Hope, Heartbreak, and Hope – My latest article for The Scuttlefish

Showing budding Cabo Pulmo conservationists a sea cucumber.

Showing budding Cabo Pulmo conservationists a sea cucumber.

This is just a quick post to give you the link to my most recent Scuttlefish piece titled Hope, Heartbreak and Hope. What I Learned from Directing an NGO in Mexico’s Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park. A Scuttlefish Feature. Please click on over and check it out. The videos and photos are pretty amazing thanks to editor, Chris Dixon’s input.

Mexican President Calderon Sides with Cabo Pulmo

Cabo Pulmo Vivo protects Cabo Pulmo National ParkThe President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, just announced the cancellation of all permits for the mega-development Cabo Cortez. This was a massive development, on a scale the likes of Cancun which was planned to begin construction next to the northern boundary of Cabo Pulmo National Park. I got goose bumps when I received the instant message telling me that it was cancelled. And again when I read the notification from Greenpeace Mexico that arrived seconds later in my email inbox.

This is a huge success in the history of conservation in Mexico, perhaps worldwide. The forces promoting this development are big fish, sharks one might say, in the international world of development. They had the backing of many Mexican government officials, not the least of which included the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada, responsible for issuing the permits that originally gave the project the go-ahead.

Earlier this year, in an historically unprecedented move, the Mexican Senate called Elvira Quesada onto the carpet to answer to charges that he issued the permits fraudulently. That is when many of us involved in the movement to save Cabo Pulmo from this threat, began to see a light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel. While many local conservation organizations, including the one I co-founded, Amigos para la Conservación de Cabo Pulmo, A.C.(ACCP), fought to get the project cancelled, it is without a doubt the tireless and diligent efforts of Greenpeace Mexico that brought the message of “Cabo Pulmo Vivo” and “No a Cabo Cortes!” to the hordes in Mexico City and beyond, collecting 220,000 signatures in support of the cause. Similarly, WildCoast, an international coastal conservation organization based in San Diego and Ensenada, worked in the trenches of grassroots activism and launched a media campaign that brought international attention to the plight of Cabo Pulmo.

Today is a banner day in the world of conservation and grassroots activism, but while celebration is in order for this historically unprecedented move by the Mexican government to protect its natural heritage, we must remain vigilant. In his speech, he makes it clear that it was the nature of the development and the inability of its proponents to demonstrate that it would not impact the park that led to its cancellation. He was clear that in the government’s opinion, development and the protection of natural resources are not incompatible. There is always the possibility that another developer will swoop in with another idea for the land. Hopefully the necessary support for a conservation easement or the creation of a land-based reserve will be garnered by those working so hard to keep Cabo Pulmo Alive.

The relatively tiny community organization of ACCP also deserves a great deal of credit for working so hard on a shoestring budget from their isolated location in a teensy off-the-grid desert village to protect a World Heritage Site for the rest of us. They plan to meet this evening to vote for a new executive board, but I suspect that meeting will metamorphose into a celebration of this David versus Goliath victory. I for one plan to be there to help them celebrate.

President Calderon’s announcement to the Press this morning (Spanish language only).

Watering the Garden

It’s your chance to make a difference.

No, I’m not going to ask you for money. All you have to do is make a tiny effort that could make a huge difference to many people and a very special place on this planet of ours.

Cabo Pulmo, Baja California Sur, Mexico is a picturesque, isolated little village on the east coast of the Baja Peninsula, just an hour’s drive from the Los Cabos International Airport.

Cabo Pulmo

In the crystal clear aquamarine waters off the coast, the largest, most pristine coral reef in the Sea of Cortez is home to immense schools of fish, over 40 species of coral, and innumerable invertebrates. Humpback Whales, whale sharks, blue whales, dolphins and porpoises migrate through the area regularly. Four species of sea turtle eat and reproduce in her waters and lay their eggs on her sandy beaches.

Fish block out the sun over Cabo Pulmo Reef

In 2005, UNESCO recognized the ecological importance of this unique habitat and designated it a World Heritage Site.

In 2002, I moved to Cabo Pulmo to promote conservation of the reef. After a few false starts and several months after moving to Cabo Pulmo, I met Mario Castro, the owner of one of the three dive shops operating in the village. I convinced him to accompany me to a conservation workshop organized by WildCoast that was designed to educate fishermen and tourism operators about sea turtle conservation. After one of the presentations, Mario approached me, eyes wide and said “Dawn, we have to do something!  I had no idea so many animals are in danger of extinction. We have to teach the children about this!”

Together Mario and I organized meetings in Cabo Pulmo hoping others would share our vision of turning Cabo Pulmo into an example of grassroots conservation. Eventually our efforts paid off, and along with local fishermen, dive guides, housewives, ex pats and many children, Amigos para la Conservacion de Cabo Pulmo (Friends for the Conservation of Cabo Pulmo) was born.

Female sea turtle laying her eggs on Cabo Pulmo beach

Our first projects focused on sea turtle conservation. We began nest protection throughout the park and the first SCUBA-based in-water monitoring project in the northern hemisphere. In 2005, our goal of a reef monitoring project lead by local divers was realized. Today the group has 27 card-carrying members and many more volunteers and supporters from around the world. But our efforts are often hampered by a lack of funds. Group members are constantly supporting efforts with their own limited resources.

Now we are fighting hard to stop the construction of a mega-resort development  along the northern limits of the park. If allowed to proceed as planned, Cabo Cortes will be a city larger than any currently on the peninsula. We need only look at toursm developments like Cancun to understand that the potential for runoff from this development to harm or kill the Cabo Pulmo coral reef system is huge. So far, ACCP along with other groups have been successful in getting the environmental permits for the project revoked. But it’s only a matter of time before the political machine pushes approval through again.

But there is hope. Recently, ACCP was chosen as one of only 25 finalists from among 47049 proposals submitted to a national competition Iniciativa Mexico. We are thrilled to have made the finals! And hope that it will bring international attention to the plight of the Cabo Pulmo reef in the face of Cabo Cortes.

Iniciativa Mexico is a national project that seeks to rescue Mexico “the dynamic and enterprising” and recognize and celebrate the initiative of people who through their efforts are working for the Mexico we all want. IM is a call to action.

This Sunday Sep 12th at 9:30 PM Mountain Time on the television channels Televisa and TV Azteca, Mario will represent ACCP in a televised interview that is the next step in the selection process for Iniciativa Mexico. During this time you can vote for ACCP by simply making a phone call. Please water the seed of this initiative with your vote. UNESCO believes that Cabo Pulmo National Park deserves international protection. Do you?

You can watch the interview live on Sunday night by clicking one of the links below.


Watch on Televisa or TV Azteca

Backwards to the Future

I know I promised to write about current conservation issues in Cabo Pulmo at the end of my last blog. Something more (or just as) pressing has come up however.

While doing my daily clicks for charity yesterday morning, my eye was drawn to the left hand side of the page, where a video graphic was changing from white to red. The text at the top reads “If only whales could scream…then the world might listen.” The image is of a whale with a ship in the background and as the images progress the ship gets closer and a harpoon appears and then the entire image turns deep, blood red. Effective. I clicked on it. 

My click took me to a petition created by the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The petition was addressed to the President of the United States.

Dear President Obama,
America has led the international fight to stop the cruel, unnecessary commercial slaughter of whales for decades.Since championing passage of the international ban on commercial whaling in 1986, every American President has reasserted our nation’s strong leadership role in the fight to save whales already threatened as never before by pollution, ship strikes, entanglement, climate change and other perils.Today, disturbing reports indicate that your administration may support an international agreement permitting Japan and others to resume commercial whaling. We respectfully ask that you act immediately to stop this sellout, and instruct U.S. representatives to the International Whaling Commission to instead act to end all
commercial whaling worldwide. Honor your promise.
As a candidate you said:

“As President, I will ensure the U.S. provides leadership in enforcing international wildlife protection agreements, including strengthening the international moratorium on commercial whaling. Allowing Japan to continue commercial whaling is unacceptable.” (3/16/08)

Over 75% of the American public agrees and opposes commercial whaling. Scientists and environmental groups worldwide object to this unseemly, back-room deal to reward Japan for decades of illegal whaling under the guise of scientific research. Surely, Mr. President, these gentle, intelligent creatures deserve better from us than a long and painful death just to show up on the menu in some overpriced restaurant? Please President Obama, honor your promise:  Stop the sellout.  Save the Whales.

Japan plans to KILL 1000 whales this year. This is done under the guise of “research,” but it has been proven that in reality the whale meat is sold throughout the country in restaurants and grocery stores (canned) as a delicacy. This is happening with the existing protections in place. How many more whales will be killed, for profit, if the current laws concerning whaling are weakened? Please consider signing the petition at the IFAW or one of the other many animal protection and conservation web sites that feel also that it is abomination that that US President is actually considering not assuring whales the protection they deserve. It is a giant leap backwards for whale species, bringing into question not just their future, but also that of the planet and therefore our own. Let your voice be heard – tell President Obama that he must honor his election promises and not give in to pressure from Japan. Whales today…what will it be tomorrow?
Forward this link to as many people as you can. And let people know that on April 22nd, EARTH DAY there will be a rally at the White House to let the President know that commercial whaling on any level is not acceptable. Not now, not ever.
Text IFAW to 30644
or visit www.ifaw.org/stopthesellout

More information on Cetacean Intelligence



Intermission Over – Return to Your Posts

We are storytellers. Throughout history we have told the stories of how we have come to be where, who and what we are. We seem to have figured out very early on that every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Each part is necessary to make the story flow, to give it structure and to not leave the reader wondering where they are going along the way. Every part is essential to the telling of a good story, but the ending, I would suggest is perhaps most important because it gives us the “ah ha” that is the motivation behind the telling in the first place.

As some of you know, I am writing my own tale – the story of how and why it is that I came to be in Mexico, of working in the tiny community of Cabo Pulmo on the conservation of a national marine park that was being neglected by local and federal authorities, and, possibly of more universal significance, the story of a recently divorced woman finding her way through the maze that is life lived in a foreign land. While undertaking the mental gymnastics necessary to outline this memoir, I came to the realization that what I thought was the ending was actually just an intermission.

It struck me that I’d ended the story too soon. And the Truth contained in the quote attributed to Socrates about The Unexamined Life was driven home in a most tangible way. I realized that there was still work to be done, people still trying to do it and regardless of my personal experiences, good, bad and ugly, they could probably use some support. Because I am uniquely suited to help in some way. We all are. We each have a different set of skills, talents and characteristics that lend themselves to helping out a cause in different ways. My way may not be as successful as his way or her way, but it is my way, my contribution and that’s as good as it gets.

Cabo Pulmo sits only 21 miles North along the bone-jarring, washboard coastal road in the East Cape region of Baja California Sur. Despite its proximity the flow of news South to where I live has been suffering a drought of many years. So I started contacting people I knew from back in the day in an attempt to discover what the status of the project was and who was currently involved. The internet and Facebook provided clues and contacts – a snippet of information here, a name there, like bread crumbs dropped surreptitiously on a forest floor. Many emails later, I was catapulted into a clearing and there we all were, back on the beach in Cabo Pulmo, hashing out strategies as though five years hadn’t passed.

The Universe works in mysterious ways.

Yesterday I got an email from a member of the non-profit conservation group WildCoast, who got my address from a fellow conservationist unaware of my recently renewed vigor for the cause.

All the WildCoaster related was that they were looking for accommodations in my neighborhood and hoped I could point them in the right direction. In the electronic conversation that ensued I realized “they” included the director of WildCoast, Serge Dedina, one of the first significant contacts in the Mexican conservation world that I made on my journey here in 2002. Also very probably the most encouraging among many supporters that would follow in great part because he too had plied the trade of conservation in Cabo Pulmo and understood better than most what a challenge it represents. When I discovered that he and his crew were coming to work with the team in Cabo Pulmo, the same people I’d recently renewed a working relationship with, I recognized the synchronicity and the message it contained – the decision to pick up where I’d left off five years ago was the right one.


Stay tuned for current Cabo Pulmo conservation issues