We seem to have survived quite unscathed from this year’s hurricane season. Only “Odile” caused some damage at the farm: thankfully we were just “kissed” with a bit of rain but we did experience some strong winds that brought us some good height waves (reports of up to 6 meters/19 feet in our area). The damage to the farm was minimal, but the waves battered down and collapsed the main access to our work area (the “palapa”) and we are not going to be able to offer any guided pearl farm tours until it is fully repaired, hoping we will be ready by the end of October.
On the opposite side of the Gulf of California: La Paz, Cabo San Lucas and other communities experienced significant damage to homes, hotels and shops, as well as on the roads, electrical infrastructure and drinking water supply. We send our sincere wishes of speedy recovery to our brothers and sisters in Lower California.
And here is where it all ends for most people: in the material and human damages. But I think that most people forget yet another innocent victim of these devastating forces: our Biodiversity.
This past October 16 – right after the passage of “Odile” in our area – I went for a walk at the beach just in front of Hotel Marinaterra’s “Beach Club” in nearby San Carlos; this little beach has a beautiful cove formerly known as “Shangri-La”. The cove has many rocky reefs, a sand-and-pebble rock beach and a beautiful island coveered with giant cactii. I have loved this place since the first time I visited it in 1988 and it always has had an interesting fauna and it is a good place to practice some snorkeling. It pained me to see it this way…
The first thing that one can appreciate are several large garbage heaps, mainly consisiting of PET (soft drink) plastic bottles and house-hold cleaning containers, all kinds of plastic bag products, footwear (including tennis, shoes and flip flops), car tires, pieces of PVC pipe, pieces of home appliances (TVs, radios, VCRs, etc.).. I even was lucky enough to find a couple of audio tapes! (years without seeing one), assorted garments and accessories (underwear, sunglasses, caps, etc.). And this without considering all the contaminating elements that we can not see, as they would be all kinds of chemicals such as oil derivatives and of cleaning products.
It is really sad to see this display and know that this happens partly because waves are able of destroying whatever they find in front of them, but mainly because rainwater drags all this garbage into the sea. Our sea and our beaches have become an unofficial “Trash Can”.
After watching the huge quantities of garbage I moved on to find some of the innocent victims of this natural phenomenon: Marine Life. Sadly I discovered dozens of different groups of animals, all of them dead. The most easily recognized ones are the fish; I saw moray eels, seahorses, stingrays, puffers, cardinalfish, snappers and croackers. Sad images, but there were even larger quantities of dead invertebrates.
These typical corals from the sea of Cortez are fished out to satisfy the tourist’s need for a souvenir (please don’t buy these corals, you will encourage their fishery…instead, find them on the beach). These invertegrates are few in numbers and take many years to grow. These primitive animals resemble the old-style “hand-fans” and that is the reason for their common name. That sad day I found hundreds of these corals on the beach, from at least 4 different species, but the most abundant species were: the “Purple coral” and “fire coral”, the latter is one of the most beautiful in our Gulf. And along with these corals I found yet another hapless victim: the “Rainbow Lipped pearl oyster”, which is the species that we grow in our pearl farm here in Guaymas.
Local fishermen know that this species of pearl oyster is commonly found attached on top of these corals, and that is the reason why they have given this species the name of “tree scallop”. Among the corals which I collected on the beach, I found some 15 small rainbow lipped oysters.
Thousands of mollusks died on this beach. I found dozens of different snail species such as Cone shells (Conus), turban snails (Turbo), Conchs (Strombus), and even several varieties of bivalves such as: mussels, clams, scallops and ark shells and black-lipped oysters. Their hard shells had been shattered against rocks when they were ripped from their habitats and then crashed and beaten against the reefs or rocks in the strong surge of waves. Some animals were still alive –but very weak- but most had their shells cracked and shattered. The animals that seemed to have a better survival rate were the Black lip pearl oysters, most of them only had a seemingly polished external shell. However, most seemed damaged beyond any salvation. I did not find a single Octopus, so I assume these critters are quite adept at escaping the wrath of the waves.
This is yet another group that suffered great losses… mainly among the starfishes and sea cucumbers. I did not find a single sea urchin, sand dollar nor sea biscuit, but this may only mean that the fragile shells of these organisms were “pulverized” in the violent waves. I collected dozens of starfishes of at least 3 different species on this beach, but the beach was covered by hundreds of these. The Sea cucumbers I found were from an uncommon variety, which is found buried in the sand.
Most people do not feel any love for marine worms: they are not “nice looking” and some are frankly aggressive and may cause pain. If this group of animals I saw at least 3 different species: several specimens of “fire worms“, a variety of “polychaete worm” that has thousands of cirrii or spines which can deliver an excruciatingly painful toxin to whomever dares touch them. However the most numerous group was that of the sipunculids (“peanut worms”), worms that are found buried in the sand. Some of the worms measured up to 40-50 cm/16-20” long.
Many people will not think much of these innocent victims, because they are not cuddly, don’t have big bright eyes or colorful feather or fluffy fur… but for me all these animals are valuable and “beautiful” in their own way; these creatures fulfill important roles in our ecosystems and make it possible for the perfect functioning of the Gulf of California. If we have any self-esteem, then there is a chance that we will also be able to harbor love for our sea and its creatures… we can demonstrate this love by making a real effort to avoid polluting our seas and beaches, so we do not have them become a “watery landfill”, and we can also do whatever is in our hands to protect these animals directly.
I was recently at a seminar and we had a couple of spectacular speakers there. Almost at the end of the event they told us a story – it could have been real or fictitious, but this is not important – which I would now like to share with you all:
After a stormy night, a man started walking along the beach the very next morning. As the Sun was coming out he discovered that the beach was litered with thousands of Starfish, which at that moment would begin to die from desiccation. He continued walking until he found a youngster who was busy picking up these invertebrates and returning them to the sea. There were thousands upon thousands of starfish, so this effort seemed futile.
The man approached the boy and told him: “Boy, don’t you see that what you are doing does not make any difference? They are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of thousands of starsfish. You will not be able to save them all!”
The child -with a starfish still in his hand – was thoughtful for a moment. He then threw the animal back into the sea and replied to the man: “Well, it may be true, but for those starfish I’ve put back in the sea I have made a huge difference”.
Even if your personal contribution is limited to not polluting and possibly even to telling others to stop polluting… you are doing a very good thing! And if for some reason you decide that you can even help to collect the existing trash then you are doing something even better and making a greater difference!
If you are thinking about extracting/fishing or buying shells or corals from fishermen, I invite you to avoid doing so and to wait to collect those you find on the beaches. Corals, snails and pearl oysters take many years to grow and may disappear from our ocean if we keep doing this, and this leaves us all in a colorless world, a world of less diversity and decreased beauty.
I invite you to be part of those who make the DIFFERENCE and not part of those living in INDIFFERENCE.
Until next time.