The ocean is obviously a place of tremendous bounty as well as beauty, but that magnificent plenty has a fragile side. The Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park is a stirring example of how environmental stewardship can harvest tremendous rewards, and a reminder to stay vigilant. The marine park, and the small town that bears its name is about an hour north of San José del Cabo. But the “north” is more significant than that: the marine park is the most northerly living coral reef in the eastern Pacific—just one of three of its kind on the Pacific Coast. Coral reefs are extraordinary nurseries for aquatic life, home to more than a quarter of the known fish species in the world.
However, coral reefs are also delicate structures—many modern fishing methods, with their huge fish harvests and destructive harvesting mechanics can destroy the reef’s ability to replenish itself. Overfishing had greatly reduced the fertility of Cabo Pulmo in the 1980s, and the future looked bleak, until a group of people from the community of Cabo Pulmo, supported by the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur, asked federal authorities to designate the area a National Park. The Mexican government made the reef a national park in 1995, and its astonishing recovery since that time has been heralded by marine scientists worldwide.
Now Cabo Pulmo is home to five of the world’s seven endangered species of sea turtles, humpback whales, marlin, tuna, sharks, rays and a tremendous assortment of other marine life—more than 800 species in all. The total biomass of fish, including many large schools—has increased by a heartening 460% over 10 years. The visual rewards for divers and snorkers are legendary, but the ecological rewards to the Sea of Cortez and indeed the world are priceless. The conservation initiatives have had a remarkable and instructive effect, that recovery from marine-life depletion is possible. The area now has the highest concentration of fish in the Gulf of California.
The proposed development of a vast new mega-resort area near the marine park has alarmed many conservationists, who are convinced that the size of the development will put unsustainable pressure on the marine ecosystem. Resort developments have come and gone, but the miracle that is the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park is one of a kind. Let’s hope that any development in the area is cautious, thoughtful, and mindful of the planet’s future.
By Tom Bentley