Life in a tiny island
Imagine living in a island the size of a few acres, with no fresh water and far away from any city or town. Sounds hard, but that’s how the Cuevas family have been living for several decades. It all started in the 1940’s when Juan Cuevas was attracted to the Gulf of California seeking the high valuable shark’s livers. After establish a camp in San Jose Island and later in San Francisco Island he finally settle between the two island, in a small rock call Coyote Island, but he decide to renamed El Pardito, a name that has establish since between the people of the region. At the beginning Juan was alone, but he went back to mainland looking for a wife and came back with one, but then his wife became pregnant and couldn’t help him anymore so he needed someone else, every time this happen he went to the shore and bring a new wife, so he end up with 9 wifes and a lot of children, all living in the little island with him. A lot of time has passed since, but his descendants still live there, there are many houses, a chapel and a elementary school. The population in the island varies between 20 and 50 people, depending if there are children going to school in La Paz or someone is sick.
We had the chance to visit this particular island aboard the Pez Sapo (Toad fish) and luckily Amy Hudson from Niparaja was with us. She live here for 8 months a few years ago, so she knows many of the people here, and we had the chance to hear from here some of the island stories. For example in the 70’s there was a small plane that crash in the nearby waters, the cuevas family came to the rescue and manage to save them. There were people from the US, and they were really grateful, they became friends and return to the island each year, so finally they ask them: Why don’t you build a house over here? So they did! They are the only outsiders that live here.
The waters that surround El Pardito and the nearby islands are very productive; the fisheries that operate here represent more than 60% of the captures that arrive to La Paz Bay (Ramirez-Rodriguez 1997). According to Palacios-Salgado et al (2012) there are 298 species of fish in the waters near San Jose, San Francisco (the big two islands) and El Pardito (in the middle of those), this represents 48.2% of the whole fish diversity in all the Gulf’s islands. People in El Pardito still fish for sharks and rays, but they are also very involved in conservations projects, working side by side with Niparaja, a regional NGO that’s been doing a very good job with fishing communities in Baja California Sur. They sell their fish to a buyer that comes often in his boat, but they don’t trade them all for money, they are always in need for supplies so they trade a portion of their catch.
By now you may be wondering how they survive in this little rock where there is no fresh water. Well they are always in the look out for water, they need the help of strangers to get it, so this are not hermitages, they have developed their friends skills so they know a lot of the people in the boats that travel through here, and if they not they quickly became friends. This way they obtain fresh water and some other supplies. In case they can’t get water this way they need to travel in one of their boats to San Sebastian, that’s the closest place in the peninsula where they can get water.
There is a reef very close to the island, too bad that the strong winds didn’t allow us to snorkel there. But there’s also a curious thing about this, Amy told us that the people of El Pardito enjoy snorkeling here, especially the women. This is very unusual in this region. Its common here that women don’t get in the water, they have very little participation in the boats offshore, and many of them don’t know how to swim, so they just stay on land. But as Amy told us, the women of El Partido really enjoy snorkeling in the reef and they even dive once, when Amy brought the equipment. She says they talked about it for many months after that. Unfortunately the elder of the community is sick now, and has been in the hospital in La Paz, so when we visit El Pardito there was only one person. But through Amy’s tales we fell that we knew them all.
If you are interested in reading more about El Pardito visit:
Palacios-Salgado, D.S., X.G. Moreno-Sanchez, L.A. Abitia-Cardenas and F.J. Gutierrez-Sanchez. 2012. Icthyodiversity of San Jose, San Francisquito, and El Pardito Islands in the Southwestern Gulf of California, Mexico. Acta Ichthyologica et Piscatoria 42(3): 177-191 p.
Ramirez-Rodriguez, M. 1997. Produccion pesquera en la Bahia de La Paz In Urban-Ramirez, J. and M. Ramirez-Ramirez (eds). La Bahia de La Paz, investigacion y conservacion. UABC-CICIMAR-SCRIPPS, La Paz, BCS, Mexico. 273-282 p.