Sea Turtles: A Baja Road Trip

Sea Turtles: A Baja Road Trip

by Bryan Jauregui, Todos Santos Eco Adventures

This article first appeared in Janice Kinne’s Journal del Pacifico

If they had a World Championship for Insult Hurling, China’s entry of “Son of a Turtle!” may not seem like obvious prize material. But a review of sea turtle reproductive habits reveals why the insult might be a contender: A female sea turtle will mate with several males prior to nesting season, storing the sperm of all her paramours in oviducts separate from her eggs for extended periods of time – sometimes years. When the time is right for nesting, her body will allow the sperm to fertilize the eggs, resulting in what scientists like to call “multiple paternity” for her offspring. In other words, little baby sea turtles have no idea who their daddies are. Get it?

Loggerhead Turtle. Photo by Colin Ruggiero

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Wooing a Whale: Humpback Crooners in Baja

Wooing a Whale: Humpback Crooners in Baja

by Bryan Jáuregui, Todos Santos Eco Adventures

If science had all the answers, poets and dreamers would be out of a job. So when scientists tell us that they’re not really sure why humpback males sing – and it is only the males that sing – then it’s up to the rest of us to look at the evidence and help science along. And here’s what the evidence shows us. Like traditional mariachis, all-male college a capela groups, and the Rat Pack, humpback whales in Baja clearly understand that singing, particularly with the harmonious help of your mates, is the best way to get the girl. Now some scientists theorize that humpback males are singing only as a type of echolocation exercise of the type used by their dolphin cousins, a way to map out the world around them. This certainly

Humpback Happiness. Photo by Erika Peterman

may be true – because how else are they going to find the girls? But that really doesn’t explain why some humpback whale songs are several hours long and, according to the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, grammatically complex and loaded with information. Like a ballad. Or why sexually immature young males join their virile older brothers in song. Like frat boys with their pledges beneath a sorority girl’s window. Or why all the males in one region will congregate in an arena and sing the same song. Like a boy-band in an outdoor stadium. Or why a male escorting a female and her calf will sing. Like a lullaby. These are all great mysteries that the poets are currently best equipped to ponder, but they don’t begin to touch on the greatest mystery of all – how does the female humpback decide which singer is worthy of her affections? Science presently has no answer, but maybe this is why Elvis always sang alone.

This article was originally published in Janice Kinne’s Journal del Pacifico

© Copyright Sergio and Bryan Jáuregui, Casa Payaso S de RL de CV, 2014

SmartFish

SmartFish

By Bryan Jáuregui, Todos Santo Eco Adventures

This article first appeared in Janice Kinne’s Journal del Pacfico.

Google Earth Image of the Baja Peninsula

If SmartFish founder Hoyt Peckham has his way, diners in the high-end restaurants of Los Cabos will soon be guaranteed something that may have eluded them for some time–fish caught sustainably in the waters of Baja California Sur.

It seems hard to imagine that restaurants located on a spit of land between two vibrant oceans would have to import fish, but that is exactly what has been happening. Says Drew Deckman, founder and chef of restaurants in Los Cabos and Valle de Guadalupe, “It’s not that there aren’t fantastic fish in the local waters–some of the best seafood in the world is here. The issue is that some methods for catching and processing fish can destroy quality, so sometimes I have to go out with local fishermen myself to ensure that we’re providing our customers with the high quality, sustainably caught fish they deserve. It’s a shame.

Hoyt Peckham describes the problem faced by fishing cooperatives throughout the Baja peninsula. “Many of our local fishing cooperatives are caught in a vicious cycle. They are very good at fishing, but they don’t have the capital or the capacity to bring their fish to market, which puts them at the mercy of aggressive buyers. They end up receiving very poor prices for their fish, so every time they fish they have to make up for the low prices with higher quantities. For example, fishermen at Magdalena Bay sell some of their fish for between 5 and 8 pesos per kilo. By comparison, dirty plastic bottles fetch 9 or 10 pesos per kilo. This means that these fishermen are literally selling their fish for less than garbage, and to break even at that rate they need to catch and sell 800 kilos per day. To make money they need to do 1,000 kilos per day, and there is no way for a small boat to maintain quality at those volumes. This is the reverse alchemy that plagues Baja fishermen: they catch something that could be worth gold, but they’re selling it for less than garbage.”

Fishermen baits and sets a trap for sand bass. Photo © Carlos Aguilar – SmartFish

The mission of SmartFish is to reverse that equation and the overfishing that it fuels. Fishing is at the heart of communities throughout Baja, and SmartFish aims to empower local fishermen and their families to rescue the value of their product, while avoiding the predicted extinction of key target species. Says Hoyt, “Here we are on one of the most pristine coasts in North America, fishing every day in the “Aquarium of the World,” but distinguishing customers are importing their fish. We have to reverse that trend.” Otherwise, fears Hoyt, these communities will continue to be marginalized, with a good swath of the social fabric of Baja destroyed in the process.

The current quality problems stem from three main factors: how the fish is caught, how it is stored, and how it is processed.

  • How it is caught: Many fishermen use gillnets or traps to catch the volumes they need. These processes produce stress in the fish, which leads to a dramatic increase in blood flow, as well as the excretion of hormones and enzymes. These factors lead to an accelerated degradation of the fish’s flesh when it dies, meaning a much poorer quality of fish reaches the shore. In addition, fish often suffocate in the traps and gillnets, which means they are dead by the time they are brought on board the boat; they have literally started to rot.
  • How it is stored: The small fishing pangas of some fishermen have no refrigeration to speak of, so these large volumes of fish are simply dumped in the bottom of the boat where they cook in the hot sun all day. Needless to say, this seriously degrades the quality of the meat. Further, when they reach the shore, in many cases these mounds of fish are just shoveled onto the ground where they continue to cook in the hot sun during processing.
  • How it is processed. In some places, the fishermen’s families process the fish at the beach on wooden tables in the sun, and with a large catch, processing can take quite a long while.

Porfirio Zuñiga displaying a hand-caught sand bass, which he will despatch, bleed and put directly on ice to ensure its freshness Photo © Carlos Aguilar – SmartFish

The SmartFish Difference. Hoyt and his team set out to address these problems by forming a social venture with five fishing cooperatives in Magdalena Bay. The fishermen quickly grasped Hoyt’s vision of higher profitability and sustainability, and Hoyt helped them gain access to funding for the equipment and training they needed to make the vision a reality. The fishermen successfully switched from their high volume, high bycatch gillnetting and trapping techniques to much smaller volume / no bycatch hook and line fishing and eco-traps that have escape hatches for smaller fish and barriers to larger fish. All fish are brought in alive by hand, quickly dispatched and bled, then immediately put into ice water, maintained below 4C.

“This process generates fish that is dramatically different in quality, and the high-end chefs have really been blown away.” Says Drew Deckman “Not only are we willing to pay a premium for the superb quality of fish coming out of SmartFish, we’re willing to pay a premium for the sustainability that is inherent to this process. This is a major win for both the fishermen and the restaurants they serve in Baja.” One of Smartfish’s first customers was El Bismarkcito, a much-loved seafood restaurant in La Paz. The owner, who has been selling seafood under the same trees along the Malecón for  decades, at first refused to believe that the fish was one of the species she had bought for years. When finally convinced, the only question she had was, “Can you get me more?”

For SmartFish the challenge now is not demand but supply. The success of the pilot cooperatives is generating considerable interest, but not even all the boats in the those cooperatives have been converted; it takes at least one year to get a fleet up to the SmartFish standard. With a relatively small number of boats in the program, Hoyt currently can personally guarantee that the fish bought by El Bismarkcito or Drew has been caught responsibly. But soon that will change as the number of fisherman in the system increases. To address this issue SmartFish is launching a process of traceability using the technology and techniques of ShellCatch (www.shellcatch.com) in which consumers can track a fish from the fisherman’s hook to their own plates.

Hoyt characterizes all this as SmartFish’s “Value Rescue formula” and is excited that it is yielding “impressive triple-bottom-line outcomes”: 1. Economic

Fisherman Francisco Rodríguez Romero details with pride the quality of his sand bass to Hoyt Peckham Photo © Carlos Aguilar – SmartFish

outcome: fishermen are realizing important price increases, usually exceeding 100%; 2. Power outcomes: Fishermen and their families are taking control of their economic destinies as price setters, and chefs and other retailers are able to offer sustainable and high quality seafood; and 3. Environmental outcomes: there is a 40-60% lower catch volume than the status quo for target species; there are minimum and in some cases maximum size limits; there is decreased fish bycatch and zero megafauna bycatch (no turtles, dolphins etc. killed in gillnets); and a switch to more resilient target populations, i.e. away from grouper and shark towards sand bass and yellowtail.

Drew Deckman is sold. “I’m the governor of Slow Food for the entire Baja peninsula and the vertical integration that Hoyt is seeking in the fishing cooperatives is exactly what I look for in every new location in which I establish operations. Before I was a chef I was a commercial fisherman and a master diver, so for me the SmartFish solution is ideal; it is the logical conclusion of all my efforts. It’s fantastic to work with Hoyt and the cooperatives, and we’re all excited about the change this will bring to the lives of fishermen in Baja.” SmartFish, smart choice.

For more information on SmartFish you can visit their website at http://smartfish.mx/

It’s Not all Dire Straits in BCS

Todos Santos Fisherman Agustin Agundez

Of course not all fishing cooperatives in Baja are subject to the same forces Hoyt describes. Many receive good prices for their fish and have catching and processing techniques that deliver a high quality product to consumers. In Todos Santos, for example, fishermen Agustin Agundez reports that they receive 60 pesos per kilo for desirable fish like cabrilla and huachinango. While some Todos Santos fishermen do use gillnetting, they also fish with hook and line to ensure that local restaurants have the great quality fish for which they are rightfully famous. Chef Dany Lamote of Santo Vino has a great working relationship with the local fishermen. “The fishing cooperatives in Todos Santos know the quality that Santo Vino demands and we are very pleased with the fish we get here. We often buy the fish right off the boat and it is still very cool and very fresh.”

Manta Rays: The Ocean’s Kings of Charisma

Manta Rays: The Ocean’s Kings of Charisma

by Todos Santos Eco Adventures

This article was first published in Janice Kinne’s Journal del Pacifico.

Marine mammals know how to get the love. Fish, not so much. You post a picture of a sea lion or a dolphin on Facebook, and you’re likely to get comments about cuteness, playfulness, intelligence – the emotion you feel when it looks you in the eye. You post a picture of a sea bass or a dorado on Facebook, and you’re likely to get comments about dinner, seasoning, grilling techniques – apparently fish giving us the fisheye doesn’t tug at our heartstrings.

Manta Ray Eye Photo by Kaia Thomson

But there is one fish that no less an authority on charisma than businessman Richard Branson calls “one of the most charismatic creatures in the ocean”, and that is the elegant, enormous, manta ray. With the largest brain-to-body ratio of all elasmobranchs*, the manta ray is one of the most intelligent fish in the sea. Making that brain function well is a system of blood vessels that envelope the manta’s braincase, keeping the brain warmer than the surrounding tissue. A big, warm brain fosters intelligence, intelligence fosters curiosity, and curiosity causes manta rays to interact with human beings in the water. It’s an incredible thrill.

Manta rays are magnificent creatures to behold. It’s not just that they’re huge: they typically reach a width of 22 feet (7 meters) and a weight of over 3,000 pounds (1,400 kg); and it’s not just that they’re prehistoric-looking: they have cephalic fins on either side of their heads to direct food, which look like horns when furled; it’s just that they’re so darn cool: they look like stealth bombers in the sea, yet  move that remarkable bulk with utter grace, using their massive triangular wings (pectoral fins) to fly through the sea, exuding the glide and flow of an eagle in flight. So when you realize that this fish that seems straight out of myth is turning in patterns with you, engaging with you, and – like any good dance partner –  making direct (fish) eye contact with you, it, well, tugs at your heartstrings.

Manta Ray Coming to Visit Photo by Kaia Thomson

But some people still just see dinner. Despite the fact that fishing for oceanic manta rays was banned in Mexico in 2007, and that the possession and trade of all mantas and mobulids in Mexican waters is prohibited by law, you can walk into local markets in many Baja towns and find stacks of dried and salted rays for sale. They’re considered an excellent, affordable source of protein. On a global scale the problem is more menacing. Across the tropics they inhabit, mantas are now being killed for their gill rakers, the cleansing plates that filter their food from the ocean. Manta and mobula gill rakers are the latest snake oil cure-all in China, touted as a remedy that cleanses the body of everything from gout to cancer. The organization Manta Ray of Hope, which is acting to protect manta rays from this trade, estimates that the annual gill raker trade volume is 61,000 to 80,000 kilograms (135,000 to 176,000 pounds), with an estimated value of US$11.3 million.

But businessman Richard Branson, who is campaigning for manta ray protection, points out that “while the gills are valuable, the trade is also robbing local economies of [the mantas], which could draw millions of dollars each year for those communities.”  In fact, Manta Ray of Hope estimates that manta and mobula ray tourism has an estimated annual value of over US$100 million per year, a far more compelling number than the $11 million currently enjoyed by the gill raker trade. If enough awareness is raised and policy makers (and policy enforcers) act quickly enough, there is still time to staunch what many fear could otherwise be the depletion of the global manta ray population.

Manta Ray Photo by Kaia Thomson

And in Baja California Sur we know the pure joy of having the mantas and mobulas as neighbors. Many days from the Pacific beach it is possible to see the mobula rays skipping along the water, making that distinctive flap-flap-flapping sound as they soar through the air and hit the water repeatedly. And in the Sea of Cortez we’re starting to see a return of the giant manta rays, with a large number of sightings over the last several months. So if you’re in Baja, take the time out to go engage with these remarkable creatures in their natural habitat, and let their charm work itself on you. Once you get to know them, you’ll definitely be joining Richard Branson in giving the gill raker traders the old fisheye.

*Elasmobranchs are in the Class Elasmobranchii, which covers cartilaginous fishes such as sharks, rays and skates.

Manta Ray Fun Facts:

  • Manta is the Spanish word for blanket, an apt description of the manta ray shape
  • Like their shark cousins, the manta’s skin is covered with dermal denticals – sort of modified teeth that are covered with hard enamel. These are packed tightly together with the tips facing backwards. Not only do they help in protecting the animals from predators, they also aid in hydrodynamics. Manta skin is also covered in a type of mucus which helps protect it from parasites and infection.
  • Manta rays have terminal mouths strategically located at the front of their heads for filtering the large quantities of water they take in as their gill rakers filter out the plankton they feed on (mantas eat about 13% of their body weight each week). Mobula rays have sub-terminal mouths, located underneath the head. While mantas do have teeth, they’re generally nonfunctional – a common occurrence among filter feeders.
  • Mantas are relatively long-lived – up to 40+ years.
  • Mantas, like other sharks, visit oceanic “cleaning stations” where they cease all movement and open their mouths and gills wide to allow in cleaner fish like wrasses and gobies who happily consume any nutritious parasites that may be present. Mantas repay the favor by not eating the cleaner fish.
  • Mantas reproduce via ovoviviparity, i.e., the young hatch from eggs inside the female’s body and the pups are nourished by yolk instead of placenta.
  • Female mantas give birth to only one or two pups every two to five years, and will have a maximum of 16 pups over a lifetime. By comparison, a great white shark produces a maximum of 14 pups in just one litter. This combination of long life and infrequent reproduction increase the manta’s vulnerability.
  • Manta rays were practically wiped out of the Sea of Cortez due to targeted species fishing in the 1980s and 1990s, but have been making a comeback under federal protection since 2007. It is now possible once again to see, swim and engage with the mantas in the Sea of Cortez.  It’s a remarkable life experience.
Water Pressure in Baja California Sur

Water Pressure in Baja California Sur

by Bryan Jáuregui The first half of this article, Arsenic and Old Mines, was published in the Fall 2013 issue of the Journal del Pacifico.

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La Paz is running out of water so it’s building an aqueduct to pump it in from El Carrizal. Los Cabos is running out of water so it’s contracting with a private desalination plant to boost supply. El Triunfo has water but residents refuse to drink it; it’s still contaminated by the arsenic released by mining operations at the turn of the last century.  Baja California Sur is not only Mexico’s driest state*, but the country’s second fastest growing state by population. These two trends seem to be barreling towards a head-on collision that could take an enormous environmental, economic and public health toll on the state.  Whether or not that collision takes place in the future depends largely on the actions we residents take today.

Gabriel Patrón Coppel is Coordinator of the Water Program at Niparajá, a non-profit dedicated to preserving the natural heritage of Baja California Sur (BCS), where freshwater management and use is one of three main programs. Gabriel believes that one of the key problems with respect to potable water in BCS is that residents have little knowledge of where their water comes from. “We conducted a study in 2009 and discovered that most La Paz residents didn’t know that the Sierra de la Laguna mountains are the source for the water that fills their aquifer, just as Sierra water fills the aquifers of Todos Santos and many of the Pacific communities of BCS. They therefore didn’t understand the need to protect the Sierras from outside threats such as gold mines, or internal threats such as soil erosion from overgrazing and illegal logging.” To address this situation, Niparajá launched two major campaigns to educate the citizens of La Paz about their water supply and the threats it faces: Defiende la Sierra la Laguna and “El agua no viene de la llave, viene de las Sierras, Cuidalas !” (Water doesn’t come from the tap, it comes from the Sierras, take care of them!)

Arsenic and Old Mines

The most immediate external threat to the Sierras and the BCS water supply today – open pit gold mines planned by Canadian and American mining companies – is not a new issue. El Triunfo, currently a small town of about 300 souls and a well-loved pizza parlor, had a population of almost 3,500 in

“Be An Avatar, Fight For Your Land”. Poster of the Sierras by Nanette Hayles

1900 when it was a town teeming with the people and money attached to a large silver mining operation.  There are some interesting monuments to that period of silver and gold-exploitation on the surface of the town, including a chimney designed by Gustav Eiffel of the eponymous Paris tower, and a museum that houses a vast collection of trophy pianos owned by wealthy families of the era.  The enduring legacy under the surface is not so benign. Enrique Rochin Cota, director of the Los Planes-based organization Defense of the Environment and Sustainable Rural Development, explained the situation. “The Mexican government recently took samples from 80 wells around Los Planes and San Antonio. About half of those have arsenic contamination – from the 100 to 150-year-old mining waste – that is far above the permissible level for drinking water in Mexico. The really scary thing about all this is that these wells are still part of the water system. So not only have the contaminated wells not been shut down, there is now the imminent threat of mining in this area again. We are very afraid.”

Both Gabriel and Enrique referenced a recent study by Dr. Carlos Colin of the State Secretary of Health that confirms the presence of arsenic in the urine of local residents. Tanya Dimitrova, a reporter at the University of California, Berkeley School of Journalism, had a water sample from a Los Planes resident’s tap tested in the arsenic lab at UC Berkeley. In July 2013 she wrote that the sample “showed 53 parts per billion (ppb) arsenic – more than twice the concentration of arsenic allowed under the Mexican government’s standard.” The US drinking water standard is even stricter, only 10 ppb. Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, residents of Los Planes and San Antonio speak of high cancer rates in their towns, particularly among children.

Google Earth Image of Lower BCS

Mining in the Sierras is strongly opposed by practically all the local politicians, business leaders and opinion-makers in BCS, including the governor and the local congress. So how is it possible for these foreign companies to hold concessions to mine gold in the Sierras? Easy. Mexico’s antiquated mining laws allow anyone to claim the right to Mexico’s mineral resources. The trick lies in getting their environmental impact assessment (the acronym is “MIA” in Spanish) approved by SEMARNAT, the environmental protection agency, and this is where citizens groups like Enrique Cochin’s Los Planes coalition and Niparajá’s Defiende la Sierra can exert their strength.  Says Gabriel, “When the mines present their MIA, every citizen has the right to make comments. These mining groups have been trying for several years now to get the permits to begin blasting the Sierras to get at the gold, but the citizens have prevented it. Participation really does work.” Senator Carlos Mendoza Davis (a key player in the successful fight to win federal protection for Balandra Bay, see JDP Spring 2013) has introduced legislation that would permanently ban metallurgic mining in natural protected areas such as the Biosphere Reserve portion of the Sierra de la Laguna mountains. It’s a great start.

“When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water.” Ben Franklin

Another key problem in the potable water issue in BCS is cost, with some residents paying nothing and some paying substantial fees. The problem with the former is particularly acute in La Paz.  Currently less than 25% of the residential and commercial buildings in La Paz have meters, so the occupants have little or no economic incentive to conserve water. And without meters, there is often no way for residents to know if they have a leak, the result being that untold millions of unpaid-for gallons of water have simply evaporated out of La Paz. The city now faces an acute water shortage, with residents often going several days a week with no city water.

Our Mother is Happy When We Take Care of Our Planet. Poster by Nanette Hayles

To address the issue, La Paz is building a 40 kilometer-long aqueduct to bring in fresh water from El Carrizal, “but that could easily dry up and is just a temporary solution,” says Gabriel. “If exploited sustainably, i.e., the rate of extraction is less than the rate of recharge, it could serve the city indefinitely. The problem is that the new aqueduct will only provide enough water for the current population of La Paz, and the city is growing rapidly with new immigrants, new hotels, new businesses. Once we deplete the aquifer at El Carrizal, there will not be another aquifer within a feasible distance from which we can extract more water to make up for the population increase.” Moreover, only a full aquifer can prevent seawater from leaching in through the soil. Once seawater enters an aquifer, it is dead as a source of fresh water.

So what to do. The CEO of Mexico’s National Water Commission announced in mid-August that La Paz would join desert nations such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Libya and construct a seawater desalination plant in the city. Gabriel, like many scientists, environmentalists and economists, does not believe that desalination is the best long-term solution. He cites the enormous carbon emissions required to run a plant that further degrades the environment and the quality of remaining natural water resources. He cites the hazards to marine life created by desalination’s heavy brine discharge, as well as the increase in water costs to a non-wealthy population. Extensive papers have been written on each of these problems and more, and communities across the US and other nations struggle with them regularly. Only a minority opt to limit their growth to what their existing natural resources can handle.

Gabriel favors a two-pronged approach for La Paz: 1) fix the leaks and metering issues in the municipal pipeline of La Paz, and 2) increase the rate of replenishment for the aquifer. One of the key factors leading to low water levels in the aquifers of BCS is soil erosion in the Sierras caused by overgrazing of livestock and illegal logging.  Without trees and plants to catch the rain when it falls, it simply evaporates on the surface and never makes it into the groundwater. Gabriel therefore advocates soil conservation. “Soil conservation works” he says. “We need to build filtration dams to return rainwater to the soil and get it back into the aquifer.” He notes that legislation banning the use of exotic plants that cannot survive on Baja’s meager rainfall levels should be passed as well.

Water, Water, Everywhere….

But these are long-term solutions with uncertain outcomes and some neighborhoods facing chronic shortages feel they don’t have the time to wait. The Pedregal in Cabo San Lucas is a case in point. In the early 2000s the city had only enough water to supply the Pedregal two to three days a week, so residents who wanted more water than that were buying water by the truck load. It’s been estimated that in one year, 5,000 truckloads of water were delivered to this neighborhood of 650 homes.  Homeowners finally got fed up and bought a solution that would provide better long-term water security. They built a desal plant.

Now it should be noted that the Pedregal occupies some of the highest-priced real estate in Baja, and features a large number of stunning homes. Members of the homeowners association that built the desal plant are, by and large, people with means. They therefore hired a top-notch company out of Houston – Global H2O Investments – to design, build and manage the plant for them, and they are thrilled with the results. They are not the only ones. OOMSAPAS, the water company, plans to contract with the Pedregal / Global H2O plant to provide water to downtown Cabo San Lucas (OOMSAPAS currently supplies the northwestern part of the city through its own desal plant). The Pedregal plant will be the first private facility in Baja to have a contract with a municipal water company to supply potable water to city residents. This has some interesting implications for Cabo water policy.

Two years ago, the Cabo government mandated that all major new developments had to have their own desalination and wastewater treatment plants. The government had gone easy on developers in the early years, but realized it had to take action once too many developments had dried out too many estuaries and other natural water resources. As a result, desal plants blossomed in Cabo. Carlos Hernandez, Operations Manager for the Global H2O / Pedregal plant, estimates that there are currently 30 desal plants operating in Cabo. Some developments now operate completely off the city grid with their own electricity, sewage treatment and water. From the perspective of protecting the city’s resources from the impact of development, this is great. From the perspective of encouraging long-term conservation efforts by all communities in BCS, the implications are not quite so clear.

It’s Chinatown, Jake

The old joke in China is that it will never have to invade Hong Kong to bend the western-leaning city to its will, it can just shut off the city’s water supply; 70% of Hong Kong’s potable water originates in the mainland. Water security for towns, cities, states and nations is tricky business and Baja is certainly not alone in its water woes. In Chinatown, the 1974 movie about a 1937 Los Angeles in which corporations pay off officials to divert water to their projects, one of the characters has this to say about the Pacific Ocean. “Now you can swim in it and you can fish in it but you can’t drink it and you can’t irrigate an orange grove with it.”

For wealthy communities on the Pacific coast, desalination is increasingly the solution of choice to this problem.  The demand for progressively scarce potable water outweighs any environmental concerns. For example, the San Diego County Water Authority agreed in February to buy water from the new desal plant in Carlsbad for $2,000 per acre-foot, which is twice the cost of available alternatives. While the hope is that costs will trend down over time, the Pacific Institute of California reports that desal plants on average use roughly 45% more electricity to produce fresh water than other options. In an area like Baja, with its fragile eco systems, large agricultural sector, and limited natural and financial resources, desalination is clearly not an option for all communities. So we must be vigilant in defending the Sierras, pro-active about replenishing the aquifers, and adamant about keeping potable water available for all who need it, not just those who can afford it.

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*BCS has an average of 160 mm of rain per year, compared to 760 mm of rain per year for the country as a whole.

Posters by Nanette Hayles. Both posters can be purchased via her website at www.nehayles.com. Nuesta Madre Esta Feliz poster is also for sale at La Esquina and Cafe Todos Santos. All proceeds fund local environmental and community projects.

The Festivals of Todos Santos: 2014

By Todos Santos Eco Adventures

2013 was an incredibly exciting year for festivals in Todos Santos, with truly great bands playing at the Music Festival, thrilling films and directors showing at the Film Festival, fabulous vintners and restaurants delighting at the GastroVino Festival, incredibly talented riders dazzling at the Horse Festival, and terrific artisans, artists and musicians entertaining at the Arts Festival. 2014 is shaping up to be an equally exciting year of celebration in Todos Santos, and following is a list of festivals currently planned for 2014. For more in-depth coverage of these events, their organizers and other Todos Santos happenings, be sure to check out Wendy Rains’ weekly radio program Todos Santos Tonight, as well as Janice Kinne’s magazine, Journal del Pacifico. Please be sure to confirm dates for festivals before you book your tickets as organizers sometimes must change dates.

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Todos Santos Music Festival 

  • Date: January 16-18; January 22-25, 2014
  • Organizer:  Hotel California and friends
  • Details: Confirmed bands include the Twin Tones, Dream Syndicate, Minus 5, Torreblanca, Kev’n Kenney’s Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, El Gallo Negro. All shows will be in the Hotel California with the exception of the show on the 25th, which will be in the town plaza.
  • Why It’s Fun: Peter Buck of REM conceived of and curates this event. Not only does he play with the Minus 5, he invites his musician buddies from the US and Mexico to come play to raise money for the Palapa Society and other Todos Santos charities. It’s a lot of great music flowing through the streets for nights on end – nothing but fun!
  • Inception: 2012

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Todos Santos Art Festival /
Festival del Arte de Todos Santos
  • Date: February 1-8, 2014
  • Organizer: Jorge Barajas
  • Why it’s fun: It’s a week-long celebration of Mexican culture that typically features live music, dance and theatre performances, painting and drawing exhibitions, lectures on local environmental and social issues, piano and poetry recitals and lots more. Artisans from different parts of Mexico also set up shop next to the church to sell their crafts. Diverse, fun and engaging.
  • Inception: 1997
  • Special Note: The Todos Santos Open Artist Studio Tour will be held on February 9, just after the art festival. 35 studios participated in 2013 and mediums included oils, pastels, watercolors, mixed media, encaustic, ceramics, sculpture and photography. Proceeds go to the Children’s Art project of the Palapa Society.

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Todos Santos Film Festival / El Festival de Cine de Todos Santos 

  • Dates: February 20-26, 2014
  • Organizer: Sylvia Perel, director of the San Francisco Latino Film Festival and the Latino Festival of Redwood City, California.
  • Benefits: Youth in Video program, teaching the children of the Todos Santos area about film making.
  • Why it’s fun: This fantastic festival brings together a terrific selection of feature films, documentaries and shorts from across Mexico and Latin America that many folks would otherwise never have the opportunity to see. Many well-known film directors attend to present their films and lead audience discussions. Great event!
  • Inception: 2004

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Todos Santos Hummingbird Festival

  • Date: May 11, 2014
  • Organizers: ProFaunaBaja and Todos Santos Eco Adventures, supported by a grant from Western Hummingbird Partnership / Klamath Bird Observatory
  • Benefits: Environmental education for the children of Todos Santos
  • Why it’s fun: We’ll be celebrating both the endemic and migratory birds of Baja California Sur! There will be workshops by non-profit environmental organizations and local artisans and craftsmen, as well as a photo contest, children’s art contest, lots of great food and plenty of good music. We will be presenting the results of our citizen scientist hummingbird study, and Dr. Esmé F. Hennessy M.Sc., Ph.D., F.L.S. a published botanist from University of Natal, South Africa,will be the keynote speaker at the festival.  Other speakers will include local ornithologists from CIBNOR, UABCS, and CICESE.
  • Inception: 2014

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GastroVino Festival de Todos Santos

  • Date: May 24-25, 2014
  • Organizers: Perla Garnica and Mac Sutton of La Bodega de Todos Santos
  • Benefits: Silent auctions of previous years have benefitted the local orphanage and the Todos Santos fire department.
  • Why it’s fun: It’s a wonderful celebration of the food and wines of Baja California – and you get to indulge in plenty of both! It’s a great opportunity to get to know local chefs from Todos Santos (and their food) and wine makers from both Todos Santos (yeah, we got that!) and Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe wine-growing region (and their wines). Terrific live music performances throughout the day. It’s fabulous!
  • Inception: 2012

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Mango Festival y Fiestas de San Ignacio en Todos Santos 

  • Date: July 31-August 3, 2014
  • Organizers: Todos Santos Pueblo Magico
  • Why it’s fun: Ripe, juice mangoes everywhere! There’s also dancing in the town square, polka bands, a parade of horsemen (cabalgata), folkloric ballet, artisan products, coronation of the Mango Festival Queen and much more. Lots of fun for the family.
  • Inception: 2007

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Festival del Dia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar / Todos Santos Foundation Festival

  • Date: Our saint’s day is October 12, and there are usually 5 days of celebration around then. Details when available.
  • Why It’s Fun: It’s a celebration of the founding of Todos Santos and our patron saint, Pilar. Lots of music, dancing, regional foods, arts and more. There is typically a parade of horsemen and a wonderful horse show October 13 and 14. Great time for the whole family.

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Festival L’amour á la française / “An Eternal Theme to Live and Make Known French Love!”

  • Date: November 5-9, 2014
  • Organizers: Delphine Depardieu, Alain Depardieu, Alain Rocca
  • Why it’s fun:  The organizers are promising “movies, champagne, food, fashion and luxury”, and what’s not fun about that?! Movies by great film makers such as Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Lelouch, Christian Vincent, and Jane Campion will be featured, with stars such as Brigitte Bardot, Anouk Aimee, Fanny Ardant and Sophie Marceau gracing the big screen at Teatro Manuel Márquez de León. Champagne tastings, French food explorations, and fashions shows are all part of the 4 days of festivities.
  • Inception: 2014

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EcoExpo 2014

  • Date: Sunday, November 16, 2014
  • Organizer: WildCoast / Costasalvaje Todos Santos Chapter
  • Why It’s Fun: It’s a celebration of the natural patrimony of Todos Santos and Baja California Sur, and environmental organizations from across the state will be hosting fun and interactive programs for local kids on conserving Baja’s ecosystems.
  • Inception: 2014

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Other Festivals

There is also an annual Chili and Strawberry Festival in late March/early April in Pescadero, an annual Baja Reggae Festival at Los Cerritos Beach in April (or so), and there’s even a Shark Festival in November. And that’s just the festivals! Please feel free to contact us to learn more about the many interesting/exciting/engaging events organized in town each year – and to plan your adventures to accompany them. Todos Santos Eco Adventures.

© Copyright Sergio and Bryan Jauregui, Casa Payaso S de RL de CV, 2014

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