Tag Archives: ocean

Ocean-Saving Innovations

By Kary Vannice

The Eye has published any number of articles on threats faced by our oceans – here’s a review of progress achieved with the use of innovative technologies.

Restoring Our Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are critical underwater ecosystems that contribute to the overall health of our planet, not to mention the global economy. Coral reefs are major harbingers of biodiversity. Even though they occupy less than one percent of the ocean floor, they are home to more than 25% of all marine life. And more than 500 million people worldwide rely on reefs for their livelihood, food, and protection from natural disaster. Economically speaking, the value of coral reefs is around $7 billion US annually.

Because of their environmental and economic importance, protecting, regenerating, and restoring ocean reefs has become a major driver of scientific innovation and design. Australian researchers have recently tested two very innovative ideas to help regenerate the Great Barrier Reef, one above the water and one below.

Hoping to prevent the coral from dying out, a team of scientists created a special turbine that sprays microscopic sea particles into the sky above a reef. This fine mist creates a cloudlike shadow over the reef, which cools the water temperature below. The idea is to use this technique during heatwaves to protect the delicate habitat below from what’s known as “coral bleaching,” which puts the coral under extreme stress and often leads to its death.

Another team of Australian scientists has been testing a unique theory based on sound. They recognized that the more damaged a reef was, the less noise it produced. So, they began playing the sounds of a healthy reef over a loudspeaker underwater in an unhealthy reef location to see if it would have any beneficial effects. After a 40-day “acoustic enrichment” experiment, the number of fish within that section of the reef doubled, and the number of other species increased by 50%.

Cleaning Up Fossil Fuels

Over the last few decades, social and political pressures have forced major oil companies to clean up their act and work to prevent large-scale oil spillage. But a “hidden” pollutant may pose an even bigger problem in this area. In September, the US-based National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report that said land-based runoff is up to 20 times higher than it was 20 years ago. Most of that runoff comes from highways, parking lots, vehicle washing, and vehicle fluid leaks that find their way into local streams and rivers that eventually run into our oceans.

With this kind of rapidly increasing pollution, cleaning fossil fuels out of our oceans is quickly becoming an environmental priority.

In May of this year, a team of Mexican scientists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) made the news with a new technique that can be used to clean oil and other substances, like fertilizers, out of the oceans.

The team created nanotubes made from a combination of an aluminosilicate clay mineral (halloysite) and a highly magnetic mineral (magnetite). Once the nanotubes are deployed, they can apply a magnetic field and essentially “pull out” the oil. Their project leader, Marina Vargas Rodriguez, explained, “If the spill occurs near the beach, we will have the option of pulling the contaminant into the open sea so that it does not affect our beaches and, at the same time, the oil can be recovered and reused.”

This new technology does not adversely affect marine wildlife, and once the oil is recovered, it can be reused, so it does not go to waste.

Addressing Acidification

The ocean naturally absorbs about 30% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) from our atmosphere. Industrial activity has steadily increased the amount of CO2 in our air, which means the ocean now absorbs significantly more than historically normal levels. As CO2 dissolves into the ocean, it combines with seawater and becomes carbonic acid. This changes the pH of the water and acidifies our oceans.

A Newfoundland-based non-profit called GreenWave has developed a system of ocean farming that regenerates underwater ecosystems by creating carbon and nitrogen sinks. This trapping of excess carbon and nitrogen helps to reduce ocean acidification. This innovative underwater framing model focuses on vertical farming of scallops, mussels, oysters, and clams, all for human consumption, and seaweed that is turned into animal feed, fertilizers, and plastic alternatives.

This project not only helps to reduce acidification, but it also produces environmentally friendly farmed shellfish and other organic byproducts to help reduce environmental pollutants like chemical fertilizers and single-use plastics.

Another, perhaps less practical, but equally innovative attempt at acidification reduction comes from the San Francisco-based nonprofit Vesta. With a team of scientists with a range of disciplines, Vesta proposes to cover 2% of the world’s beaches with crushed olivine – the area required to offset 100% of human CO2 emissions. Olivine is a green volcanic mineral that naturally absorbs CO2, which means it’s basically an air purifier, naturally sucking carbon dioxide out of the sky and ocean, locking it inside, and eventually becoming part of beneficial marine environments such as coral reefs.

Olivine can absorb up to 1.25 tons of carbon dioxide for every ton of olivine, but this process normally takes millions of years. However, Vesta researchers theorize that if they grind the olivine into a fine sand and distribute it on beaches, wave action can accelerate the process and help reduce acidification more quickly. There are already four strikingly green olivine beaches that occur naturally in Hawaii, the Galápagos Islands, Guam and Norway.

These are just a few of the thousands of innovative projects focused on saving our ocean ecosystems. If you’re interested in learning more about creative innovations that aim to solve our current climate crisis, you can check out the World Economic Forum’s open innovation platform, https://uplink.weforum.org/uplink/s/, which facilitates entrepreneurial “positive systemic change for people and the planet.”

Fighting for the Oceans

By Sandra Roussy

The oceans are in danger. Ocean habitats and marine biodiversity are being threatened by unsustainable and unregulated fishing practices, exploitation of marine wildlife, and plastic waste. Human activity is proving to be destructive to ocean ecosystems, coral reefs, and coasts all around the world at an alarming rate. Marine environments need biodiversity to survive and remain healthy. Some species simply can’t survive when ecosystems become unbalanced, which in turn affects a variety of other species. That includes us.

Ocean conservation organizations help to protect and defend marine wildlife, ocean ecosystems, and habitats through direct action tactics, research, and outreach programs. Most ocean conservation groups are non-profit organizations that rely on donations and active hands-on help from people. People like you!

“If the oceans die, we die.”
– Captain Paul Watson

What You Can Do to Help Save the Oceans

Ever wonder how you can do your part to help the oceans? Saving the oceans is an enormous challenge; it can leave you feeling helpless before such a monumental task. But when you start consciously doing things that are beneficial and not harmful to the ocean, you can say that you are doing your part. Big or small, it all counts. Don’t throw your hands up because you don’t have the time or the skills to get on a boat to go stop illegal poachers off the coast of Africa, or dive into the coral reefs in Australia to document their destruction. There are other simpler ways that you can step in to help preserve the oceans and marine wildlife.

Donate to Ocean Conservation Organizations: Donate money directly to conservation groups. This is the easiest thing you can do if you don’t have the time to allocate to action. Your money goes directly to the ships and crews out there protecting the oceans and defending marine wildlife full-time.

Go to the website of your conservation organization of choice and find the donate button. They all will take one-time donations and most will also have the option of setting you up with a monthly recurring donation.

Also, some groups participate in environmental fairs and other events where they do outreach and accept donations on the spot.

Volunteer Your Time: The next best thing to do is become active with ocean conservation groups. Find operational chapters in your area and inquire about where and how they need help.

I am part of the Sea Shepherd onshore volunteer group, and together with the ship crew, we sell merchandise and educate people about what is happening in the oceans.

Purchase Merchandise: Show your support by wearing a t-shirt from your favorite ocean conservation organization!

Non-profit ocean conservation organizations finance most of their activities through donations but also a big chunk of funding comes through sales of merchandise. Go to their websites and check the shops.

Local Beach Clean-Ups: Organize beach and coastal clean-ups in your area or join an existing group. Every plastic bottle, fishing net, or other debris that you remove from the beach will not end up in in a marine animal or sea bird. I regularly do local beach and coastal clean-ups with the Sea Shepherd team and local volunteers. We meet a minimum of twice a month and more frequently during the stormy season when a lot of plastic and trash ends up on the beaches from the runoff of the rivers.

Check Facebook pages in coastal areas for active beach clean-up events in your area and join them or create your own.

Crew on Ships: Do you have what it takes to be on the frontline? If so, become an active crew member on a ship. They are in constant need of captains, deckhands, cooks, researchers, and media people to help keep the boats busy on campaigns. Check ocean conservation websites and apply to become a crew member.

Personal Actions: There are simple things that you can do in your daily life to help protect the state of the oceans. First, educate yourself. Find out where the fish you buy comes from and whether it is a sustainable species. Second, minimize your use of single-use plastics and properly reuse or recycle your plastic consumption so that it doesn’t end up polluting the ocean.

Ocean Conservation Organizations

Ocean conservation groups all have the same goal in mind, but vary in the way they tackle their missions. Some use aggressive non-violent direct actions to confront poachers and other illegal activity, while others concentrate on assisting in research and educating future generations.

The pioneer ocean conservation society Sea Shepherd is an international and non-profit marine conservation organization that has been fighting to defend, conserve and protect the world’s oceans for over 45 years. Sea Shepherd has gone and will continue to go where no other conservation groups dare to go to safeguard marine wildlife. Their ongoing international direct-action campaigns are meant to stop illegal exploitation and outdated fishing practices.

Sea Shepherd’s goal is to defend the biodiversity of marine ecosystems by acting against environmental destruction. In 2018, after a 40-year battle, the organization managed to put a stop to commercial Japanese whaling activities. You may remember the “Whale Wars” documentary series that ran on Animal Planet from 2008 to 2015. Sea Shepherd has active international campaigns, notably the Milagro campaign to help save the almost extinct vaquita porpoise in the Sea of Cortez here in Northern Mexico.

Captain Paul Watson recently left Sea Shepherd, the organization he founded over 45 years ago, to start a new initiative, the Captain Paul Watson Foundation. The Foundation will work to continue Watson’s passionate defense of the seas by using aggressive but non-violent tactics to stop illegal operations that exploit life in the ocean.

Many other organizations, like Ocean Conservancy, Ocean Conservation Society, 4ocean, and Oceana are out there protecting the oceans every day and they won’t stop as long as the oceans are still threatened.

Visit these websites for more information about ocean conservation and learn how you can support the movement.
http://www.seashepherdglobal.org
http://www.paulwatsonfoundation.org
http://www.oceanconservancy.org
http://www.oceanconservation.org
http://www.oceana.org
http://www.4ocean.com

*Featured image from Proceso Magazine

Soft-Top, Hard-Top – Which One and Why?

By Randy Redmon

How did soft-top surfboards enter the world scene of surfing?

Let’s flash back to 2006. Soft-top surfboards first became available at Costco and were manufactured out of Taiwan by a company called AGIT Global. Even at the approximate retail price of $120 USD, Costco’s soft-top brand, called Wavestorm, was not exactly flying off the shelves. Why? Back then, soft-top surfboards were considered only for “newbie” beginners and kooks! In ten years, however, Costco had sold over half a million Wavestorms, was set to sell over 100,000 in 2015, and anticipated ever-increasing sales.

What Changed?

Jamie O’Brien is responsible for that! Jamie O’Brien is a popular professional free surfer from the North Shore of Hawaii. Side point … the North Shore is very respected in the “surf world” for its incredible and dangerous wave, the Banzai Pipeline. So what did this very experienced, well known and respected Pro Surfer do? Well, on one episode of his 19-season YouTuber video series, Who is JOB, O’Brien actually goes to a Costco and buys a Wavestorm soft-top surfboard as a joke. He asked the cashier, who didn’t recognize him as a professional surfer, that if he broke the board would he able to bring it back for a refund. Being Costco, she replied, “Yes, as long as you have the receipt.” Off went O’Brien with this cheap beginner board to the world-famous Banzai pipeline to surf!

What happened??

It was unreal! O’Brien’s performance was awesome and he fell in love with that soft top surfboard. Those who watched him at the pipeline, as well as the viewers of his video series, were convinced. and the soft-top surfboard’s popularity was born! Wavestorms did indeed fly off the shelves at every Costco in America – and the price jumped from $120 USD to $250 USD.

To meet the demand and to capitalize on the massive popularity of soft-top surfboards, new manufacturers started springing up. One such manufacturer, Catch Surf, is now a Jamie O’Brien sponsor and even has a special “Jamie O’Brien Collection.”

So now you know the history of the soft-top surfboard – what does that mean to you?

The soft-top surfboard is an excellent, and recommended, choice for all beginner surfers. I personally believe it has sharply reduced the number of injuries for both beginner surfers, as well as other surfers who may be hit by a wayward board while a beginner is learning. As a very experienced surfer, with over 50 years of experience, I feel that anyone who wants to learn to surf should start on a soft-top surfboard. This will help them to comfortably and safely learn the basics of surfing, as well as the etiquette of surfing.

There is, however, a word of caution. You will find it hard to gain respect in the world of surfing, and be accepted as a common surfer, if you stay on a soft top surfboard. Why? It is too easy to get comfortable and stay comfortable on a soft-top. The soft-top makes it much easier to get waves.

Does that mean Pro Surfers don’t use soft-top surfboards? The answer is that they do, but often it’s a novelty for them, almost tongue-in-cheek, as well being entertaining for them. It is never their go-to choice for surfboard.

On to the Hard-Top Surfboard, or Hardboard

After you have learned the basics of surfing and have caught your share of bluewater waves, it is time to move to a hardboard surfboard. What’s the difference? Soft-top surfboards are made with an EPS foam core wrapped in either fiberglass or a synthetic wrap with a soft, dentable ethylene-vinyl acetate sheet on top. In contrast, hardboards are generally constructed of a Styrofoam blank with a wood stringer and fiberglass overlay.

So what’s the advantage of a hardboard surfboard? First, there is no better feeling than catching a wave on a hardboard surfboard … this is basically how it should be, as that is the original way to surf. Second, this type of surfing will take you to another level and challenge your abilities as a surfer!

The Long and the Short of It

The next decision you need to make is whether you want to surf on a longboard or a short board. There’s no right or wrong decision. Whether you choose a classic longboard style of surfing, or the more radical, high-performance world of short boarding, either will be an expression of your own personal surfing style and what you enjoy. No one style is better than another, it’s a matter of preference.

At the end of the day, soft-top surfboards will always have place in the world of surfing. They have opened up this incredible sport and made it accessible to a much wider audience than ever before. So thank you, Jamie O’Brien, for having the guts to pull off one of the greatest jokes in surfing history – it has 100% changed the surfing landscape.

Are you interested in surfing or do you still consider yourself a beginner? I encourage you to come down to the Huatulco Surf Company shop in Tangolunda, Huatulco. Our very knowledgable and experienced team would love to support you in your surfing journey!

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

Learning to Surf

By Randy Redmond

The first thing I will tell you is this: you are going to hate it before you love it! (Remember these words …)

Here are the five things you need to do that help you succeed in starting your new life of surfing.

  1. Hire a surf instructor! Too many people feel that they can learn on their own, which only leads to learning bad habits and it’ll take you twice as long to get to the point of loving the sport.
  2. Start yourself on a soft top surfboard no shorter than 2 meters (7 feet).
  3. Do some beach training with your board. Using your board on the sand, learn how to pop up and stand up out of the water.
  4. Before entering the water, if your instructor has not already done so, please ask them to explain surf etiquette to you. There are rules of the road out there in the water – once you learn them you’ll avoid a lot of drama and possible injury to yourself and others.
  5. Have patience! It’s not gonna happen in one day. Let your surf instructor push you into waves – this is not humiliating- this is how you learn. You will eventually learn how to paddle into the waves yourself.

Surfing is not only one of the healthiest sports, it’s low cost and you get to enjoy nature! Every surfer I know remembers vividly the feeling of their first blue-water wave, in other words not riding the white wash anymore. Every surfer can tell you what board they were riding, where they were surfing, how they got there and who was on the beach. Your first blue-water wave is probably the most important step to your newfound addiction. This is the feeling that you’ll be chasing and cheering for the rest of the time that you enjoy this incredible activity!

I highly recommend that you watch the many YouTube channels that will further instruct you on technique, style, and basic logic of surfing. Once you have mastered the pop-up and stand up on your board and actually catch some blue-water waves, you can graduate to a harder board. I suggest a “fun board,” yes, that’s what the board is called. A fun board will allow you to take your surfing to the next level, staying on a soft top will only keep you from excelling. From there you can gradually work your way down sizes or upsize it depending if you would like ride a short board or a classic longboard.

Huatulco Surf Company is located in the shops at Tangolunda; you can visit them to obtain a list of professional surf instructors.

Fish farming in Mexico

By Jan Chaiken and Marcia Chaiken

Given the thousands of kilometers of coastline and the great quantity of fresh lake water in Mexico, it is not surprising that before the Spanish arrived, indigenous people were heavily involved in ocean and inland fishing. It is notable however, that the pre-Hispanic residents also engaged in farming of fish. For example, the extensive inland lake that once surrounded the Aztec capital (now Mexico City) was used to farm fish at that time. Today Lake Texcoco has mostly vanished, along with the pre-Hispanic fish farms.

The 16th-century Spanish conquistadores forbade the indigenous population to fish or raise fish for their own use, as they were trying to develop this market for European consumption. Although fishing as an individual occupation was gradually reintroduced in Mexico and later commercial fishing became a major industry, it was not until the 1970s that any perceptible amount of aquaculture re-appeared.

The term aquaculture (in Spanish acuacultura or acuicultura) refers to the rearing of aquatic animals and cultivating aquatic species for food, including not only fish but also crustaceans, mollusks, and seaweed. Fish and other aquaculture products are raised in floating tanks through which lake or ocean water flows naturally, and are fed controlled diets. The practice of aquaculture was in part prompted by potential financial reward, but also by environmental concerns. A controversial aspect of marine fishing is called “by-catch” – the unavoidable capture in fishing nets of animals and plants that are not used for human consumption. By-catch is not only fiscally wasteful but is responsible for wreaking havoc on marine environments. Aquaculture, on the contrary, results in close to 100% of production being sold for food or other uses. Eighty percent of aquaculture products are used for human consumption.

Mexico now ranks around 23rd in the world in the annual production of its aquaculture economic sector. Most countries ranking higher than Mexico are in Asia, especially island nations with extensive coastlines. Mexico ranks higher in annual aquaculture production than, for example, Canada, the United Kingdom, Russia, New Zealand, Peru, and Australia.

Mexico’s lengthy coastline is a competitive advantage in two ways: first, tanks for commercial growing of marine animals are located close to shore in the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of California, and the Gulf of Mexico; and, second, ports on the coast provide easy access for delivery of harvested product to the interior of Mexico or for export to the Americas and Asia. Mexico experienced an increase in aquaculture of 27% from 1986 (the first year statistics were collected) to 2010 but then suffered a three-year sharp decline because of a widespread virus infection in the types of food that are fed to fish.

In recent years the growth of aquaculture has exceeded its earlier vigor in Mexico, with a 34% increase in five years. Currently Mexico is one of only five countries showing sustained growth of inland aquaculture. Baja California and the states of Jalisco, Michoacán, and Veracruz are the most important locations for offshore marine aquaculture in Mexico. Inland aquaculture (primarily trout) is found mainly in Sinaloa, Sonora, Tabasco, and Tamaulipas.

The aquaculture companies pride themselves on crecimiento azul, which is the watery version of a “green economy,” namely one that is sustainable, resource efficient, and environmentally sound. Around the world, the proportion of naturally occurring wild fish stocks that are biologically sustainable decreased from 90% in 1974 to under two-thirds in recent years, which means that a third of the seafood produced by commercial fisheries comes from fishing locations that will not survive into the future. By contrast, seafood purchased from aquaculture will continue to be available or increase over time. Aquaculture also provides safe, well-paying jobs and is a boost to the local economy wherever it is installed.

The main types of seafood produced by aquaculture in Mexico are mojarra (the species varies, most likely a bream or tilapia), oysters, huachinango (red snapper), trout, and tilapia, with lesser amounts of camarón (shrimp), abalone, and tuna. (Worldwide, the most important aquacultural product is tilapia.) Shrimp account for under 10% of Mexico’s aquaculture production, but the amount of shrimp production is increasing rapidly from year to year.

There is a debate about whether farmed fish are as nutritious and as tasty as fish that are wild. The commercial fisheries would have you believe that farmed fish are full of toxins and dangerous. The actual answer is based on local aquaculture practices. Farms that frequently test their water and fish food to be sure there is no toxic contamination are likely to produce wholesome fish and seafood. That is one reason fish farms are not promoted as tourist attractions and are off-limits for water sports – the companies want to avoid pollution. The only visitors likely to be found at a fish farm are scientists, technical consultants, potential investors, government inspectors, and participants in conferences of aquaculture organizations.

In addition, by being raised on feed that is high in omega oils, farmed fish actually are more likely to promote good health in humans than are wild-caught fish. But what about the taste? We have friends who swear they can distinguish farmed fish from wild fish by the taste. However, judging by the way they snarf down fish they do not know were farmed, we have our doubts.

For more information, check out the website of the Mexican government agency that supports aquaculture (among other things) – the Center for Studies in Sustainable Rural Development and Food Sovereignty (Centro de Estudios para el Desarollo Rural Sustentable y la Soberania Alimentaria, http://www.cedrssa.gob.mx). And ¡buen provecho!

Ten Simple Steps to Help Preserve Mexico’s Ecology

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

  1. Sunscreen: wash it off before swimming in lakes, lagoons or ocean bays. Previously, much of coastal Mexico was a natural aquarium, teeming with brightly colored fish and exotic sea life feeding off myriad varieties of coral. Today, many of the most accessible bays and lagoons have a visible oily slick of sunscreen on the surface, with mainly dead coral and greatly reduced sea life. Many inland lakes have also been polluted.

There are still wondrous places to snorkel and dive, mainly accessible by boat. If you are fortunate enough to visit some of these sea or lake homes to see thousands of aquatic creatures, please help preserve them by wearing a sun-guard shirt (an inexpensive teeshirt will do) instead of poisoning the waters with sunscreen.

  1. Picnics: if you carry it in, carry it out. The beaches, vista points and forests in Mexico are great places for a picnic. It’s tempting after an afternoon of eating and drinking to just leave your empties and other trash behind. If you do, you’re basically creating an unattractive garbage dump and providing the animals with materials that can choke or otherwise kill them. It’s so simple to bring and use paper bags to collect your detritus (recyclables in one bag and trash in the other) and dispose of them in bins for recycling.
  2. Flora and fauna: observe but do not disturb. Plants and animals, both on the land and in the water, are fascinating. We can spend hours watching whales playing in a bay, or geckos scrambling around our patio walls, or an octopus hiding under a rock and sending out a tentacle to catch a fish or a sea turtle nesting on a beach. We’ve also watched in horror as people use sticks to poke at iguanas and disfigure other animals, or disturb nests of turtle eggs, or surround whales with multiple motor boats, or dig up plants that support multiple forms of animals. Please remember that you are a guest in their homes and, just as you wouldn’t enter a human home and purposely maim or torment your hosts, be a good guest to the animals and plant life here.
  1. Paths and trails: stay on the beaten path. In addition to not trampling or otherwise disturbing flora and fauna, staying on the beaten path will help you avoid unpleasant encounters with the native life. Many forms of plants and animals in Mexico have developed excellent forms of self-protection, including sharp spines, toxic stingers, pincers and teeth that can deliver a painful bite. Not all snakes rattle or give a warning before they spring. So keep on track and keep your eyes where you are about to step.
  2. Drinking water: avoid plastic bottles. In many places in Mexico the water is fine to drink. If you are at a moderately or expensively priced hotel or restaurant and you are served water from a pitcher, it generally is filtered and potable. The same is true of ice. If you are at an economy-priced place where you are not sure about the hygiene, you can ask for a glass of water from their garafon, the huge jugs of filtered water kept on hand for the staff to use. But please, please, please, help stop the world-wide pollution of the earth with billions of tons of plastic bottles. Until someone figures out how to turn plastic back into its natural components (a future Nobel-Prize-winning discovery), every plastic bottle of water you drink and discard will contribute to choking off life in Mexico and around the world.
  3. Restaurants: no plastic straws or one-use plastic anything. Plastic straws are literally killers. They find their way into the ocean and are gobbled up by short-sighted sea turtles. Hundreds of turtles die each year from ingesting a plastic straw. Many fish and sea-birds are also injured. Other plastic utensils also contribute to the injury and death of marine life. If you must use a straw, at least use a paper straw. But folks, who really needs a straw? Every sip from a plastic straw you take shortens the life of rapidly disappearing species.
  1. Shopping: bring your own bags and select ecofriendly packaging. Buy organic.
    Fortunately, most Mexican supermarkets are legally prohibited from providing plastic bags for packing your purchases. And there are wonderful colorful cloth or other material shopping bags for sale in gift shops and from vendors all over Mexico. They’re not always environmentally friendly but they are easily packed, great souvenirs. But before you even reach the checkout counter, please think ‘green’ before you place something in your shopping cart. Two or three tomatoes really don’t require a thin plastic bag to keep them separate from an avocado; and the avocado comes in its own natural wrapper. By reaching for the fruit and vegetables that are labelled ‘organic’ you may pay a little more, but you are helping keep toxic pesticides out of drinking water and out of the bodies of many living creatures – including your own.
  2. Signs: read them and obey them. Much thought and effort has been spent on placing signs around Mexico to protect wildlife and to protect you. The road signs depicting silhouettes of local fauna are charming – but they are danger signs. Keep your eyes peeled on the road in front of you and to either side and slow down so you can stop in time to avoid an animal that darts out to cross to the other side. The signs on beaches and in parks that have the universal multiple “no” symbol should be studied and heeded. At the very least, they will give you a heads-up about human behavior required to protect life in Mexico. And ultimately, you may be saved from a hefty fine or even drowning.
  3. Showers: keep them short. Many places in Mexico, as throughout the world, are suffering from severe water shortages. You are encouraged to shower off before entering pools to save filtration systems; but all that is required is a quick rinse to remove sand and salt. A long hot shower before you dress is as passé as a flip-top cell phone. Remember to save water in other ways too. Turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth. If you have a kitchen, fill that dishwasher before you run it. And although washing your hands frequently is highly recommended, turn off the water while you soap and sing the canonical ‘happy birthday’ song twice.
  4. Prevent COVID: You may be on vacation, but the coronavirus never takes time off from work. Until Mexico vaccinates most of its population and enters a low COVID tier, wear your mask, frequently wash your hands and stay at a safe distance. The life you save could be your own.

Learning to Swim

By Randy Jackson

“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” — Isak Dinesen

A kind of cultural cornucopia can bring fresh perspectives and new insights. When the land, the people, the climate are all different from what we are used to, it’s possible – if we are open to it – to learn new dimensions about something we thought we already knew. Spending time in Huatulco can offer such opportunities. As an example, in my time in Huatulco, I’ve come to appreciate new aspects of swimming.

I learned to swim as a child. As far as I can recall, like most children, I loved every moment in the water. Water meant playing. Amongst my band of childhood buddies, we named a small island (mostly a pile of driftwood) in the Columbia River after me because I was the first one (of us) to swim across the frigid brown spring waters (in doing so contravening all parental dicta not to do that). When I was a teenager, my high school was located within walking distance of a beach on a recreational lake. With our local hot springs pool below a cloud of shifting steam in the winter, and the coarse cinnamon sand beach in the summer, we teens had swimming meetup places free from parents the whole year round. Swimming throughout my childhood and youth remained synonymous with fun and play.

As an adult I decided to enter triathlons. This decision made swimming a more serious undertaking. Rather than swim for play, I swam for fitness. I began a long process of trying to learn how to perform the front crawl efficiently and for longer distances.

The front crawl is a weirdly complex series of motions performed while remaining face down in the water. Of all the swim strokes, the front crawl seems awkwardly unnatural, unlike anything seen in the animal kingdom. Almost all land animals know innately how to swim, moving their limbs while keeping their heads above water. What we call the dog paddle seems to be THE swim stroke of any animal with legs. However, camels, giraffes, porcupines, rhinos and, most notably, apes can’t swim. As an ape species, we humans have to be taught how to swim.

Worldwide, only about 50% of us know how to swim. The World Health Organization estimates that 320,000 people per year drown. Drowning, the WHO report, is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional death in the world. The CDC reports that in the US, on average, 10 people drown every day. Swimming lessons are not primarily intended to teach people how to have fun in the water, rather, they teach a skill set for survival.

As unnatural as swimming is to people, it’s curious that we humans have such a natural affinity towards water. In Egypt, at a place called Gilf Kebir, cave paintings dating back 8,000 years depict people swimming. How, in the eons of evolution, could a creature afraid of water and without an innate ability to swim – learn to swim? Could there be some evolutionary reason for this skill? Well, maybe – there’s the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis.

In 1960, an English marine biologist, Alister Hardy, pointed out that hairlessness is virtually unheard of in the animal kingdom except where the creature spends a good deal of time in the water. He proposed a different evolutionary narrative from that of the mainstream. He suggested that in our evolutionary history, a group of apes were forced, due to competition, to scavenge for food such as shellfish from the sea. This led to certain evolutionary adaptations: principally, to stand erect as the apes would have to do in water to propel themselves and to keep their heads up to breathe. Second, to become almost hairless like other creatures who spend large amounts of time in the water. And third, that humans have an insulating fat layer between their skin and their skeletal system that no other non-aquatic creature has – including the great apes. Elaine Morgan (1920 – 2013), a writer on evolutionary theory, has helped popularize the theory of the Aquatic Ape in her books on evolutionary anthropology (she has a TED talk on this theory – https://www.ted.com/talks/elaine_morgan_i_believe_we_evolved_from_aquatic_apes?language=en ).

In Huatulco, I came to realize that my swimming life, parallel to life overall, had three basic phases. The fun and play of youth, the work and responsibilities of adulthood and midlife, and the quiet enjoyment of things in retirement.

My enjoyment of swimming in Huatulco actually starts as I head out the door for an early morning stroll to the beach. With a towel draped over one shoulder, my swimming goggles in hand, my 3-block journey to the Pacific begins. The street sweepers, the shop owners, and passers-by all smile and greet me knowing I’m off to the beach for a morning swim.

Occasionally, at this beach, I see someone who has outfitted their dog with a lifejacket in the water. This allows pooches, like people in aqua fitness classes, to paddle their limbs madly without much forward propulsion. Buoyancy and propulsion, however, do not necessarily mean swimming. Hippos, who spend about sixteen hours a day in the water, don’t swim. Their dense bodies cause them to sink naturally. Hippos propel themselves by walking or running along the bottom. They have masterful control of their buoyancy by regulating the air in their lungs. They bob along the bottom like astronauts skipping semi-weightless on the moon.

At the beach, the regular morning swimmers are typically returning from their swims when I arrive. Como la agua hoy? Hay medusas? (jellyfish). There is comradery amongst us daredevil adventurers, who, with a bit of practiced swim technique can leave the security of land for that other, and larger part of the planet, the world of water.

This water world offers an engagement with nature like no other. Viewing a beautiful panorama or listening to the crash of ocean waves can be wonderful experiences – except for all the many distractions. For most of us, our minds continue to churn on other things wherever we find ourselves. When immersed in water however, we leave those distractions behind as the “here and now” floods our awareness. And we begin. Reach and stretch and pull and kick – breathe – a rhythm forms – rocking from side to side – breathe – we glide through the water.

Occasionally, I will experience a sense of efficiency and flow that more accomplished swimmers often speak of. For me, those moments are few and brief, but wonderful enough to keep me coming back for more. After all these years, I am still trying to learn how to swim properly. I’m slow and my front crawl needs work, but more than ever before I now understand what I want out of swimming. I seek the quiet thrill of moving through the water smoothly and efficiently. With luck, and more time in Huatulco to practice swimming, I can continue learning new aspects of swimming.

The Coral Reefs of Huatulco: Unnatural Changes

By Julie Etra

I have been scuba diving and snorkeling here since our first trip in 2007, but I am no expert and certainly don’t have the decades of history and knowledge possessed by the locals regarding pre-Huatulco-resort (1985) conditions. What I can contribute are my observations from repeated trips to several reefs over the years, as well as some review of reef studies and possible preservative actions.

Huatulco’s nine bays and 35 beaches host18 coral reefs. For snorkeling I typically go to Entrega, San Augustín, and more recently, Riscalillo. Tejoncito is a sweet little cove within Bahia Conejos, but it is pretty rocky, with some coral but typically not great visibility. Arrocito is another popular spot for some of our good friends, but it does not have the fabulous reefs that support aquatic diversity. Maguey has a great reef for scuba diving, accessible by boat. All lie within the Parque Nacional de Huatulco, and all are managed under its jurisdiction. (The Park was established in 1998 through a presidential decree.)

Entrega. Huatulco’s reefs and beaches are gems, and like so many beautiful natural resources everywhere, they are being loved to death. Entrega is a bay within the larger bay of Santa Cruz, both protected and at the same time somewhat contained due to its configuration; it is the most popular and accessible reef of the nine major bays of Huatulco. Entrega has its own sewage treatment plant behind the restaurants.

We always make it a point to go early to Entrega as even during the week this beach is frequently packed. There are just too many people, too many boats, and, despite the treatment plant, perhaps inadequate sanitation.

Entrega, which means ‘delivery’ or ‘surrender’ in Spanish, is named for the unfortunate fate of Vincente Guerrero, the Mexican Republic’s second President. The liberal Guerrero was deposed by his conservative vice president, Anastasio Bustamante; in the ensuing conflict, Guerrero was lured onto a French ship in Acapulco, carried to Huatulco, and surrendered on the beach at Entrega. Thence he was transported to Oaxaca City, tried and convicted, and executed by firing squad.

San Augustín has a large accessible reef, both by car and boat, and no engineered waste treatment systems. There are baños/sanitarios but their design and effectiveness appears questionable. Sweet Riscalillo, recently accessible by car, has a gorgeous reef but absolutely no sanitation facilities. I have only been there a few times so can’t comment on its change, if any, but it is on my radar.

Studying the Reefs – about a Decade Ago

From 1998-2012 the Federal Government of Mexico monitored the health of various reef ecosystems in the Mexican Pacific, including reefs in Bahías de Huatulco. It used the Coral Health Index (CHI) to look at fish populations and the bottom layers of the ocean (an “ichthyic” and “benthic” survey). According to a 2013 master’s thesis on the survey, prepared by Montserrat Molina Luna, the CHI values for Huatulco were at an “optimal health state” after the initiation of protection measures through the creation of the Parque Nacional in 1998. The fish populations of all the evaluated reef ecosystems were herbivorous, which promotes a balanced ecosystem by controlling the proliferation of algae.

So as of 2012, the reefs of Huatulco, according to this report, were in good shape. But were they? In 2011, the independent news and analysis agency Quadratin published an article on studies conducted by the Parque Nacional, which found that the reefs of Entrega had diminished by 80%, due to such factors as climate change, pollution and poor tourism practices. Natalia Parra del Ángel, at the time coordinator of CostaSalvaje, an international eco-organization focused on preserving coastal and marine ecosystems, warned that these factors could lead to the extinction of Huatulco’s coral reefs.

At that time, the Parque Nacional suggested to the local CostaSalvaje team some actions that swimmers, boaters, and tourist guides could take to help preserve Huatulco’s 12 types of coral reefs. Boats should not drive over the reefs, much less anchor on them or drop oil or gasoline. The most important was that divers and snorkelers should make sure they did not damage the coral – preferably, they should be accompanied by certified, trained guides. Swimmers should not wear sunscreen, because it creates a floating grease stain that prevents light from reaching the live microalgae inside the coral. Divers, snorkelers, and swimmers should not stand on the reefs.

Protective Practices a Decade Later

And did these practices take hold? Not really – and this is far from a comprehensive list of examples.

2013: Scientists like Carlos Candelaria Silva, a research professor at UNAM, began pointing out that the deterioration of the coral reefs at Entrega and San Augustín was very “worrying.” Sediments carried down in the rainy season, rubbish left behind by beach-goers and swimmers, added to boat traffic and large numbers of snorkelers, were damaging the reefs. By 2015, Candelaria was saying that measures to “protect and heal” the coral were urgent.

2016: Fisherman and oyster and octopus divers complained that the construction of Barlovento, a 15-condo development above a little beach next to Entrega, was dumping tons of construction debris – dirt, stone, and mud – right onto the coral reef. If the coral reef were to die, the divers and fishermen would lose their livelihood. While the divers and fishermen were not opposed to development per se, the fact that the Barlovento was taking no measures to protect the reef was unacceptable. Meanwhile, the presale materials for the Barlovento touted how ideal “the quiet bays of Huatulco” were for a “wide range of water sports. If you practice diving or snorkeling, you will be amazed at the purity of the waters. The rugged coast of Huatulco and its unrivaled coral reefs will surprise you with their extensive underwater biodiversity, waiting to be exploited.” While they might have meant “explored,” yes, they said “exploited.”

2018: This was a mostly bad news/some good news year. The Chiapas-based news service Noticias: Voz y Imagen reported that snorkelers and divers who rented equipment and set off to view the living coral reef were being allowed to snap off chunks of live coral as souvenirs. No one, “not the restaurant owner, not the waiter, much less the maritime business that rented the equipment and sent them off into the sea,” told them breaking off the coral would “significantly alter one of the most valuable ecosystems” for thousands of marine organisms and hundreds of species.

The problem was most out of control at San Agustín; the coordinator of Nature Tourism for the Municipio of Santa María Huatulco, Pedro Gasca, said that with 44 restaurants and 20 places that rented snorkel gear in the low-season, many more in the high season, it was difficult to counteract the business practice of “the customer can do whatever the customer wants.” He suggested that education was the key, and prepared a workshop for the snorkel outfits; the content focused on educating the customers how to view the reef without destroying it.

At this point, the three major threats to coral reefs were identified as climate change, ocean acidification, and the usual biggie, mismanaged tourism practices. Climate change and ocean acidification combine to make it very difficult for coral to create and deposit the calcium carbonate that extends the “skeleton” of the reef. This is most obvious as bleaching; when corals are stressed by changes in temperature, light, or nutrients, the symbiotic algae living in their tissues die, causing them to turn completely white.

Between 1998 and 2018, Pacific corals thinned out, i.e., they were 20% less dense and grew more slowly (they were only making a centimeter – just over ⅜ of an inch – of skeleton a year as it was!). Some corals (the slowest-growing ones) adapt, others bleach out and die.

Given that mismanaged tourism is a more immediate problem to address, CONAMP started supporting CostaSalvaje in projects to protect the reefs. CostaSalvaje used CONAMP resources to string buoys to keep tourist boats from driving over and dropping anchor on the reefs. CONAMP developed educational programming for tourism providers and guidelines for tourists, although it appears the latter must be accessed on their website,

2020: In January of this year, CostaSalvaje and CONAMP were among multiple government, educational, and organizational sponsors of the first annual Festival Coralinos de Huatulco: Tesoro del Pacifico Mexicano (The Coral Reef Festival of Huatulco: Treasure of the Mexican Pacific). With scientific poster sessions, workshops, and meetings on the marine environment, the goal of the Festival Coralinos was to inform the public about the importance of the reefs to the region and to promote better tourism and environmental practices. Informational installations were set up in the central park in La Crucecita, in Rufino Tamayo Park, and in the Sports Plaza.

What It Really Looks Like Right Now

When I first arrived in November 2019, Entrega beckoned. I went out there with my good buddy PauI Biernacki and was appalled to observe what appeared to be an obvious decline in reef health since my last visit in April 2019. Huge algal blooms floated over and coated the reef, especially close to shore, where the sea seemed unusually murky and almost oily.

Algal blooms are described by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “overgrowths of algae in the water, which can be caused when nutrient pollution (nitrogen and phosphorus) in the water fuels algal growth. Note the murkiness of the surface water due to overgrowth of algae.”

Local guides I have spoken with have also noted the decline in reef health at Entrega. Basically, the blooms suffocate the reefs. Guides continue to see other sources of reef damage that have been discussed over the last decade (bleaching, sedimentation, physical damage, and chemicals such as sunscreen). Although the sedimentation can be natural, it is undoubtedly exacerbated by the turbidity caused by boat propellers.

Where do the nitrogen and phosphorus that kick off the algae blooms come from? Obviously not agriculture. Sewage? Currents bringing in contaminants from other sources? During multiple trips to Entrega over the winter, I noticed the currents had pushed the algae and deposited it on the northern part of the reef. I am happy to report that on an early morning swim on March 16, most of the algae was gone and the huge schools of green jacks (jurel bonito) were back.

I have not noticed algal blooms at either Riscalillo or San Augustín, locations that don’t get the same constant traffic as Entrega; however, like Entrega, San Augustín appears to be suffering from bleaching. We have seen the algal bloom called “red tide” from time to time in Huatulco, but red tide occurs naturally. And that sargassum we hear about over on the Mayan Riviera? It’s a type of kelp that isn’t often found in this area of the Pacific.

Of course, reef deterioration can be cyclical and caused by multiple factors, including seasonality and temperature associated with prevailing and changing currents. But human impact – those poor tourism practices – cannot be underestimated. Unfortunately, restricted use or quotas imposed by the government are unlikely to occur in a beach destination like Huatulco, whose economy depends on that tourism. It would be nice to at least see a monitoring program designed and implemented, and good science conducted with data made available to the public. Certainly, the universities on the coast, especially those that participated in the Festival Coralinos, can help.