Conversations in the dark

Pearl oyster aquaculture in GuaymasMy back feels tight, cramped, the way that only riding in a packed van of 13 people with bags driving for hours can accomplish. It’s night and we’re driving back to Kino from a full day in Guaymas meeting with a regional CONANP manager (the government agency in charge of conservation and national protected areas) and visiting a pearl oyster farm. We’re reflecting on the day, discussing the conservation value in each organization. At the crux of our conversation: What is conservation and is this pearl aquaculture business practicing it?

Betsy points out that the owner Enrique certainly uses environmentally responsible practices-supporting city endeavors to prevent run off into the harbor, not applying antibiotics to their oysters, and using an oyster species native to the area that had been previously depleted so as to help maintain ecosystem function. I return that these decisions come from a pragmatic business lens, not necessarily from a conservation ethic or intent. Alex and Shannon pose a question: Must intent be a part of “conservation”? Is it a process and the means, or is it just the ends, the result or an action?

Furthermore, would Enrique gain significant profit from using non-native oysters? Absolutely not, we all agree, as part of the hook of the business is to sell you these specific unique high-quality pearls that you cannot get anywhere else. Would he gain anything by applying antibiotics to his crop? It’s debatable, but probably not. He doesn’t seem to risk much or lose anything by making the environmentally responsible decision, so is it reasonable to tout his business with some type of conservation certification? We don’t know.

CONANP doesn’t escape our criticism either. Their clear intention (directive, even) is to conserve biodiversity, but how effective are their methods? Is one of their recent projects eradicating rats from the Isla San Pedro Martir a good example of conservation? The goal was to protect bird species on the island from the rats that had been introduced by humans during the guano trade. But our vision of some initial utopic San Pedro Martir is only socially constructed, says Jaya-we can’t really say it ever actually existed. Similarly, can the oyster farm claim that they’re restoring an ecosystem? In fact, some like Dr. Daniel Janzen would argue that both endeavors just turned a wild ecosystem into a garden, controlled by humans, that just performs similar functions.

We have no real answers. The stars rotate east to west around Polaris to my right. The van bounces along, breezes past abandoned farms and the dark shapes of isolated Cardones cactus plants. My back is still tight.