By Julie Etra
Cacaluta is one of the famous nine bays of Huatulco, the third bay moving west to east, sandwiched between Chachacual to the west and Maguey to the east. Cacaluta is an Aztecan or Nahautl word, signifying place of the crow (although crows are not found in this part of Mexico, and it probably referred to vultures). The Cacaluta watershed, topographically defined, is fairly well-studied given its relatively small size of 49 sq. km. Fifty-five percent of the watershed is located in the Parque Nacional de Huatulco, which was established on July 24, 1998, with the remaining area occurring along the river outside of the Park. It is a unique watershed in that biological diversity is very high, but it is also threatened by land development, competing land uses, and competing government jurisdictions.
Within the Park lies the Zanate lagoon, which covers approximately seven hectares. It is named for one of the dominant trees, Zanate, a threatened species. The smaller Laguna Cacaluta occurs to the west and closer to the sea. Laguna Zanate has lost its water holding capacity and natural drainage patterns, as two meters of sediment have accumulated due to hurricanes and altered land use. In addition the impervious clay layer does not allow for infiltration and towards the end of the dry season (December through April), only a dry mud flat remains instead of a perennial water body.
A design team has developed a detailed restoration plan. The objectives of the plan are to restore the hydrology of the lagoon by re-creating the drainage through hand excavation of channels, and by building small, reforested islands that also provide habitat for wildlife. The design team includes Engineer Alejandro Llaguno (soils analysis and hydrology), and Landscape Architect Jorge Rocha (restoration, erosion control, horticulture). The Park has adopted this plan, which has also been endorsed by other government organizations and local businesses.
Components have been installed while others are in the process or remain unfunded. In addition to the islands, the project also includes a trail system, wildlife viewing areas, and interpretive signage. The islands, a total of 11, are built by hand with a pole system to create a type of basket that is then lined and backfilled with a growth medium which includes compost from native leaf litter and other local organic matter. These will then be planted with native species, several of which are fairly rare, that provide erosion control, habitat, shade, and soil building.
To date, above-grade trails and a bridge have been built, although with very basic materials such as used palettes, and improvements are needed. Without boardwalks and bridges the site is inaccessible during the rainy season. Several wildlife-viewing areas have been established. A half dozen interpretive signs have been erected, and two islands have been built but not planted. A small native plant nursery has been established on site, although cultivation of the four dominant species proposed for reforestation has not yet begun. Two constructed islands consist of bamboo poles but they are lined with non-biodegradable woven polypropylene fabric and it is desirable to line the remaining islands with a woven agave fiber, which is available from the Yucatan peninsula, rather than either jute or coconut which are both imported. Agave fiber, also know as henequen or sisal, has been used for centuries as rope, sacks for crops (costales), mattresses for cots, and for clothing.
The project is very compatible with eco-tourism and environmental education. It provides jobs both during construction and post construction for park guides and support services. An entrance fee is being considered, which would be administered by the Park, and could help with maintenance of the trails, boardwalks, signs, and re-planting.
Construction of a new electrical substation, located directly across from and outside the Park, and under the jurisdiction of the federal government (FONATUR, Fondo Nacional de Fomento al Turismo, in charge of developing tourism) is underway and appears to be counter-productive to the restoration of Laguna Zanate. The substation is being built without any erosion control practices, and exposed soils may end up increasing the already problematic sedimentation problem.
The non-profit International Erosion Control Association (www.ieca.org) under their SOIL Fund foundation is partnering with the Park, under the direction of Biologist Omar Gabriel Gordillo Solís and Jorge Rocha, to assist with establishment of the on-site nursery. IECA and the Fund are also prepared to offer technical assistance to prevent on site erosion and subsequent pollution.
You can find the trailhead past the turnoff to Playa Maguey. Hire a local licensed guide if you are interested in identifying local flora and fauna.