Sex, Drugs, and Public Health

May 19, 2015

BLOG from the Sea of Cortez 3

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 7:58 pm

DEAD  SEA ?

“Aquarium of the World”: Jacques Cousteau’s term for this Sea.

For two days, as we sail south from Loreto to Agua Verde, to Timbabiche, now on toward Bahia Evaristo, Tom Uno has towed a fishing line and lure.

“I’ve never gone this long without catching a fish in this sea,” he laments.

I look at the water’s surface, but I envision the world beneath. 950 species of fish, 10% of which are found nowhere else in the world; the rays, who swim in geometrically magnificent schools and break the surface to fly over the water, wings outstretched,  raining diamonds; 120 species of sea mammals including multiple whale species, sea lions, dolphins and one smallish, unique creature – the Vaquita.

This latter, whose name means “little Cow,” is vanishing. They were rare to begin with – only about 500 in 1997, but are down to an estimated 150 individuals now. These accidental victims of the nets of large fishing trawlers are the marine canary in the mine that is the World’s Aquarium. Marine biologists tell us that 85% of those fish species are being harvested beyond sustainability, that several of the sea mammals are nearing extinction, that the turtles are nearly gone and sharks are dying in large numbers because of the soup which demands their fins. And Marlin still hang from thick-timbered gallows at the Cabo pier, the prize of “Sport” fisherman.

On the land we sail past, the vegetation is sparse, thorny, and dry.

“You’d think those plants would just give up and relinquish their space to the rocks,” I muse.

Tom Dos offers his favorite axiom:

“Natural systems will do whatever they can, for as long as they can, until they can’t do it anymore.”

“You mean, these cacti?”

“As long as they can survive and reproduce, they will. They’re a Natural system.”

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“Including the Pacific plate crunching itself up into the Mountains of the Giantess?” I test his axiom further.

“Nothing’s stopped it yet.”

I don’t care about the trawlers’ profits, but how, I wonder as we sail into Bahia Evaristo, are the 60,000 Mexicans who depend on the sea for their lives, going to make it?

Here, there are four or five other boats. We anchor, then dinghy over to snorkel.

It’s a wonderful flashback to visits I made to this Sea in 1972 and 1988 to sprawl out on the water, facedown, breathing thru a snorkel. I’d forgotten the continuous crackle and hiss of the ocean in your ears; the taste of salt in your mouth. Beneath you, flows the submerged shoreline of sedimentary rocks welded together by old lava flow.

But there are few fish. A translucent needle fish, maybe eight inches long and half inch thick; small schools of yellow and black striped three inchers; an occasional lonely clown-fish. Some of the rocks have pale corral attached in the shapes of an underwater cactus or a human brain.

In the late afternoon, our radio squawks: “Attention boats in Evaristo Bay. The best food is now fresh and waiting for you at Lupe Sierra’s restaurant.”

Her voice is as Gringo as they come.

The family structure at the restaurant mirrors that of Agua Verde: husband fishes; wife cooks; kids play.
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A blonde American woman drifts between the outdoor tables and the kitchen inside, mixing familiarly with the Mexican family.

The menu is in English, and apparently never changes.

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The fisherman tells me that, yes, fishing is harder than it was in years past. And catches are smaller. But, he assures us, he has fresh Pargo (snapper) and excuses himself to cook it.

His son, home from college in La Paz, tells us that he’s majoring in Eco-tourism, and plans to develop such a program here in Evaristo, with his girlfriend. No, he won’t become a fisherman.

The fish tacos are yummy, the view takes in the handful of sailboats and many panga fishing boats. We walk the beach, then the desert hills flanking the restaurant.
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We weave among the cacti, the myriad bleached bones of sea birds – hollow, delicate, gracefully curved – and the basura (garbage) to a point overlooking the sea, adjacent to the lighthouse.

“They’re fishing it to death,” one of us observes with sadness, looking at the turquoise jewel below the cliff.

“They know it, too. “If they left the sea alone for a while, it might recover.”

“They’ll do what they do until they can’t do it anymore.”

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There is a small de-salination plant across the bay. A gift from some international agency, maintained by Public Works from La Paz.

Fresh water, I recall my research on the deteriorating ecology of the Sea. The natural infusion of fresh water into the northern reach of the Sea no longer exists. The Colorado river dried up – somewhere to the north – in 1999.

“Tourism in place of fishing,” Tom Uno ruminates. “They tried that. Built a lot of hotels for the Gringo trade, including the sailboats. Then the Recession of 2008 hit. Lots of empty hotels, still. Not many Americans buying boats.”

“Then what?”

“Canadians. More and more boats from B.C. and other provinces came down.”

“Like an invasive species into an emptying sea?” I analogize.

The sailboat anchored closest to the beach is painted “Willful Simplicity.”

“Lots of rogue males live aboard their boats,” Tom Dos educates me. Not this one, however. The blonde woman of radio and restaurant fame lives there with her husband.

In the restaurant, we sit sipping fluids, allowing the family to enjoy their final meal of Semana Sancta together. Son and his novia will return to La Paz afterward, and Evaristo will sink back into the torpor of a small fishing village of a dozen or so homes.

The Gringo owner of the permanently moored sloop strikes up with us while his wife promotes the restaurant to all the boats listening on local net.

“We came down five years ago. Sold everything in the Bay Area, and we live here now.”

“What do you do?”

He takes another sip of beer. “Oh, sometimes we cruise. Occasionally, fish. Mostly relax.”

For five years? the three of us each think.

“How long do you figure to stay here?”

Another sip of beer. Around one of the ankles of his bare feet he wears a bracelet of woven strings, like the other around his wrist. His T-shirt reads “Old Guys Yacht Club”. Swim trunks finish what obviously, is his daily dress.

“Evaristo is our home,” he smiles.

My eyes shoot again to the desert surrounding us. To the left, a few crude houses and beached panga fishing boats. To the right, three more crude houses and two pangas. We sit on the porch of the only restaurant and store in Evaristo. The sea laps, oblivious to us.

“We just do what we do,” he clarifies, finishing his beer, then he rises from the chair to get another.

For as long as you can do it – – – I finish the axiom silently.

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(photos by Tom Marlow; see also http://ketch-22.com/ )

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