Gulf of California

Day Two: “from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool” – Steinbeck
by -- March 18th, 2010

Today I awoke in the palapa at 6:30 to the most beautiful sound – the sound of panga motors running across the bay.

After days of strong northerlies, the wind had finally subdued and the fishermen were able to launch their boats and check their nets. Boy was this good news for us! Conditions are now favorable for us to take the boats out to midriff islands in the Gulf. So tomorrow we will set out to visit San Pedro Martir Island, a National Biosphere Reserve.

Rafe and Max tide poolingAfter breakfast we ventured off to a nearby tide pool with former Duke faculty member, and marine invertebrate expert, Rafe Sagarin. You know Rafe is a professional tide pooler when you find out he brought Al Gore and Bill Clinton into the field to examine marine invertebrates! It was a beautiful morning and we were fortunate to see brittle stars, sun stars, barnacles, jellyfish, vermetid worms, turbo snails, porcelain crabs, fire worms, urchins, anemones, sea cucumbers, sponges, oyster catchers, and tunicates. Despite all of our sightings, it was clear at the end of our tide pool session, that this ecosystem had undergone a serious shift over the past 60 years. Steinbeck and Ricketts reported tide pools teaming with life in the account of their famous voyage of the Gulf of California in the 1940s. According to their accounts we should see large numbers of Murex snails that once dominated the ecosystem, but instead we found no large snails, and instead vast expanses of vermetid worms.  It is easy to appreciate the wildlife you encounter here in the Gulf, but disheartening when you think about what landscapes and seascapes used to look like.

Our masterpieceUpon returning from our tide pool expedition, we embarked on a long, stimulating discussion of common property rhetoric under the forgiving shade of the Palapa. We were interrupted on more than one occasion by numerous generations of Seri selling crafts on foot, the vegetable truck, the ice cream scooter, and blaring music. Nonetheless during our serious discussion we were able to flesh out the different typologies of resources, rights, and government regimes in the context of local Mexican fisheries. Over the last few days we have come to realize the sheer complexity of local small-scale fisheries. As such, we spent hours developing a classification scheme of formal and informal fishery rules in Bahia Kino. In sum, it seems that few of the formal rules play out for a number of factors (including corruption, lack of transparency, misinformed and inappropriate rules and information asymmetry), and in practice, fishing in Bahia Kino is essentially open-access.

Morgan braves the chilly water - shes CandadianTo give our brains a rest, we played on the beach for a while and Morgan and I braved the chilly Gulf of California while being mindful of stingrays. Upon returning we showed our masterpiece classification scheme to Mario Rojo from a local NGO, who answered our burning questions and clarified areas of uncertainty.

We finished off an incredible day with a gourmet meal, courtesy of Max and Christina, and drank magic Mexican Jamaica. Tomorrow we have a super early morning as we are headed 59km out into the Gulf to visit the most oceanic island, Isla San Pedro Martir, so I must sign off and go to bed!

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