Tag Archives: Environment

A Birdwatching Guide for Huatulco

By Randy Jackson

It’s almost as if humans have a special connection to birds. It is a heart-warming delight for all of us to see or hear a bird. I could even imagine some brutish invading Hun pausing his evil deeds to watch a little bird hop from branch to branch, singing a pretty song. Birds soften us all, especially little birds.

In my view, all of us are somewhere on the birdwatching spectrum. There’s that Hun at one end. At the other end of the spectrum is the fully kitted-out, pocket-ladened dude or dudette (ornithologist), who devotes a good portion of their time seeking even a brief glimpse of an avian creature.

On the birdwatching spectrum, I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m more of a bird appreciator. I do own a copy of “Birds of Mexico and Central America” and I have a pair of binoculars. I also have a few birdwatching friends. It is through these friends that I have met an amazing birdwatching guide who lives in Copalita – everyone just calls him Cornelio.

Cornelio (Cornelio Ramos Gabriel) is well known for his bird-guiding prowess, both locally and online. Cornelio grew up, and currently lives, in Copalita. As a young boy, while out gathering wood for cooking, he was intrigued by a little red breasted bird. Flash forward to one day in 1998 when he was working at the Camino Real resort. Some tourists showed him a photo of a red breasted bird and asked if he’d ever seen one. Cornelio took them to the place he had seen that little bird as a young boy. To everyone’s delight, they found the very bird the tourists were looking for.

As Cornelio described it, “when I looked at that bird through the tourists’ binoculars, I fell in love with birds.” He then bought a bird guidebook, a pair of binoculars, and began walking trails seeking out birds in earnest. Even when on his motor scooter, if he caught sight of a bird, he would follow it until he could identify it. In this way, over time, Cornelio became an expert on the birds in the Huatulco area.

Around the year 2010, by word of mouth, people began asking for Cornelio to guide them bird watching. This guiding work continued to increase, so that by 2014 he was able to leave his hotel job. Guiding bird watchers became his principal job. This work is largely seasonal for Cornelio, who is also a musician.

Before the devastating effects of hurricane Agatha on Copalita, I was able to ask Cornelio some questions on bird watching in Huatulco:

What are some good places to observe birds in Huatulco?

Huatulco National Park, Sendero Candelabro (on Cornelio’s ranch in Copalita, http://www.facebook.com/senderocandelabro), and along the Copalita River.

How important or popular is bird watching in Huatulco?

Huatulco is a good area for birdwatchers. On a good full-day walk, one can observe about 100 to 120 species.

What is the season for migratory birds in Huatulco?

Northern migratory birds begin to arrive in October and they leave again in March. Birds migrating from the south are around Huatulco between April and July.

Have you seen birds in Huatulco that were well off course, possibly blown here by a storm?

Yes, I’ve seen a giant cowbird and a Tahitian petrel.

What is the rarest bird you’ve seen in Huatulco?

Northern Potoo

Any particular captivating bird watching experiences?

Once in the community of La Esmeralda [a five-hour drive northeast of Huatulco, on the border with Veracruz], in two days I observed 30 birds I’ve never seen before.

Cornelio’s reputation has spread to the extent that he sees increasing numbers of serious bird watchers who wish to see the endemic birds of Southern Mexico.

To contact Cornelio, many online links will put you in touch. Facebook, of course, or Tripadvisor, even a Google search for “bird watching Huatulco” will work. His own website is https://birdguidehuatulco.business.site/, or Whatsapp (52) 958-106-5749.

Note: At the time of writing this article, Hurricane Agatha hit the Huatulco area causing severe damage. The town of Copalita was severely hit. Cornelio’s family house was spared, but the homes of many friends and neighbours suffered devastating damage. Cornelio is involved in helping his neighbours out. One way of helping some people in Copalita is to send funds to Cornelio for this purpose.

The last word, of course, goes to the birds. Our relationships to these creatures holds an element of “uplifting of spirits,” somehow more so than with any other creature we see in nature. As Emily Dickinson has said “I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven.”

Bird Watching Guides and Resources
for the State of Oaxaca

By Kary Vannice

Of the 1,100 species of birds that live or migrate temporarily to Mexico, 736 inhabit Oaxaca. Oaxaca boasts the greatest biodiversity in the country, not just for bird life but for all plant and animal species.

For this reason, many biologists, naturalists, ornithologists, and birders flock to Oaxaca each year to explore and understand the immense diversity of bird life throughout the region. This avian diversity is attracted by Oaxaca’s vast territorial biodiversity, from 10,000-foot peaks and high mountain deserts
to coastal seashores and dense mangrove lagoons – it’s no wonder so many bird species either live or temporarily migrate through this region.

Whether you’re a serious, money-investing birder or simply a casual observer of nature, there’s a resource out there to help you enhance your appreciation and understanding of the birds of Oaxaca.

Several detailed bird books have been published dedicated to the birds of Oaxaca alone. If you’re the type that wants to have an entire encyclopedia of local birds to leaf through when out exploring, then you may wish to add these to your personal library.

Aves de la Lagunas Costeras de Oaxaca, Mexico – This detailed and beautifully published paperback book identifies 133 species of birds that live in or frequent the lagoons of the coastal waters of Oaxaca. Written by Paul Germain and Mateo Ruiz Bruce, this book was published in 2016. Paul, an Englishman who lived in the small village of Ventanilla while writing the guide, took years to painstakingly detail the characteristics of each bird species, as well as photograph them in their natural habitat. The book is written in English and Spanish. Even for those not dedicated to birding, it is a delightful book to explore and may just inspire the reader to pick up their binoculars and take to the lagoons in search of the unique species that live there.

This book is available for purchase locally in several shops in Ventanilla and the surrounding area.

Birds & Birding in Central Oaxaca by John M. Forcey is more of a checklist than an Audubon-type field guide, although it provides some information on each bird species included. One reviewer described it this way… “This annotated checklist includes details of habitat, elevation, breeding, dates for migratory birds, and local subspecies alongside information on the best locations in the area for bird-watching.”

This guide focuses on bird species you will find in the central portion of Oaxaca, including the Sierra Madre and high desert areas that occupy the center of the state. A handy tool for serious birders to keep a running tally of species they’ve spotted in the dense jungle or wide-open spaces as they tick each one off the list. The second edition was published in 2009 and is still available via Buteo Books online.

There are also many general field guides that cover the region of Oaxaca. A Field Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Adjacent Areas: Belize, Guatemala, and El Salvador, by Ernest Preston Edwards (3rd edition, 1998) is an illustrated guide to birds of these regions and contains 850 beautifully drawn, full-color depictions of regional birds. Many of the most common Oaxacan birds can be found in this guide.

Another popular bird book is A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, by Steve N.G. Howell and Sophie Webb (2003, a new edition is coming out in August 2022). This book is very similar to the one mentioned above. It contains similar drawings/paintings of bird species, and it covers, generally, the same information about each individual species. Either of these books is a good choice for a general bird book for this region.

If you’re not serious enough about birding to invest in a field guide to have on hand but still enjoy identifying local birds while you are out enjoying nature, make a trip to the Mercado Orgánico de Huatulco, held in the main square in Santa Cruz Huatulco on the first and third Saturday of each month. Once there, ask for local naturalist photographer Jon Church. Jon almost always has a booth set up and sells some excellent one-page laminated bird guides that you can easily pop into your backpack or beach bag to have on hand.

If you have an excellent memory (or a good camera), you can snap a mental or real photo of the birds you see in the wild and use some of these online websites to identify the birds you’ve spotted once you get home.

Avibase – the World Bird Database is an excellent online resource that allows you to search by region (Oaxaca) and access a vast amount of detailed information about each species, including photos and recorded bird calls. (https://avibase.bsc-eoc.org/)

Ebird – Much like Avibase, this is a crowd-sourcing database where birders can register and submit data, including photos, bird calls, location found, and other details about each sighting. The page dedicated to the state of Oaxaca identifies 739 different bird species from this area. (https://ebird.org/region/MX-OAX)

Naturalista – This is a Mexican website written in Spanish. Still, with the photos provided, one can easily identify the bird they are looking for and use the translation feature to learn more about the habitat and unique details about each species. This site also has an interactive map that will show you the location of each observation, if you are aiming to locate that one elusive bird, you just haven’t been able to cross off your list yet. (https://www.naturalista.mx/projects/aves-de-la-costa-oaxaca)

Of course, there are many friendly, dedicated birding guides with local knowledge that can arrange to take you to exactly where you need to go to get all the bird-watching action your heart can handle (see articles elsewhere in this issue). Checking out some of the books and websites above just might spark a passion you didn’t know you had!

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. There a different kind of right prevails. In her midst I can be glad with an entire gladness. If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself, I should lose all hope. He is constraint, she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world. She makes me content with this.” — Henry David Thoreau’s journals

I fell in love with the landscape of this place almost instantly. It were as though the earth reached up and took hold of me and said ‘you are mine.’

Love is an invisible thing, a gravitational pull that can’t be explained and defies practicality and reason. My heart soars everyday as I arrive home. The breeze off the river wakes me each morning with sweet caresses and a rippling sound that reminds me that everything is constantly changing. At night the moon hangs over me with her pensive calming demeanor and a reassurance that all is right in the world. In the afternoon the parrots squawk past my house telling me to find the lightness in things. The expanse of night sky, unblemished by light pollution, is to feel the grandness of the universe greater than in any cathedral. Even the earthquakes and storms feel like a conversation between the elements and an intrinsic part of life.

What is the purpose of our lives if not to find balance and harmony with the natural world around us? More than ever we need to evaluate our effect on the world around us. There has never been a time when human beings’ need for stuff has damaged so much of the planet. Our consumerism is destroying ecosystems.

But instead of focusing on changing our habits: recycling more, driving less, eating more sustainably, maybe we should focus on getting out in nature more. Hug more trees, take more walks, look up at the sky and breathe deeply, listen to the birds, love all animals the way we love our pets. Fall in love with the natural world around you and you won’t be able to help but change the way you live.

This month our writers focus on the environment. The beauty of what it has to offer and the wins of the past year, because it isn’t all dire.

Also we are approaching the deadline for our essay contest about your Mexico Moments. Thank you to everyone who has already written in with their uplifting and interesting tales of what it is to love this place. I look forward to reading the essays that are still brewing.

Thank you for reading and being a part of The Eye.

Jane

The Lagunas of Manialtepec and Chacahua

By Julie Etra

What to do beyond the gorgeous beaches of Huatulco? Well, if you are a nature lover and want to experience unique ecosystems, consider a visit to the lagunas (lagoons) of Manialtepec and Chacahua. These are large, unique wetland ecosystems located along the southern Pacific coast of Oaxaca, west and north of Puerto Escondido. Together they are home to more than 327 species of birds.

Laguna Manialtepec

Manialtepec, which means place of the lizards in Náhuatl (manine means animal that drags, e.g., lizard or perhaps crocodiles, which are known to inhabit the lagoon, while tepetl means location, usually a raised area) is the smaller of the two lagoonal systems and is located just a short drive west of Puerto Escondido. It is about 15 km (9 miles) long and up to 15 meters (nearly 50 feet) in depth. The water is brackish – a combination of fresh and salt water – and varies in salt content with the season and with the breaching of the barrier beach during the rainy season.

There is one outlet to the Pacific Ocean at the west end of the lagoon, known as Puerto Suelo or El Carnero, where it is joined by an adjacent river descending from the Sierra Madre Sur. Dense vegetation, dominated by mangroves, provides habitat for abundant wildlife, including many species of birds. The lagoon is an excellent site for bird watching.

It is also known for its phosphorescent microalgae, called dinoflagellates, which are luminescent in moving water and visible at night – it is best seen on a moonless night, and is said to be more prominent during the rainy season. When we were there a few years ago, a paddle, or even just a hand, sufficed. The luminescence is caused by a chemical reaction; although not all bioluminescence is well understood, in algae the mechanism provides protection from predators.

The Manialtepec lagoon is easily accessed from Highway 200 west of Puerto Escondido, and guided trips at dawn or dusk via a lancha are readily available.

Laguna Chacahua

Chacahua is a much larger system than Manialtepec; it comprises much of the Parque Nacional Lagunas de Chacahua, established on July 9, 1937 (I can’t imagine what the coast looked like that far back!). In the Mixtec language, Chacahua means place of abundant shrimp, or chakal. Like Manialtepec, Chacahua offers a chance to experience bioluminescence caused by microalgae in the water.

The laguna is actually three lakes, Chacahua, La Salinas, and La Pastoria. This rich ecosystem includes 14,000 hectares (almost 35,000 acres), with over 153 species of birds, Abundant wildlife includes mammals and herpetofauna – amphibians and reptiles. There are two species of marine turtles (Laud [leatherback], the largest of the marine turtles, and Golfina [Olive Ridley]) and of course extensive stands of mangroves.

Four species of mangroves occur here: the red mangrove, mangle rojo (Rhizophora mangle); white mangrove, mangle blanco (Laguncularia racemosa); brown/salt mangrove, mangle prieto or saladillo (Avicennia germinans) and buttonhole mangrove, mangle botoncillo (Conocarpus erectus).

Mangroves provide nesting sites and cover for the myriad of avian species, but also harbor the nurseries for fingerlings (young fish) and marine/brackish water species, including crabs and shrimp. Mangroves are also nature’s engineers as they are essential for shoreline protection and erosion control.

There are several small islands in the lagoon, including el Corral, with its 80 inhabitants totally dependent on fishing for a living, and where chicken is considered a delicacy. The western end of the outlet to the sea is maintained by two constructed breakwaters consisting of rock riprap.

There is even a cocodrilario (crocodile nursery) founded in 1969, on the west side of the southern outfall, where two species of crocodiles (river and wetland), as well as caiman, are raised for reintroduction to the wild. The nursery has about 140 animals. Entrance is free, as it is operated by the federal government, but the visitor is encouraged to donate to its maintenance.

The Park’s famous surf break, called Chacahua, on the south side of the southern breakwater, is where most of the basic – read “funky” – tourist facilities are found, including surf lessons, rustic cabanas, restaurants, and small stores. Spectacular views from the lighthouse (el Faro), located at the southern end, include both the open Pacific and the lagoon to the north. The other outlet to the sea, at the east end of the lagoon south of the small town of Zapotalito, is often blocked by a sand bar and a smaller breakwater.

It is located farther to the west/northwest of Manialtepec – it’s about a 1.5-hour drive from Puerto Escondido to the community of Zapotalito; the Park can also be reached by boat.

Close to Home

If you are short on time but interested in wetlands and lagoons, you can explore several closer to Huatulco. Laguna Cacaluta (blackbird in Zapotec) is considered an ephemeral system, as surface water typically disappears completely during the dry season. Recognized by the Ramsar Convention, an international non-profit organization established in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, initially to protect aquatic birds, particularly migratory species (www.ramsar.org), Cacaluta was officially included in the global wetlands registry in September 2003 (Ficha Informativa de los Humedales de Ramsar [FIR]). In Huatulco, FONATUR developed the estuary of Chahue into the existing marina, but historically it was a backwater lagoon. Similar seasonal wetlands can be found along the road to Playa San Agustín and at Barra de la Cruz (barra refers to a sandbar).

Swimming The Bays Of Huatulco

By Randy Jackson

Here’s a question for people familiar with Huatulco: How many of the nine bays of Huatulco can you name (without googleandolo)? I conducted a non-random, non-representative survey amongst friends and acquaintances, and came up with a range of between 2 and 7. That’s OK. I wasn’t any better at it until undertaking a fun project with my friend John this season, to swim across each of the nine bays of Huatulco. There is nothing like direct experience as a teacher, as I can now name all nine bays.

But far more important than mastering a list of names, swimming each of the bays means having an experience with the bays in a personal way. It’s like the difference between knowing the name of a particular mountain, and having climbed it. What follows is some information about each of the “official” nine Bahías de Huatulco, and a little about our experience of swimming each of them in the winter of 2022. (NB: The order of the bays is by the dates we swam them, not the geographical order).

Órgano (January 14):

For me the memory of our swim at El Órgano is the “ghost body.” I saw something in the water, floating about 5 feet below the surface. Its shape and colour, obscured by my swim goggles and the water, caused my brain to fire-up an image of a body seemingly suspended in the water. Our brains do that. They instantly form a reality influenced by subconscious expectations. On a deserted bay on the coast of Mexico there is always some unconscious trepidation about swimming out into the Pacific. And when you see something brown in the shape of a leg, calf and foot – well, it stops a fellah cold. Freud and Jung both believed that dreams had equal impact to waking experiences. I wonder if at some advanced age, years from now in a nursing home, whether my remembered reality of the swim at Órgano will come back: The image of a ghost body, or the realisation after investigating, that it was a cloud of brownish algae-like substance, surprisingly clustered in the shape of a human leg.

The walk to the trailhead for Bahía del Órgano from the Hotel Binniguenda in Santa Cruz takes about 25 minutes. Once on the forested trail, it takes an additional 10 minutes to walk to the beach. Our swim at Órgano was out to a point of rock on the right side facing the bay, then across the bay to the roped off swim/snorkel area, then back to the beach. Swim distance, approximately 500 metres (half a kilometer).

Maguey (January 21):

Back in the day before Huatulco tourism development, Bahía Maguey was enclosed by lush vegetation stretching across its mouth. People could only access the bay with a smaller boat. There is also reported to be a “secret” cave, only accessible underwater. The cave was at one time rumoured to be a hiding place for pirates. I wonder though, how did the pirates know about the cave if it was behind the reeds and under water? However, neither reeds nor diving pirates impeded our progress as we swam across the bay and back again, a swim of about 600 metres.

Also relevant to both Órgano and Maguey is a news story (March 2021) that FONATUR had purchased back these two bays from Fernando Chico Pardo (Chairman of the ASUR group). Pardo had purchased this land for development in 2011. The land is zoned for hotel and mixed commercial use, but no development had begun (and presumably no development had even been proposed). I guess the “For Sale” sign is back up on the beaches.

Chahué (January 28):

In The Edge of Enchantment: Sovereignty and Ceremony in Huatulco, Mexico, author Alicia Maria Gonzalez notes that Bahía Chahué was an alligator-infested marshland up until the FONATUR development. The sand, gravel and rock from nearby construction was used to fill the marsh and create a lovely beach with a lifeguard, public washrooms (5 pesos), and showers (10 pesos). Caution is advised at Chahué for anyone not comfortable in the water. The beach descends quickly below the water and waves crash near to shore. There are occasional rip tides. Chahué is less sheltered than other Huatulco bays so there are often modest waves. These sea swells were moderate, in fact fun, as we swam across the bay and back. The bay is about 400 metres across at the breakwater, so about an 800-metre) swim.

Cacaluta (February 4):

The original name of this bay was Cacalotepec, translated as “the hill of crows.” To get to Bahía de Cacaluta, one drives or walks 5 kilometres from the Binniguenda hotel, passing beyond Maguey, to get to the trailhead. It is then a 20-minute walk along a maintained trail. Part of the trail is along a boardwalk with two viewpoints overlooking what in February was a dried-up wetland – so dry in fact that even the grass growing where the marsh used to be has turned brown. We may need the help of Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain, and the rainy season to replenish this (and other) marshlands.

Cacaluta Bay has two beaches shaped like side-by-side smiles. There is a small spit of land separating the smiles, and this point is closest to the rock island dominating the mouth of the bay. From that point, we swam across to the island, then across its rocky frontage (no beach), inside the roped-off snorkel/scuba diving area. We then closed the triangle by swimming back to our starting point, about 700 metres.

San Agustín (February 11):

It was about 10:30 in the morning as we wound our way along the gravel road (half hour drive), to access Bahía San Agustín from Highway 200. We followed a convoy of five large tourists buses on the way in. Our beach restaurant waiter at San Agustín, Cristian, thought there were about forty restaurants lining this bay. I didn’t count, but there certainly are a whole lot of them.

A central attraction at San Agustín is the coral reef located close to shore, in shallow water, and is more or less at the centre of the bay. The roped-off swimming and snorkelling area includes the coral reef and a rocky outcrop which is to the right while facing the sea. The boat access to the shore is on either side of this snorkel area.

My favourite part of Huatulco bay swimming is crossing over a coral reef. Not only for the underwater eye-candy this provides, but it also allows for a sense of movement not normally experienced in open water swimming. So even we slow swimmers feel as if we’re “ripping” when crossing over a reef. We did just that at San Agustín, but mostly we swam around the reef following the buoys along the outer edge of it, and then back, an estimated swim distance of 900 metres.

Conejos (February 18):

Some long-time visitors and residents might remember Bahía Conejos before the all-inclusive resort hotel Secrets opened in 2010. There used to be a walking trail, now fenced off, that led down to the beach and a restaurant run by local fishermen. Neither the trail nor the restaurant survived the arrival of Secrets and the subsequent fencing off of the adjacent property by the Melia Hotel chain.

Melia had announced in 2014 it would build a 500-room resort hotel on Conejos – it would have been located just east of Secrets, but as of yet, nothing but the fence and a security guard occupy the site. However, there is another trail down to Conejos west of Secrets, and two local restaurants on the beach.

Thanks to our swim quest, we rediscovered Conejos, and enjoyed the bay and beach from one of the restaurants. The trail access has a handmade sign for Conejos Bay just before arriving at the Secrets resort, about a 7 kilometre drive from Tangolunda. Conejos has the unique feature of a rock outcropping that partitions off a part of the bay. This spot is where the trail leads, and where the two restaurants are located. There is a slightly elevated, full view of the entire bay and beach access from this spot. The rock outcrop serves to screen the view of the resort leaving anyone at the restaurants with the illusion of a lovely undeveloped bay on the Oaxacan coast. In addition, while we were there for several hours, very few people from the resort ventured out onto the beach, solidifying this perspective.

Our swim was straight across from the two ends of the curved bay and back, about 650 metres in all.

Tangolunda (February 25):

Being a foreigner of the snowbird variety, with ten or more winters in Huatulco, it’s funny how much of an outsider I still felt at the resort-lined Bahía Tangolunda (“pretty woman”) bay. Yet for thousands of tourists each year, the view of this bay is likely what they take home as a memory of Huatulco. It’s a beautiful bay, in a resort-esque sort of way. The sandy curve of the bay is framed on one side by the impressive and ordered look of the reddish-orange Las Brisas hotel complex, and on the other side by mansions of Balcones de Tangolunda peeking out on the rocky cliffs.

Getting to the beach I couldn’t help feeling as if we were sneaking onto the king’s estate to poach deer. The public access is from the campground (parking 10 pesos). From here you walk along the chain-link fence of the golf course. The trail is strewn with tires and broken sand bags, placed there when the area was a bog. In February, of course, it’s bone dry. The walk is 3 or 4 minutes to the beach.

The Chontal name for this bay was tecualo, the place of rocks. We found this to be an apt description. The bay itself boasts prominent rocky islands, but there are also rocky mounds near the surface of the bay, cordoned off inside the swim areas. There are two buoy-lined swim areas, one in front of the Barcelo, the other in front of the Dreams resort. There is boat and jetski access between these two roped off areas.

We swam out and along one side of the Barcelo swim area, then further out to a point on the rocky island closest to the shore. From this rocky point we could see there was a line of rocks behind the island stretching out seaward. There is a break in the rocks about 10 metres wide, and through this break we could see the beach in front of Dreams (Camino Real Zaashila has its own cove separated by a rocky outcrop from the Dreams Resort.) We swam through this break in the rocks and across to the swim area in front of Dreams. Then back across the front of the bay to our starting point. This swim route was our longest swim in our swim-the-bays project – the full loop was about 1 kilometer.

Chachacual Bay (March 4):

Of all the nine bays of Huatulco, Bahía Chachacual takes the most effort to get to. It is accessible only by boat. We rented a lancha at San Agustín for the 20-minute boat ride to Chachacual. As you enter the bay by boat, the long playa Chachacual is on the left, stretching across most of the bay. To the right, is a separate cove known as Playa La India. This beach, often touted as a remote idyllic spot, was partially lined with beach umbrellas and tables. There was a beverage service. A lovely spot with boats anchored in the cove, shallow waters, and a nice beach, Playa La India was the end point of our cross-bay swim.

We jumped off the boat at the entrance to Chachacual bay, opposite Playa La India, where there was a small roped off snorkel or dive area along the rocks. From there we picked a large boat anchored at La India as our line of sight and began our swim. For this swim, John and I had company. John’s niece, Schuyler, an experienced open-water swimmer, joined us for the swim; John’s wife Deborah and her sister Priscilla were the boat spotter crew as we swam across the deep waters of the bay. Our swim distance at this, our final bay, was about 900 metres.

Santa Cruz:

Bahía de Santa Cruz sees the most open-water swimmers. Each morning between about 6:30 and 8:30, there are a fair number of regular swimmers. Besides the ease of access for most Huatulqueños, there are markers for the different swimming abilities. From the beach looking seaward, there are some green buoys that can be used as swim objectives. The first green buoy, referred to by the regular morning swimmers as “El Primero,” is at the end of the cruise ship pier. The distance out and back is about 700 metres. The next buoy further out is at the entrance to La Entrega (round-trip, about 1,500 metres). Most of the longer distance swimmers, if going this far, swim to the beach at Entrega. The Entrega beach is approximately 1 kilometre in each direction from the Santa Cruz beach.

John and I separately do a fitness swim at Santa Cruz each week, so we didn’t include it in “Swimming The Bays Of Huatulco” project.

In all, a fun and interesting project for John and me this season. The swim across each of the nine bays of Huatulco has enhanced our experience of Huatulco overall, and provided us with unique experiences of each of these lovely bays. There will be another swim project for us next season in Huatulco. I hope the above descriptions and swim information are useful and encourage other open-water swimmers to explore Las Bahías de Huatulco.

Randy Jackson: box95jackson@gmail.com

Five Environmental Wins in 2021

By Kary Vannice

While climate change research is producing issuing dire assessments about the very short timetable and the very large commitments required to avoid environmental disaster, there have actually been some bright spots on the ground. Here are five of them.

1) The Monarch Butterfly Bounces Back

In the January 2017 issue of The Eye, I reported on the death of 6.2 million monarch butterflies in a freak severe winter storm in the Sierra Madre mountains of Oaxaca. At that time, experts were so concerned about the fate of the monarch that they speculated that they might be listed as threatened in just a few short years. In 2020, the numbers hit an all-time low.

In 2021, however, some areas along the migration route saw an increase in monarchs by as much as 4900% from the previous year. While others saw only a 25% increase from 2017, biologists and conservationists are encouraged that this is the beginning of a new era for the monarch butterfly.

2) The Giant Panda Delisted

China’s giant panda’s iconic black and white markings have long been a symbol for conservationists worldwide. The World Wildlife Fund, which has used the panda as their logo since 1958, upgraded them from endangered to vulnerable in 2021.

There are now about 1800 pandas thriving in the wild; last year, China also announced the creation of the Giant Panda National Park, which will contribute to growing numbers of wild pandas. The park will be roughly the size of the United Kingdom and will also serve to protect other threatened and endangered species such as the China tiger and the Siberian leopard.

3) Ocean Protection and Coral Reef Recovery

Fourteen countries banded together in the name of ocean conservation. Australia, Canada, Chile, Ghana, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Portugal, Fiji, Jamaica, and Palau collectively committed to protecting all of the world’s oceans, not just focusing on the areas that were already in preservation status.

From shutting down illegal fishing operations to restoring depleted mangrove forests and renewing coral reefs, these 14 nations are committed to doing their part to solve the more significant climate change crisis.

Off the coast of Australia, in the Great Barrier Reef, a “coral IVF” project has aided in the birth of billions of new coral babies in 2021 alone. Australia also announced a plan to create 60 new marine reserves, with two massive reserves planned in the Indian Ocean, one of which will encompass 194,000 square miles.

4) Indigenous Peoples Recognized and Protected

The Peruvian government established a 2.7 million acre reserve specifically for “uncontacted peoples” to preserve their way of life and the land they live from. After 20 years of political debate, a new law has been enacted to protect indigenous people from oil conglomerates and other companies that seek to extract natural resources from the Amazon rainforest.

At last year’s United Nation global climate summit in Glasgow (COP 26, co-sponsored with Italy from 10/31 – 11/12/2021), research was presented that suggested that if tropical rainforest nations wanted to meet their Paris Agreement goals, the most effective action they could take would be to return vast sections of land back to the indigenous peoples and once again make them the land’s legal stewards.

5) Mexico Bans GMO Corn and Pledges to Phase Out Glyphosate

In January 2021, Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador issued a special decree that prohibited genetically modified corn and committed the country to phasing out glyphosate by 2024.

There are 59 distinct varieties of corn that are native to Mexico, the birthplace of corn, and many believe that planting GM corn could threaten the biodiversity of Mexico’s native corn.

Glyphosate, the herbicide used in Roundup, kills broad-leafed weeds and grasses. Glyphosate is suspected of causing illnesses such as cancer, infertility, and liver disease. In the decree signed last year, farmers and other agricultural producers will have to stop using glyphosate by 2024.

Both of these protections are important steps towards keeping the food supply in Mexico safe and healthy, as well as preserving the integrity of Mexico’s most important native food, corn.

Politics, Petroleum, and the Environment:How to Doom Your Country’s Climate Targets

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

About last month: Did you emerge from the mental fog induced by St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 in time to face the festivities of March 18? Completely missed it? March 18, what’s that?

Mexico’s Oil Belongs to Mexico – via PEMEX

In Mexico, March 18 is “Expropriation Day,” the anniversary of President Lázaro Cárdenas’ 1938 nationalization of the country’s oil fields and production facilities. It seemed like “a good idea at the time,” and many Mexicans think of the expropriación petrolera as a second Mexican Revolution, one that liberated Mexican workers from low wages and oppressive working conditions imposed by the foreign companies that dominated the oil industry in Mexico. It is taught in schools as a story of resistance to American imperialism, a source of great national pride.

Before expropriation, there were 17 international firms producing oil in Mexico, dominated by the Mexican Eagle Company (a subsidiary of the Royal Dutch/Shell Company, now just “Shell”) and various U.S. firms (Jersey Standard, a branch of Standard Oil, and Standard Oil Company of California, SOCAL, now Chevron); together the Dutch and the Americans (basically, the Rockefellers) controlled 90% of the production of Mexican oil; Gulf Oil added another 5%.

Under Cárdenas’ plan, the Mexican government would control the production and commercialization of all petroleum resources derived from Mexican territory, significantly increasing government income while shoring up public finance and the social benefits it provided. To do this, he created a government corporation, Petróleos Mexicanos – that would be PEMEX, for those of us who drive in Mexico.

PEMEX was designed as a country-wide monopoly, jointly owned by the state and the Sindicato de Trabajadores Petroleros de la República Mexicana (petroleum workers’ union). It was tasked with all phases of oil and gas production in Mexico: exploration, development, transportation, refining, storage, distribution, and sales. It was designed to partner with the Comisión Federal de Electricidad, known far and wide as CFE, which had been set up in 1937.

Mexico as Petrostate

And what has 84 years of government control of the oil and gas industry done for Mexico?

International oil companies had been encouraged to come to Mexico by President José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori, who ruled Mexico in dictatorial style from 1877 to 1911 (with a four-year hiatus due to term limits, which he canceled after his re-election). Porfirio Díaz was overthrown by the Mexican Revolution (officially fought from 1910-17). In 1917, there were 440 oil production companies working in Mexico, they produced 55 million barrels a day, and Mexico was the world’s second-largest producer of crude oil.

In 1917, Mexico voted in its Constitution, which restored national control of the oil industry. Foreign companies could produce oil from Mexican wells, but needed to obtain official government concessions, which the largest companies refused to do. Both sides succeeded in ignoring the tensions, but oil production began slipping away to Venezuela, where it was cheaper to extract the crude.

Two decades later, the event that brought on expropriation was a labor strike against the international petroleum companies; after a year of negotiating, the petroleum workers’ union walked off the job for 11 days, and the government sent the contract to federal arbitration, which defined a new contract. The international companies refused to accept it, expropriation had been established by law in 1916, and there you go – Mexico took it all.

Over time, that hasn’t worked out all that well. The greatly simplified explanation is that, had the motivations for expropriation, the establishment of PEMEX, and tying it to CFE, been strictly economic, all might have been well. But the public monopoly was also intended to support Mexico’s socioeconomic programs – health, housing, education, recreation, retirement. (PEMEX revenues also funded Mexico’s repayment of loans incurred during the financial crisis of the late 1970s.) Ultimately, PEMEX has been used to pay for everything but financing the company itself: there has been little exploration for new sites, there is no infrastructure to develop them, and lack of maintenance has produced huge oil spills, particularly into the Gulf of Mexico. Moreover, PEMEX has been heavily subsidized by the government to keep retail prices low, thus obscuring real production production costs, so there is no government or public appetite for “remodeling” PEMEX to do a better job.

Back to the Future in the Oil Industry

Every so often, especially when the petroleum industry teetered and later as NAFTA was being negotiated (1994, renewed 2020), figures in the Congreso de la Unión (the federal legislature) or various presidents would make noises about letting international oil companies return. Between 2004 and the beginning of the presidential term of President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-18), oil production had dropped from 3.4 to 2.5 million barrels a day, and continued to drop, but the nation’s budget depended on PEMEX for a third of its revenues.

If the nation’s oil industry were left to PEMEX on its own, “Much of Mexico’s estimated 30 billion barrels of oil and 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas” would “simply remain locked in the ground” (Forbes, October 30, 2013). PEMEX was hamstrung, without “sufficient technical expertise” for exploration, and was legally denied the ability to acquire the expertise. Even if PEMEX could have brought in outside expertise, “big oil” wouldn’t come without financial guarantees, which PEMEX of course could not provide.

In 2013, Peña Nieto managed to amend the Mexican constitution to permit private international investment in oil, gas, and electricity production and distribution, including in the retail fuel market. Mexico auctioned off blocks of deep and shallow water exploration concessions, and welcomed international gasolineras – indeed, those of us who drive in Mexico saw BP (née British Petroleum), RepSol (Spain), and Gulf (U.S.) stations on our southbound treks to Oaxaca.

Not So Fast!

Many – notably, future presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) – opposed the constitutional reform on the grounds that oil and gas were a treasure of Mexico’s national heritage. “Treason,” said AMLO. When AMLO won the 2018 election on the basis of his populist nationalism, cloaked in the language of the left, he immediately set out to dismantle Peña Nieto’s energy sector reforms and restore PEMEX and fossil fuels to a position of pride – although not necessarily productivity, and certainly not to the benefit of the environment.

However, AMLO’s approach to Mexican energy – restore PEMEX/CFE and achieve self-sufficiency, the environment be damned – has brought on sharp criticism from analysts concerned with environmental protection. Combined with the environmental impacts of other AMLO strategies in tourism and economic development, Mexican energy policy is raising alarms at home and abroad; the policies are seen as detrimental, if not disastrous, in a country as “mega-biodiverse” as Mexico.

Mexico is party to the 2015 Paris Agreement, a UN-sponsored international treaty that records voluntary “nationally determined contributions,” or NDCs, from its signatory nations to meet targets for (1) reducing greenhouse gas emissions and (2) adapting to climate change through developing sources of alternative energy. Mexico was the first “developing country” to submit a plan for participating in the Paris Agreement, including an NDC of cutting emissions 22% by 2030 and obtaining 35% of its energy from alternative sources by 2024.

Countries are supposed to boost those targets every five years; new targets were announced in October 2021 at COP26, the second UN-sponsored climate change conference (Glasgow, Scotland, October 2021). Despite a visit from U.S. climate envoy John Kerry in advance of COP26, Mexico – along with Russia and Brazil – said it would work on increasing targets, but would not raise them. Mexico is the 14th-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, and the 2nd-largest in Latin America, bested only by the Brazil of Jair Bolsonaro, who promotes “land use change” in the form of slash-and-burn conversion of jungle to agriculture and industry. Climate Action Tracker, an international research partnership, finds that, given its policies and performance, Mexico’s emissions will rise, not fall, and the Mexico’s targets are “not at all consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature limit.”

AMLO and the Environment

It would, of course, be difficult to lower emissions when you are “pouring money into PEMEX, at the environment’s expense” as Bloomberg analysts put it in January 2021. In search of an energy-independent Mexico, AMLO has also made regulatory changes that “cut the knees off a booming renewables market” by ordering regulatory agencies to favor PEMEX/CFE by means of over-regulation of about 200 wind farms, solar arrays, natural gas plants, and other private projects.

AMLO is promoting two major infrastructure projects. First, to shore up oil production, he is building an $8 billion US mega oil refinery at Dos Bocas in his home state of Tabasco, on what was a protected mangrove forest. The refinery has been opposed by both business and environmentalist groups, and has been prejected to fail on financial grounds. In addition, AMLO has asked PEMEX to increase output at the country’s six current refineries, which burn highly polluting fuel oil. CFE is using high-sulfur fuel oil, and has bought tons – 2 million tons – of coal as a further source of fuel.

And then there’s the (in)famous Tren Maya, a tourism initiative that is laying over 1,550 kilometers of rail tracks across Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán, Quintana Roo, and Chiapas – right through the rainforest that is home to the endangered Mexican jaguar. The price tag is now $200 billion mxn (about $9.8 billion US); in a bid to add utility to the Tren Maya, freight capacity has been added to the original vision. The Tren Maya is opposed by both indigenous and environmentalist groups.

AMLO’s strategies for meeting Mexico’s NDCs are to plant trees and update 60 hydroelectric plants. The Sembrando Vida (Sowing Life) program, funded at $3.4 billion US, pays farmers to plant trees for fruit and timber production. Intended to bring income-producing agriculture to degraded land, the program actually encourages farmers to clear the jungle (that would be slash-and-burn again) to plant the program-provided trees.

Modernizing the hydroelectric plants receives high marks from agencies and experts in general, but in the first quarter of 2019, hydroelectric produced 6.4% of Mexico’s power, other alternatives (wind, nuclear, solar) produced 9.6%, and fossil fuels produced the remaining 84%. Hydroelectric power is much more expensive to produce than wind or solar; all the plants involved are over 50 years old, and modernization will be complicated and expensive. Many areas of Mexico face drought conditions, and dammed water is diverted to agricultural use rather than the hydroelectric plant. Promoting hydroelectric power with these improvements is a policy with only minor benefits.

When his policies and programs are criticized on environmental grounds, AMLO is dismissive, conspiracy oriented, and attacks the opposition: “There’s a lot of deception. I would tell you that they have grabbed the flag of clean energy in the same way they grab the flag of feminism or human rights. Since when are conservatives concerned about the environment?”

When he was elected, AMLO said he would have a mid-term review of his presidency. On April 11, 2022, he is holding a consulta de Revocación de Mandato, a consultation with voters on whether to “revoke his mandate.” The ballot question is carefully awkward, if not confusing, in its wording; it conflates the issues of whether or not a voter approves of AMLO’s policies with whether AMLO should stay in office. Given a general social bias towards continuity, AMLO is likely to win in a landslide.

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“Help each other. Love everyone. Every leaf. Every ray of light. Forgive.”
Terrence Malick

It’s almost Valentine’s Day … again. When The Eye contributors discuss upcoming topics there is always a bit of a sigh when it comes to this issue as we try and weave something about love and romance into it. Most of our contributors are married and have been for decades – the Chaikens met as children and have been married for almost 60 years! Can you imagine! Well, maybe you can, but I assure you it is difficult for me.

I am from a generation that craves variety and doesn’t really expect anything to last that long. Just a few decades ago people bought appliances for life. They would have a TV set for 20 years! I am from a generation that upgrades. And while the latest model may be sleeker and have a sharper image, it’s also made of flimsy plastic and not made to last. It’s built to be tossed into a landfill in four years.

With a cultural diet of romantic comedies, love songs and fairy-tale happy endings, is it any wonder that many of us have gotten used to moving on when things aren’t picture perfect, rather than focusing on repair? We live in a time where you can reject dozens of people with a swipe over your morning coffee. Has romantic love become disposable?

I am very fortunate to be surrounded by many amazing and long-term couples like those who work on The Eye, but I am sure they would tell me it hasn’t always been easy. In a time where women celebrate their financial and emotional independence more than previous generations it is understandable that we have come to expect more, although I am not sure we are better for it.

I also know many inspirational women who are going at it alone. When I asked an older Mexican friend if she would consider getting a boyfriend she laughed and said that she didn’t want to have to do more laundry or cook for more people.

Wherever you are on the romantic relationship spectrum, it’s easy to invite more love into your life this month. Talk to your neighbors, help a stranger, write a letter to someone you haven’t spoken to in twenty years, call your parents, your siblings. Wish the best to those who have wronged you and fissured your heart and surround yourself with people who want the best for you. Hug a tree, pick up garbage, repair things, use less, buy less, give stuff away, pick up the check. Love your life and let that love spread out and touch everything.

See you next month,

Jane