Become A Hero At Cabo Pulmo

No, you don’t get a cape (cabo), but you’ll help preserve Mexico’s only national marine park
BY: JACK CROUTON

Cabo Pulmo is the most successful reef restoration in the Western Hemisphere. In the 1960s and 70s, the area was almost completely fished out. Some of the locals saw the destruction that fishing had had on the area and petitioned the government to make it a national park, and in 1995 they succeeded. Since then no fishing or anchoring has been allowed within the  27 square miles of the park.

Within two decades, the reef sprang back to life! Fish returned, spawned, and grew to maturity in huge numbers, along with turtles, dolphins, and sea lions. According to Octavio Aburto, a marine biologist at the site, the sea life has grown by 460%. This is the largest growth rate ever recorded in any protected marine environment worldwide. The reef is now alive with activity. Coral and sea life have become incredibly abundant. Fish swirl in large schools around snorkelers and divers alike. There is great variety in these shallow depths.

In 2005, the park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

While this sounds like a finished story with a happy ending, it is still a work in progress. In 2009, nine years after the area was given natural protected area (NPA) status, an official management plan for the park was put in place. The plan focuses on two major aspects: planning and zoning. Planning refers to the administrative side of the whole operation-- planning the conservation, restoration, and protection of the area. The zoning piece of the plan names the different zones in the park and identifies those that are to be protected, many of which are beaches and areas with a lot of corals. These areas are protected against construction, anchoring, and fishing. This plan is to be followed by everyone, even the tourism companies.

The establishment of Cabo Pulmo as an NPA and the implementation of a clear management plan must be considered a major win. It is telling, though, that a management plan is required within one year of achieving NPA status and here it took nine. The region still faces challenges that stem from a lack of a budget, and a lack of political will between governing bodies. The plan would be easily enforceable with investment in more employees and equipment.

Visitors to Cabo Pulmo can contribute to the ongoing conservation efforts of this incredible area by making a donation to the Hero fund. This can be done at the welcome center, which is actually a museum that you can visit on your way into the park. If you donate, you’ll get to flaunt a blue wristband that says you’re a hero-- what’s cooler than that (okay, a lot of things, but it’s something). As tourism in the area continues to grow, the effort to preserve the reef must grow as well.

The Hero fundraiser is part of a group of four non-profits, all under the umbrella of Paralelo 28. (Parallel 28). They work all along the Baja Peninsula, working to increase surveillance in the Sea of Cortez and to enforce compliance with existing laws, which our government is not good at. Some of their efforts are at Cabo Pulmo, Loreto, and the Bay of La Paz. Funds donated to any of the four Paralelo 28 organizations will go directly to providing additional surveillance and security to the marine life in northwest Mexico’s NPAs.

For Cabo Pulmo, the successful restoration of the once fished-out area is due entirely to the collaboration of the community. Without the teamwork and trust for one another, it would not have been possible. Cabo Pulmo has about 110 residents, all of whom are dedicated to the preservation of the beautiful reef in their backyards.

To learn more or to make a donation, visit their website at www.paralelo28.org.