Roy S. Houston, Ph.D.
I believe it appropriate to talk about environmental respect or as I call it, “ecological etiquette”. I know, like most of us, we do not enjoy others telling us what we can and cannot do. However, bear with me on this topic for there are but a few simple suggestions that we can follow to help alleviate many of the issues at hand. Fortunately much of the Baja California peninsula and the Sea of Cortez is still a pristine and undisturbed environment. However, with an increase in population and tourism there has been intense pressure placed on the terrestrial and marine habitats throughout the area. Every day I hear from my neighbors and friends on how the fishing is not what it used to be or how easy it was to walk out into the desert and pick up a load of firewood. Comments like, “What has happened to all of the corvina, all I catch are small bass!” are commonplace. I should mention that this is not just in our backyard but throughout much of the world. This summer while I was teaching my Coral Reef Ecology class in Honduras, people were commenting on what has happened to all of the big groupers. In order to protect the fragile environments in the northern Gulf of California, several years ago the Mexican Federal Government has formally declared a protected area within this region. This area formally known as “The Upper Gulf of California and Colorado River Delta Biosphere Reserve” consists of a core (no take) zone and a buffer zone for limited use. This reserve extends south from the Colorado River Delta to San Felipe, across the Gulf to Puerto Peñasco, Sonora. These waters are a sanctuary for the myriads of marine and desert life, including the endangered “totoaba” and “vaquita”. The importance of respecting the ecology of this rich and invaluable region cannot be overemphasized. Currently there is much interest by the government and environmental groups to create additional protected area for both marine and terrestrial habitats. Therefore, it will be most important to adhere to the local laws and ordinances concerning fishing and hunting seasons and limits.
Also, when driving in the desert it is better to stay on roads or trails, so as not to disturb fragile plant and animal communities. Since many tide pool and terrestrial critters live under rocks and stones it is necessary to turn them over to see what is underneath. By turning these rocks back over and replacing them in more or less the same position from which they were moved will minimize our footprint. Otherwise organisms living on the underside will dry out and die and habitats for terrestrial animals will be destroyed. In the past, it was commonplace to remove organisms from their habitats and let them dry out as knick-knacks around the house. This has resulted in the depletion of many beautiful species from their local habitats. One of the most disturbing sites that I have seen recently are the huge piles of pink mouth murexes and other exotic shells found in front of gift shops near Ensenada. More joy can be gained by observing animals and plants in their natural surroundings, without removing them or destroying their homes. Moreover, by respecting the environment in which we live and keeping our backyards ship-shape, there is a good chance these environments will be there for the enjoyment of others and for future generations.
As a footnote, we travel to Bonaire every summer for scuba diving and to visit friends. Bonaire is a desert island and is part of the Netherlands and is located in the southern Caribbean just 50 miles of the coast of Venezuela. Bonaire like our neck of the woods has an extensive international retirement community and much tourism (around one million per year). In addition they produce much of the world’s salt. The big difference between them and us are their environmental policies. Bonaire is the “poster child” for environmental awareness and protection”. For example, their coral reefs are fully protected by law, seventy percent of their energy is from solar and wind, and all of their water (residential and industrial) is desalinated. Yet this island is able to supports its local and tourist populations with minimal environmental disturbance. I am hopeful our environmental future will be as bright!