Sustainable Ranching and the Cowboy Museum in El Triunfo
The new Museo de Vaqueros del las Californias in El Triunfo – The Cowboy Museum – is an intimate, yet gorgeously expansive look at the 300 years of families, traditions, skills and tools that bind the Californias of Mexico and the United States in ways that no war or border can erase. It is a celebration of the great vaquero / cowboy culture that was born in Baja California, moved north with the cattle to Alta California, and still thrives today throughout the western United States.
The museum exhibits are punctuated with the fantastically beautiful paintings of La Paz artist Carlos César Diaz Castro, who created ten paintings and two murals to help tell the vaquero’s story, as well as stunning photos of present-day vaquero life by renowned Baja California Sur photographer Miguel Angel de la Cueva. As with its sister museum in El Triunfo, Museo Ruta de la Plata / the Silver Route Museum, one of the museum’s most compelling exhibits is the oral history section, in which members of local ranching families share their stories, histories and anecdotes.
But perhaps one of the most interesting themes running throughout the museum in small plaques and chalk drawing prints is that of sustainability. Interwoven with exhibits of criollo pigs and cattle brought from the Iberian Peninsula, is the explanation of Transhumance, livestock practices with minimal environmental impact that the Spanish brought with them to the New World that involved the environmentally sustainable practice of seasonal livestock migration. This practice is now a cornerstone of regenerative cattle ranching, and you don’t have to go far from the museum to see it in action. Christy Walton’s innovacionesAlumbra, an alliance of sustainable businesses in Baja California Sur, is the owner not only of the Cowboy Museum, but also of Rancho Cacachilas – about an hour’s drive from the Cowboy Museum – where modern day cowboys are fast at work restoring the land.
Florent Gomis, a Frenchman who came to Baja to study the Ecology of Desert Climates, is the Director of Sustainability at Rancho Cacachilas, and Transhumance is at the heart of his efforts. “In Baja California Sur as elsewhere in the ranching world, livestock has been blamed for the destruction of the land. In reality, the cattle aren’t the problem, it’s the management of the cattle.” Florent explains further. “Before there were vaqueros, herds of herbivores were motivated by predators to keep moving from place to place and that movement kept the land from being overgrazed. What we are working to achieve here at Rancho Cacachilas is the restoration of the impact that wild herds of herbivores once had on the land. These wild herds would continually move location, giving lands time to recover from their impact before their return. Here at Rancho Cacachilas we manage animals in groups and keep them moving, letting the land they had previously occupied rest for at least a year.”
While cattle are typically decried as destructive, Florent sees them as part of a restorative, creative process. “We really view the cattle as gardeners. When they move to a new grazing area, their hooves break the hard-packed dirt, allowing water and minerals to infiltrate the land. The cattle’s dung and urine are full soil-revitalizing carbon and nutrients, and as the cattle graze they trample these riches into the ground, resulting in the regeneration of the land. In a relatively short period of time we have seen these eroded, barren lands become covered in vegetation.”
The benefits of Transhumance don’t stop there. “One of the really cool things about this process of regenerating the soil is that it also regenerates the rain cycle” explains Florent. “Lots of vegetation on the land has a cooling effect on the atmosphere, causing clouds to precipitate on the land. So from what was once this vast cycle of death – overgrazing, monoculture, fertilizers and pesticides – you get this great cycle of life. The cows create nutritious soil so chemicals are not needed, the soil retains water and supports vegetation, the vegetation improves the soil, attracts more rain and feeds the cows, and the rain replenishes the whole, holistic system.” Florent notes that at Rancho Cacachilas, the same amount of land that could previously support only one cow, will soon support four. Moreover, with the increased vegetation for the cattle to eat, the ranch’s need for nutritional supplements for the cattle has dropped dramatically, resulting in substantial savings.
Rancho Cacachilas aims to be its own kind of Cowboy Museum. They’ve taken the lessons from the past, applied them to the present, and plan to share what they’re learning about managing cattle in the specific conditions of Baja California Sur with ranchers throughout the peninsula. The past comes alive at the beautiful new Cowboy Museum in El Triunfo. The past is alive down the road at Rancho Cacachilas.
Pesca Con Futuro / Fishing with a Future
When Christian Liñan decided to open his third restaurant in La Paz in 2017, he resolved to work only with 100% traceable, sustainably-caught local seafood. That made his seafood supply chain logistics pretty simple: he bought totoaba from Earth Ocean Farms in La Paz and oysters from Sol Azul in San Ignacio. That was it. “I have at least 15 different recipes for totoaba” he notes.
A combination of the pandemic and interminable neighborhood renovation forced the closure of that restaurant, but Christian’s commitment to traceable, sustainably-caught seafood has spanned decades and was not snuffed by a mere change of circumstance. His talent was recognized by COMEPESCA, the Mexican Council for the Promotion of Fisheries and Aquaculture Products, and as of January 2023 Christian is the Baja representative of COMEPESCA’s wildly successful program Pesca Con Futuro / Fishing with a Future. Explains Christian, “Pesca Con Futuro started in the Yucatan peninsula in 2017 and became a highly successful, high profile coalition of chefs, fishermen, producers, marketers and distributors, all committed to responsible, sustainable, in-season consumption. They all agreed to abide by the rules that promote biodiversity of species in Mexico and avoid overexploitation, thereby guaranteeing the future of fishing and aquaculture in Mexico. The 120 eminent Mexican chefs in the Yucatan peninsula who committed to Pesca Con Futuro have had such a huge impact as they are able to transmit the concept of responsible consumption and sustainable fishing and aquaculture directly to consumers via their menus and cuisine. It is truly impressive to see what they have achieved.”
COMEPESCA didn’t tap Christian to be the Baja representative of Pesca Con Futuro just because he’s a chef with an interest in sustainability. Nor did they choose him just because of his degree in Marine Sciences from CIBNOR in La Paz. One of the key reasons they chose him is because he has witnessed firsthand the importance of engaging the full chain of players in protecting marine species. In 2009, fresh out of CIBNOR, Christian joined Noroeste Sustentable (NOS) in the upper Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez). At that time the fisheries of the upper Gulf had thousands of pangas, each of which was catching roughly three tons of fish daily, mainly with gillnets. There was no management system or operating agreement among the fisheries or with the distributors, with the result that all those thousands of tons of fish were just being dumped on the market and collapsing prices. Fishers were taking home only 6 to 10 pesos per kilo of fish and fish stocks were being rapidly depleted. It is therefore not surprising that some fishers were tempted to traffic in the highly lucrative totoaba swim bladder trade. The totoaba is an iconic, endemic marine fish species of the upper Gulf. Its swim bladder is highly prized in some parts of Asia for both its purported medicinal properties and as a status symbol. As totoaba swim bladders can sell for as much as USD 80,000 per kilo, they became known as the “cocaine of the sea” and attracted the same cartels in Mexico and China that traffic in such illicit substances.
Violence came to the upper Gulf, and to say that it was a complex and dangerous work environment is a severe understatement. And humans were not the only mammals that suffered from the totoaba swim bladder trade. The totoaba shares its habitat with the Vaquita porpoise, the smallest dolphin in the world. The illegal gillnets used to trap the totoaba caught and killed huge numbers of Vaquita, which rapidly became critically endangered.
It was in this environment that Christian and NOS started the Fish Less and Gain More campaign. Through incredibly hard work in the communities they were able to create an agreement among the fisheries to catch and sell fewer tons of fish, with the result that prices rose from 6-10 pesos per kilo to 20 pesos per kilo. To protect the Vaquita, they also enforced the ban on gillnets, as well as the ban on fishing in the Vaquita’s habitat. It was all going extremely well, until it wasn’t. “Unfortunately there was really no way to enforce the agreement across all the fishing communities of the upper Gulf, with the result that some areas simply ignored the agreement and ultimately after two years prices collapsed again. Gillnetting in the Vaquita habitat resumed. The NGO and donors that had supported the program decided to close it. I was so sad and frustrated.”
Which is exactly why the Pesca Con Futuro program excites him so much – all the key players in the seafood supply chain are engaged, not just the fishermen. With chefs on the front line creating demand among consumers for eco-friendly caught, traceable seafood, the fishers, distributors and marketers realize that they have to get in line with market expectations. But, notes Christian, “It is almost impossible for fisheries to get sustainable certification.” That is why Pesca Con Futuro is a champion of the Fishery Improvement Project, FIP. “The FIP is a group of organizations and people who work collaboratively to achieve the sustainability of a fishery in the shortest possible time” notes Christian. “It is a clear and simple way to share good practices and teach about traceability. Organizations that participate in credible FIPs are considered reliable sources of supply and allies of sustainable products.” The list of FIP projects in Mexico can be found at: https://fisheryprogress.org/
Christian continues, “Sustainability is the responsibility of each of us who make up the consumption, production and supply chain, a task that must be permanent. At Pesca Con Futuro we link the different actors in the value chain, making various support tools available to them to achieve informed and responsible purchases of sustainable seafood.”
Christian believes that sustainability’s time has come for the seafood market. “In the 1990s consumers were all demanding “light” products. In the 2000s it was organic produce, and now in the 2020s the public is really turning its focus to sustainability. Pesca Con Futuro is here to both increase that awareness, and to make sure that in Mexico in general and Baja California in particular that sustainable seafood practices are widespread and sustainably-caught, 100% traceable seafood is widely available to the public.”
What about that totoaba he was cooking with at his restaurant in 2017? It represents the future he hopes to see for all of Baja. Pablo Konietzko, vice president of COMEPESCA and the founder of Earth Ocean Farms, a state-of-the-art facility in La Paz which raises the totoaba explains. “In 2012 we got special permits from SEMARNAT, the agency in charge of protecting marine species, to fish for totoaba breeding stock in the upper Gulf of California. Since we brought in those first fish we have kept meticulous records such that we can fully trace the bloodline of every fish from the hatchery to the table. It is impossible for someone to imitate our fish or pass off wild totoaba as EOF-raised.” Not only is Pablo raising totoaba for the seafood market, he is helping the totoaba to recover in the wild. Notes Pablo, “For the past 7 years we have held totoaba restocking events in Bahia Concepcion in the Gulf of California, near Mulege. We have successfully released over 175,000 juveniles into the sea, and we will continue the program each year.”
Christian could not be more thrilled to be working with Pesca Con Futuro in Baja. “It is truly an honor and a privilege to do this” he says. But the work falls to each of us. Next time you order seafood at a restaurant, ask if it was sustainably caught, and if it can be traced. Only in this way can you be sure that your favorite seafood will continue to be on the menu not only for you, but for the generations to come.
A Celebration of Todos Santos Eco Adventures’ Guides
Last month, several Todos Santos Eco Adventures (TOSEA) guides completed an epic 10-day, end-of-season paddle from Loreto to La Paz. Skills, knowledge, teamwork and FUN were the themes, but it turns out that when the season winds down, naturalist adventure guides just want to relax by adventuring in nature!
“Being out there with all you need in the hatch of a kayak makes you realize that life is actually pretty simple. This trip was a mental and physical challenge for me, but I learned so much and had so many amazing encounters on the ocean and in the unique Baja landscape. I came away with fantastic memories and a lot of learnings. These are the great moments of life.” – Cesar Caballero, TOSEA guide
The adventure started off with a night on a beach under the stars. After organizing gear, the team had dinner and relaxed before the next day’s big paddle. The trip was designed not only for fun and camaraderie – it was a chance for the guides to learn from one another and to build their both their soft skills and preparedness skills such as perfecting the ‘Eskimo roll’ (rolling and righting your kayak) – and they were able to do all of that and more over the 10 days!
Days on the trip started early, fueled by hearty breakfasts. The guides took turns leading each day – cooking meals, cleaning up, organizing navigation and more. One guide played a faux demanding guest so that the group could practice tending to the ‘client’s’ wants and needs while also tending to the rest of the group.
“I was able to discover a version of myself that I didn’t know existed. Being out there in the immensity of the Sea of Cortez, constantly being pushed out of my comfort zone, and working so tightly with my colleagues to achieve our common goals really changed the way that I approach my work. It was a life-changing experience.” – Octavio Marin, TOSEA guide
Throughout the journey the guides were serenaded by incredible landscapes of islands, mountains and perfect, deserted beaches; paddled and played with dolphins; and marveled at whales and birds. All the while, they built routines to make everything work and paddled, paddled, paddled – a kind of meditation.
“I breathe deeply trying to take in as many images, sensations, feelings as I can before they turn into memories.” – Alejandra Ibarrola, TOSEA guide
One of the magical things about discovering Baja California Sur with TOSEA is what the guides themselves were reminded of over and over again on this trip – the absolute wonder of this biodiverse peninsula. One evening the group decided to do a night paddle (after paddling all day!) to see the ocean’s bioluminescence…
“As soon as the sun hides, we start seeing the tiny sparkles in the water. The darker it gets, the more we see. It’s stunning, my colleagues are ecstatic. There are stars shining above us and underneath. We see some bright silhouettes of fish swimming past us. Every time the paddles go in the water they leave a trace of blue light amongst the darkness of a moonless night. It truly is the stuff of dreams.” – Alejandra Ibarrola, TOSEA guide.
This unforgettable experience demonstrates TOSEA’s deep commitment to investing in their guiding team. Creating opportunities such as these, along with their innovative guide exchange program, help their guides to grow as individuals and as a team. This all translates into a better adventure for your guests in both tangible and intangible ways. Way to go TOSEA!
“Being out on a trip like this with my fellow guides and colleagues was truly something special. It reinforced how much we all have in common through our shared passion for nature, and it definitely united us more as a team. We had so many beautiful experiences, including dolphins swimming all around us one day, being in the water with the bioluminescence at night, and so many more. I think we all grew a lot, and we were all reminded that we truly live in paradise. It was an amazing experience.” – Sergio Mariscal, TOSEA guide
Todos Santos Eco Adventures Climate Action Partnership with Tomorrow’s Air
We’re thrilled to share our passion for eco-friendly tourism practices, and lately, we’ve taken our promise to protect the environment to new heights by renewing our commitment to Tomorrow’s Air as an Education Partner. Tomorrow’s Air is educating and inspiring a global travel collective to clean carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it permanently. We are proud to be supporting and advocating for climate action education and accelerating the development of carbon removal with permanent storage.
We understand that alongside conventional carbon offsetting and natural climate solutions, new carbon removal and storage approaches are also needed to help us clean up the trillion tons of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The reality is that even if all carbon dioxide emissions were to halt completely right now, Earth’s warming would continue due to the high levels of carbon dioxide already stored in the atmosphere. The only way to permanently reverse warming is through carbon removal.
Therefore, in May 2023, Todos Santos Eco Adventures made an investment in Tomorrow’s Air. The Todos Santos contribution supports:
Through this partnership, we’re actively educating visitors about carbon capture technology and the role it plays in preserving our planet. Our knowledgeable staff share examples of carbon capture technology, promoting the importance of this initiative.
Curious about how it works?
The Tomorrow’s Air portfolio of carbon removal innovators includes pioneering companies selected for their technical and hybrid nature-tech solutions that can help restore our climate: direct air capture company Climeworks, Pacific Biochar, and Eion enhanced weathering.
Payments received from individual travelers and travel companies like Todos Santos Eco Adventures support climate conscious travel education and directly fund carbon removal provided by these companies.
With direct air capture, carbon collectors capture carbon dioxide from ambient air. Air is drawn into the collector with a fan, and adheres to a filter within the collector. Once the filter is saturated, the collector is closed, and the temperature is increased, releasing pure carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is dissolved in water, just as a soda machine makes sparkling water.
This water mixed with carbon dioxide is then injected deep underground into basaltic rock in Iceland. The basaltic rocks release metals that mix with the carbon dioxide in the water and turn this carbon dioxide into stone. The process safely and permanently removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere since rocks cannot leak out of the ground. The entire process is powered by geothermal energy.
Todos Santos Eco Adventures travelers are encouraged to share their personal travel stories and perspectives with the Tomorrow’s Air community and are invited to
Our commitment to sustainability extends beyond our support of Tomorrow’s Air, as we firmly believe in minimizing the environmental impact of our tours. We use reusable water bottles, purchase local foods and products, and minimize single-use plastic wherever possible. Our responsible waste management practices ensure that we leave behind as little waste as possible, allowing future generations to enjoy the beauty of Baja. Our tours offer unique experiences, including hiking, whale watching, and farm-to-table cooking classes, all of which are designed to promote sustainable tourism. We believe that tourism goes hand in hand with sustainability and hope to inspire others by setting an example through our eco-friendly initiatives.
Join us in contributing to a healthier planet!