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August 11, 2010

WiLDCOAST Returns from the Wild

Who Wrote This?
The WiLDCOAST conservation team recently returned from transecting the entire Baja California Peninsula where they investigated the status of some rumored developments and explored several remote biological hotspots.

The journey took the team from azure waters of the East Cape, where they urged the importance of conserving the Cabo Pulmo coast, to the barrier islands of Bahia Magdalena, home to perhaps the richest coastal biodiversity in North America.

After a few days in the cape region and a night on the southern Baja cobble stone point of Punta Conejo, we headed for the southern extension of Bahia Magdalena. Centuries ago, the barrier islands of Bahia Magdalena provided a safe hide-out for Sir Francis Drake and watering holes for early Spanish explorers Francisco de Ulloa, Hernan Cortes and Sebastian Viacaino. Today the islands are inhabited by a few seasonal fish camps and a globally unique combination of marine and terrestrial wildlife and ecosystems.

We found a fisherman in nearby Puerto Chale to take us to Isla Santa Margarita on his skiff. Once on our 36 mile journey, the daily Northwest gale achieved maximum velocity making the trip on the fiberglass panga exciting. Our hearts were racing as we leaped over exploding white caps and wind swells miles from shore, but it really sunk in how immersed in nature we were when a four foot juvenile hammerhead shark made a few passes by our boat.

We landed on the island near a frigate bird colony where thousands of the giant birds were nesting and teaching their young some basic steps in avian conduct. Deep from the towering mangrove forest that buffers the island shore emerged the Jurassic sounds of Northwest Mexico’s greater frigate bird population.

We journeyed on to Punta Tosca, where the shallow waters of the immense bay meet the wild Pacific. It was here that Francisco de Ulloa battled the indigenous peoples of Isla Santa Margarita and Sir Francis Drake lurked waiting to pounce on trans-ocean treasures.

It took a few hours to re-acclimate to land after our trip through the southern bay. We stayed the night with our partners at the School of Field Studies in Puerto San Carlos and then shipped out early the following morning to drive Laguna San Ignacio’s south road via San Juanico. Road improvements are well underway between La Purisima and San Juanico. What used to take several painful hours of a desert crawl was over before I finished the coffee I bought in Ciudad Insurgentes. North of San Juanico the road remains in poor condition but there are rumors of paved highway plans all of the way to San Ignacio. We traversed the region’s immense salt flats and shifting sand dunes, guessing at times which way to go. There was the constant illusion of water up ahead that always seemed to retract as we continued on. We made Guerrero Negro a little before dark and after our first night’s sleep in a bed in quite some time we were well rested to complete the mission the following day.

The special places we visited are not very far as the crow flies from our homes in Southern California but their remoteness puts them further away than distance can gauge. Many miles of coastline have never been altered by man but it was evident that with new road development and expanding cities there will be pressures for change. That is why the team at WiLDCOAST is working hard to protect the wild places of the peninsula that still remain; to conserve their pristine habitat and wildlife and ensure their enjoyment by generations to come.