here, promotes ecotourism in order to keep the park’s flora and fauna safe.

Whale shark in La PazBay of La Paz – One of the most biodiverse marine areas in the state and all throughout Latin America, the Bay of La Paz looks after its whale sharks. Nearby, in the island archipelago of Espiritu Santo, a sea lion rookery is also given much attention.

Likewise, the undersea wrecks “Salvatierra,” “Lapas 03,” and “Fang Ming” —fully covered in corals and other wonderful, colorful organisms— are kept safe.

Blue whale in LoretoLoreto Marine National Park – Within Loreto Marine National Park’s 200-hectare boundaries live 30 species of marine mammals, a host of endemic reptiles, amphibians, and birds. In the sea below, the marine life is even more overwhelming. Sportfish such as the dorado, yellowtail, yellowfin tuna, roosterfish, grouper, sea bass, and snappers. Bivalves and crustaceans such as oysters, octopus, chocolate clams, scallops, shrimp, crabs, and lobsters.

Even the guests that drop by a few times a year —manta rays, dolphins, sharks, killer whales, pilot whales and even blue whales— make this natural protected area worth protecting.

Gray Whale underwaterLagoons of Magdalena Bay – Magdalena Bay is preserved for its complex natural architecture. In this bay, two big currents converge: cold water that comes from Alaska, and warm, tropical water from the south. Together, these streams generate large amounts of nutrients that attract species such as squid, crab, shrimp, sea bass, red snapper, yellowtail, yellowfin tuna, sardines and others like flounder as well as several species of birds, turtles, sharks of various kinds, rays and, of course, gray, blue and finback whales.

El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve – With over 2.5 million hectares, El Vizcaino ranks as one of the largest biospehere reserves in the world. It has a vast collection of ecosystems —from extremely arid land to mangroves, lagoons and wetlands of high ecological value. It has gray whale sanctuaries. It cares for a wide variety of birds: the osprey, the collared goose, the northern pintail, the red heron, and the swallow, to name a few. Even endangered species have found a haven here: the golden eagle, the white-headed eagle, the peregrine falcon, the white-tailed deer, and the bighorn sheep.

MangrovesIt’s good to know that more and more organizations and nations are taking notice of the significance of biodiversity. It’s better to know that before everyone else, Mexico has started the quest. And continues to live the quest as a natural way of life. With its experience and expertise, the world is assured that biodiversity is here to stay.

Our Different Kind Of Beach Bonding

Priscila with daughter, Jessica, at Cabo Expeditions' 5th Beach CleanupWhen you talk about family and bonding, you don’t usually think ‘Hey, let’s preserve the vast gifts of nature today!’, do you? Well, when you’re with Cabo Expeditions, you do.

For 3 years now, Cabo Expeditions’ conservation mission has covered beach and underwater cleanups. I’ve never missed a single one. Neither have my children. It’s funny that back in 2009, I had to drag Jessica and Andre to the first beach cleanup. They thought, ‘How dirty can a beach get?’ Boy, were they surprised! After seeing litter upon litter on what used to be a lovely beach, now they don’t need to be asked twice.

Priscila bonding with kids while helping clean up a beachLast May marked our returned to Playa Empacadora—one of the most popular beaches in Los Cabos, Mexico—which unfortunately meant it was one of those that accumulate the most garbage, too. My children and I, along with a hundred more participants, spent 2 hours of 4 days picking up cigarette butts, beer cans, and tissue paper off the shore. We collected a grand total of 1.5 tons of trash—mostly beer cans. Can you believe that?!

My kids, who have long gotten into the spirit of conservation, are pretty proud of themselves knowing that the busiest beaches in the Sea of Cortez is now also one of the cleanest. With the whole clean up team, we vowed to cover a wider area soon so that all beaches are swept free of debris and brought back to their gloriously pristine state.

Tiny tot doing his share to help the environmentThe highlight after all our hard work was the Cabo Submarine eco-adventure. All of the participants were treated to Cabo Submarine’s one-hour journey up close and personal with Cabo’s abundant marine life. Jessica and Andre were thrilled to get the special underwater treatment. They felt like tourists! Perfect way to cap a well-spent day and reward a job well done.

That’s how I help in our conservation mission, one beach at a time. And how I bond with my kids and teach them a valuable lesson in nature care, all at the same time.

So, how did you spend quality time with your kids today?

That Fateful Day in February 2011

A video coverage of Cabo Expeditions spearheading a humpback whale rescue found its way to the BBC News in England and Latin America, CBS Early Morning Show, Televisa, SKY Net TV and more.  The following details were released to the press.

PRESS RELEASE: On the morning of February 8th, 2011, an unfortunate Humpback whale probably miles upon miles from shore was caught up in a fisherman’s net.  Oftentimes, a whale’s natural tendency can be to swim to shore whereas they may beach themselves.  In this instance, it seemed very likely that this adult-male Humpback whale was headed to the shore with a 75% chance of drowning or being beached, had Cabo Expeditions and the Mexican Navy not gotten to it in time.

Around 10 A.M. local time, a number of phone calls were made from local fishermen on their fishing boats and other whale watching companies to Cabo Expeditions with a whale in distress.  Immediately, the SCUBA diving, boat captain and marine biologist teams prepared themselves. Administrators at Cabo Expeditions notified the Mexican Navy who works in conjunction with whale rescue efforts.

Approximately 1 ½ miles from the shore, in front of the RIU Hotel in Cabo San Lucas, an adult Humpback whale weighing approximately 35 tons with a length of 40 feet had its torso down to the tail wrapped in fishing net.  Cabo Expeditions and the Mexican Navy were ready with a total of 10 people.  One team of divers works in unison with another team who place buoys around the whale as it surfaces and dives down.  The buoys are tied at either of end of a rope, widthwise.  Light-weight hooks are then attached to either side of the net eventually allowing the whale to try and swim free.  The process and cutting away of the net has to be repeated until the whale is completely freed.

By 12 noon, Cabo Expeditions along with the Mexican Navy had successfully freed the fortunate Humpback whale.  Oscar Ortiz, owner of Cabo Expeditions said, “Over the last 7 years now, we have been prepared as a company internally to help save and ultimately rescue whales.  Thankfully, we have also been blessed by saving a total of 10 whales’ lives.  The protection and preservation of these amazing animals is both our passion and mission in Los Cabos.”

Each year, the migration of thousands of whales from the cooling arctic oceans migrate to the warm waters surrounding the Baja Peninsula where the Pacific Ocean meets with the Sea of Cortez.  Annually, from the beginning of December through approximately the second week of April, Los Cabos becomes the Mecca for whale watching on water or sightings from land at local resorts or hotels.

These incredible mammals celebrate over a 10,000-mile journey each year and then repeat this natural process.  Once in a while, a whale will get tangled in a fishing net dozens of miles from the shore.  For some time now, fishermen and their nets have been monitored in Mexico by a variety of governmental agencies who implement standardized regulations.  Fishermen always abide with the fishing regulations but sometimes, a whale will not recognize the hazard and gets tangled inadvertently.