Driving through the Cataviña desert was magical, like being in a Tim Burton movie. Not to mention to discover the other coast of the Baja California peninsula, the Sea of Cortez, specifically Bahia de los Angeles. You literally feel on Mars, if Mars had a deep blue sea. Important populations of whales, dolphins, seabirds, turtles, and fish live in these waters, including the famous Whale Shark, which was the reason why we decided to cross the entire desert: to get to know the famous visitors who arrive every year to this bay. Luckily, in 2007, the Biosphere Reserve “Bahía de los Ángeles, Canales de Ballenas y Salsipuedes” was decreed in the area, being an important biological corridor its protection is key!
With slow, deliberate, calm movements… it is as if they are floating under the water, with their giant open mouths and their stained skin.
After this experience, we went again to the Pacific coast, to a place far from civilization, with tremendous beaches for surfing and indescriptible landscapes, Punta Abreojos. The community of Punta Abreojos is of special interest to the scientific and marine conservation community since their livelihood is fishing, but the Punta Abreojos Fishery Cooperative (SCPPPA) is a successful case in fisheries management and sustainable development.
When talking about the sustainable development of a community, three dimensions must be taken into account: social, economic, and environmental sustainability. Each dimension involves different values and sometimes they are in conflict with each other. However, when these dimensions are balanced and harmonized, the result can be a community with ecological sustainability and lasting socioeconomic well-being, such as Abreojos. It’s interesting because today, most fisheries are subject to overexploitation as there are no regulations governing fishing efforts or the amount of resources that can be extracted from an area. With the co-management model used by the SCPPPA, the cooperative manages its area to prevent overexploitation. Collaborative work and decision-making have maintained the profitability of fishing catches and promoted social welfare.
To learn first-hand what has contributed to the cooperative’s success, we chat with one of the fisherfolk who has been with the cooperative for many years, Juan. He not only told us about their ways and how they are organized but about their strong roots and connection with the sea. The sea is not only their livelihood – which they have to protect for future generations – but also their playground since almost all the fisherfolk in Abreojos are surfers! How many fishermen/surfers do you know? For us, they were the first. In fact, when we were there, we didn’t have the luck to see them go fishing because when a strong swell comes they don’t go fishing and instead surf! Amazing.
Juan opened the doors of his house, we shared lovely meals with him and his family. The highlight was a delicious “pescado a la disca”. We connected with one of his sons, Axel. He also fishes, but his focus is on surfing. In simple words, he is a shredder! The sharp rock bottom doesn’t scare him at all. In fact, his biggest advice is to surf as if there were no rocks! He has been surfing for as long as she can remember, thanks to Juan, her dad, who used to go everywhere in Baja California to surf on all their vacations. The attachment to the sea runs in the blood of this family and many more in this coastal strip of Baja California, in the area of the Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve.
Hector Estrada is from another town in the area, but we met him in Abreojos as he came to surf the big swell that was coming in. He is also the son of a fisherman and has a strong attachment to the ocean, not only because of surfing but because he is also a marine biologist! It is absolutely lovely to hear Hector talk about surfing and how surfing saved him from many things. Surfing is “my school, my temple, what gives me peace, satisfaction, adrenaline, what gives you life lessons too, because sometimes the wave rolls over you for a while and you have to get up and paddle again…”, but every time he surfs he returns home with a smile. As he says “I am happy surfing”.
Hector and Axel, along with a great friend, researcher and photographer, Jesus Salazar, are doing a super interesting project called Oro Rojo: exploring remote areas of the peninsular desert of Baja California, documenting the elements that make up the identity of surfers in these areas. Hector and Axel are both surfers and sons of fishermen from two different towns in remote areas of the peninsular desert but who share certain similarities in terms of culture and identity; rooted in the ocean, respect for the fish product, world-class waves, and just a couple of generations of surfers proportional to the quality of its waves.
It was a pleasure to spend several days in Abreojos with them, interview them and understand the peculiarities of these towns and their people, specifically the community of Punta Abreojos, a unique example of a self-organized community towards the fulfillment of a common mission and vision. Care and respect for the environment, and for others, have allowed Punta Abreojos to prosper. Thanks for sharing with us!
It was hard to leave, but we had to continue to one last destination, one last coastal town, this time on the coast of the Sea of Cortez and with a slightly different story of success: Cabo Pulmo. Until about 30 years ago, this place was experiencing the problem of overfishing, and massive and uncontrolled extraction. But things changed, and today it became the most successful example of sustainable tourism in Mexico. It was thanks to a group of residents from Cabo Pulmo that they organized themselves and with the support of the University of Baja California Sur, they asked the authorities that this marine area be declared a Protected Natural Area. With less than 30 years since its declaration, the changes in the coral reef can already be seen! We went diving and it was magical and highly recommended. We don’t have a photo of this but the best thing to do is swim among schools of giant grouper or schools of horse mackerel, it’s magical… Tuti called it “the tube of happiness”. But it is not necessary to dive to see these wonders, just snorkeling next to the shore is enough to enjoy.
What incredible and different success stories in these coastal towns of Baja California! You can do this yourself, in your place of origin, if it is going through a process of environmental degradation. With desire, conviction, and looking for the right support, everything is possible.