Gulf of California

Our field journal excerpts
by -- April 23rd, 2012

“After the COBI meeting with local fishermen we all met for supper at a family-owned local restaurant in Puerto Libertad. Almost immediately after I walked in, the owner, Emilia, invited me into her kitchen to learn how to make gorditas (glorified arepas). I love the name Emilia – it was my great-grandmothers. Emilia and her two children were busy cooking for our large group but insisted I sit down and learn the art of how to make a gorditia. Emilia and I quickly became friends and we talked about children, religion, and food – all the basics!  It may seem like a small, simple, and insignificant part of this trip but these interactions with people all over the globe make up the fabric of what I love and do. I am grateful — no matter the language or the culture I will always have a friend. Connections. Adore them.”

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Day 2 March 17th Kino Viejo: “Pangas were also lined up along the beach. We watched a couple pangas literally drive up onto the beach, quite an entertaining sight to see. The class walked over to see what the fishermen’s catch looked like, and we noticed it was very diverse, which is common for the fisheries in the area. All of the fishermen fish for a variety of species. This kind of flexibility ensures that they can bend with the market and also with what is available in the area. I was surprised how willing and comfortable the fishers were with us checking out what they caught, At this point, we were with Amie Hudson, a woman who works in the area for the Mexican non-profit “Niparajá”. She was familiar with most of the people we spoke with on the beach. We talked about how women and children are also involved in the fishery. Women and children will help a group of fishers land their catch and in return they are given a small amount of fish. This source of protein is extremely important because many women are single mothers and rely on help from a man. This type of family structure is common in the area, and it has lead to large population of youths. Looking at this issue through a larger lens can show that fisheries exploitation is not only a biological issue or ecological or economic but also a nutritional and social issue.”

Day 7 March 22nd Isla San Pedro Martir: “Then the dolphins came!! We literally saw at least 1,000 dolphins (common dolphins) rushing through the water feeding on something (sardines, anchovies?). Sea birds were flocking above and diving after the fish as well. The boat motored through the water alongside the dolphins chasing through the water. I couldn’t help but feel like we were a dolphin, enjoying the rush of a feeding frenzy from our speedboat. For every dolphin we saw at the surface, Hector said there were 10 more under water. Amazing things like this must be happening all over the world whether or not people are there to witness it. Does that make it any less amazing?”

“Sitting on the boat in the sun was nice, but then the “bobitos” came! No! But Xavier told us they feed on peoples’ hatred. So I attempted to show them some love. That didn’t seem to work. So Xavier told us to eat them and then they will be afraid of us. So, I ate one! It was surprisingly sweet but it didn’t make them leave us alone. I think Xavier was getting some pleasure out of tricking us into eating bugs. Well played Xavier, well played J”

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“Our unexpected campsite in the desert ended up being a great place for class discussion. As the sun set, we talked about criticisms of large conservation organizations — including accusations that they sometimes lose focus of what’s happening on the ground, inappropriately push blanket approaches to conservation, and fail to engage local and indigenous communities in a meaningful way. In the course of this discussion, we got to talking about the institutional habits of these large NGOs, and how certain patterns and cultures can develop from such habits. This may be where some of the criticisms come from – when it becomes obvious that something isn’t working particularly well, it can be hard to fundamentally change the way things are done. There are deeply-ingrained habits of doing things a certain way, taking a certain approach, or having certain kinds of interactions with local communities.

In this context, we talked about the importance of evaluation –  if no one examines, criticizes, or evaluates these organizations or their programs, there is a tendency for things to continue as they are, which may not be the best path for the organization or for conservation goals. This is where someone pointed out that there is a big difference between being cynical and critical – being critical is important, but we should be wary of becoming too cynical without making any effort to change things.”

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“After breakfast we headed to the Pearl Oyster Farm, which is run by three gentlemen who started the farm as their Master’s thesis trying to determine if a pearl oyster farm using the traditional Gulf of California oyster species is a feasible business.  It was inspiring to meet successful entrepreneurs who developed a unique business from their academic interests.  The pearls from theses oysters were the impetus for Cortez to begin exploring the sea and the same pearls had been attempted to be farmed before by the Japanese.  The Japanese were unsuccessful because the oysters were so different from the oysters in Japan.  The Japanese oysters would freeze when scared making implantation of the pearl nucleus easy but the Mexican oysters would clamp shut making it difficult to cultivate at times. The oysters used at this farm have an important place in the history and ecology of the Gulf of California.

The pearls from this farm are very unique, as they are the only pearl farm in the all the America’s and are the only farm in the world that uses this specific species commercially extracting pearls with a very unique color scheme.  The larva are caught in an onion bag resembling the type of surface they would want to naturally settle on, then they are transplanted to nursery nets in order to encourage survival, next they are transplanted to lantern bags when they are an inch long, and  finally they are operated on and transplanted into a bag that encourages pearl growth.  The operation involves implanting a small, small pearl from a freshwater oyster from Tennessee into the oyster’s mantel, transplanting a piece of mantel over the “nucleus” to encourage a pearl to grow.  They can use a piece of the mantel from any oyster and choose a portion of the mantel from an oyster that has already produced a very colorful shell, in order to encourage the oyster to produce a more colorful, valuable pearl.  Only 25% of the oysters produce pearls that are marketable- leaving this type of oyster farm with the lowest success rate of any pearl farm in the world.

The pearls are fair trade meaning 1) they do their best to care for the environment, 2) treat their laborers fairly (e.g. no children, fair wages), and 3) disclose any treatments that the pearls have undergone.  This increases their marketability in countries such as Sweden, as their government is taking an active stance on promoting a fair and equitable gem trade.  The owner that gave us the presentation on pearl farming said that he liked gem shows in Tucson the best, when compared to other major worldwide gem shows in Hong Kong and Switzerland.  He said this is because in Tucson if people try to buy gems with bad checks it’s like the “wild west” and the sheriff will find the person and prosecute them.  In addition there aren’t the same pretentious terms as found in the European and Asian markets, meaning that if someone is selling poor-quality gems customers will call them out in front of everyone else instead of simply quietly discussing the problem in closed circles.  This was a great experience helping me gain insight into Mexico’s history, ecology, and the entrepreneurial spirit of its people.”

 

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