October 18, 2006 - When Reef Check’s Executive Director, Gregor Hodgson, asked me if I could take a break from cold water diving to join a trip of legendary biologists to Cabo Pulmo, he didn’t have to ask twice. Less than 72 hours after I first learned of the trip, I found myself on the bank of a heavily flooded roadway contemplating if my little rental Volkswagen would make the 25m journey across the torrent. Fortunately, the rest of my group had similar hesitations with their vehicles so I figured I would go first at least get a ride if my car got swept away. Joining me at the roadside river was Peter Haaker, Art Haseltine, Bob Lea, Dan Richards, and Marty Golden, a veritable army of marine knowledge and experience due to their years of working for the California Department of Fish and Game, the Channel Islands National Parks Service, and NOAA Fisheries Service. Although this group was on vacation, they come down here regularly and wanted to get involved in local monitoring and conservation efforts. What a great opportunity for me to get my first glimpse of the legendary reefs of Cabo Pulmo and hook up the crew with our local partners, the Amigos of Cabo Pulmo and my old friend Abraham Mendoza from COBI.
Although we did make it across the river, the delay had us arriving past sunset so we were unable to meet with Eréndira Valle, Executive Director of the Amigos to get briefed on local monitoring efforts and how we could get involved. Fortunately, Abraham arrived early the next morning along with Olmo Romero Vargas to bring us up to speed on local monitoring efforts and inform us how we could help. We learned of existing monitoring programs and were asked to help generate species lists (something Bob was already doing) and abundance/size data for key food fish species. Unfortunately, assessing abundance and size of food fish species is quite easy to do in most places in the world as food fish numbers are generally low and fished species tend to avoid divers. In Cabo Pulmo, however, I found myself taxed to the limits of my fish counting abilities. Huge schools of leopard grouper (with individuals up to 1m long) co-mingled with literally hundreds of barred pargo, graybar grunts, panamic parkfish, and huge dog snapper with absolutely no fear of divers.
Located on the east cape of Baja California Sur, Cabo Pulmo is home to the only hard coral reef in the Sea of Cortez. Established as a National Park in 1995, protecting over 7,000 hectares, Cabo Pulmo National Park is home to over 200 species of fish and hosts some of the greatest concentrations of fish biomass that I have ever seen. Unfortunately, like most coral reefs in the world, the reefs of Cabo Pulmo are facing ever increasing threats from human sources. Illegal fishing routinely occurs within the parks boarders which is evident from the occasional derelict fishing line tangled on the fragile coral heads. Poor land use practices and rampant development are leading to increased sedimentation and pollution and increased beach vehicular traffic and development are threatening olive ridley and leatherback sea turtle nesting sites.
Fortunately, the Amigos and COBI are working hard with the local community to reduce these impacts and Reef Check will soon be developing a new program in the region to further engage the community in monitoring. Generously donating their time and expertise to help with surveys, the data collected by Pete, Art, Dan, Bob and Marty will greatly add to our ability to monitor and protect the precious marine resources of Cabo Pulmo.