Archive for the 'How Hurricanes affect our Pearl Farm' Category
And here we are again, bracing for impact but hoping for the best: that Hurricane “Paul” (which is striking the Baja California peninsula as we speak) will keep to its trajectory and will avoid us completely, but it has happened before that some hurricanes simply jump over Baja’s Vizcaíno mountainous range and land square face on us. On the image below (courtesy of The Weather Channel) you can see Hurricane “Paul” is already causing damage on Baja, but the projected trajectory states it will move away from Baja and dissipate as it hits the cold California current.
Anyway, we have to prepare for the worst –as always- and we are removing our farm’s flotation and everything off our land facilities yet again (we had done this twice already in the month of September), so there is this little problem with our Pearl Farm Tours: it won’t be the full experience that we always want it to have, since we will have everything “packed up”. Once more we apologize to our visitors for this inconvenience.
Gilberto A.C.: Helping Others
And speaking of “packing up”, we have to tell you all about our up and coming trip to Mexico City for the week of October 22nd to the 27th, and this of course means we will not have any “pearl farm” tours available during this week. We expect to resume our normal Pearl Farm Tour schedule on October 29th, as soon as we are back from our trip.
If you have read our Blog before you probably know that we sometimes leave the farm to head off to certain events such as Gems Shows & the Pearl Ruckus, but this time we have been invited over to a special event known as “Bazar Gilberto Navideño”. The organizers of “Asociación Gilberto A.C” have been promoting this special Christmas Bazaar since 1993 in a constant effort to raise money to help out the communities that have suffered from the disastrous effects of hurricanes; actually the name “Gilberto” derives from the first time when this association started to help when hurricane “Gilbert” struck many Mexican States in September of 1988, with a destructive force yet to be equaled (at least in this country).
So, once this organization finished helping out there was yet another hurricane the next year, then unusual floods, and ever since we’ve had one natural disaster after another and this organization kept its internal structure and objectives, but with a continuous effort to help those in need. This Xmas Bazaar is a means to raise funds and all exhibitors will be there with the same frame of mind: Helping those in Need. Here you can see some photos and read a bit (in Spanish, but you can easily translate with Google/Bing) about last year’s event.
I also have a video to share: made
by Gilberto A.C. of the Veracruz branch, where we can see how they are helping the poorest communities with housing projects and installing much needed services in order to improve the lives of thousands. It is in Spanish language, but an image is worth a thousand words and not much more is needed to appreciate their work.
So, we feel honored to have been invited by Gilberto A.C. and we hope this event will be as successful as it has been in its 20 year history.
Wish us good luck and we’ll see you soon at the pearl farm in the Sea of Cortez…
And here we are again, trying to explain to the unique feelings we get during the month of September…once again, these being the unique perspective of a Pearl farmer. So, last time I was telling you about how the intense waves caused by a hurricane or tropical storm may destroy our farm (just the way it happened back in 2003) and how we have found a way to avoid this problem; let us continue with this story then.
The easiest strategy to follow is to increase the anchoring on the farm. Each long-line is anchored to the bottom by its ends, so this is so very obvious. Yet, it is not easy. Why? Because we use the anchoring system that is possible for us to us…technically speaking. You see, we live in an area that is basically devoid of certain services that would make our lives easier, so we don’t have specialized companies that have the boats needed to carry the larger and heavier dead weights we would need. If our boats even tried carrying that load they would simply sink!
Since this option is not available we have to find another solution, and the one we found is a temporary one: to reduce flotation (buoys) during the month of September. With this incredibly simple solution we are able of keeping our lines in place, and only if we had a very strong hurricane in our area we would remove ALL flotation and allow the farm to sink. Then it is a Race agaist Time…for our pearl oysters and for us, the farmers.
Why a race? Well, you have to see things as they are underwater…imagine the bottom of our bay: mainly covered with sand, with some areas that have rocks and shells in what seems to resemble some little islands or atolls in a “sea of sand”. This area has quite a good amount of pearl oyster predators, such as: the Octopus, the trigger-fish, starfishes and a whole bunch of carnivorous snails. In the case of the bottom-dwellers (all those predators that cannot swim) just picture them staring up to our protective cages that harbor hundreds of oysters each…as if this was just one immense buffet up in the sky.
So, the moment all flotation is removed the weight of the oysters in the cages makes the line collapse to the bottom. Again, I imagine all these little predators crying out with pleasure :”Manna from Heaven!”…and this is when the race begins. Starting this moment the cages will begin to be covered up with predators and they will begin to eat the oysters. Of course! We forgot about the protective mesh of the cages, the predators will never catch the oysters! If only this were true…
Most of these predators have some very efficient adaptations that allow them to by-pass the cage’s protections; snails usually have a long proboscis and starfish even have the ability to project their digestive system out of their bodies (if interested, just look at this video, at around minute 1:49 you’ll see the action). So, at this point imagine that our fearsome predators basically take out their straws, they sink these inside the oysters and they just “drink down” a nice protein shake. Just what the Doctor ordered! As you can see, the cages are an excellent protection from fishes, but not from snails nor starfish.
Raising the Farm Up again!
Of course, the best thing to do is just raise up the farm to its normal operation depth. It’s just a matter of diving down to the sunken lines (at a depth between 7 to 10 meters) and start re-attaching the floats. But this is easier said than done. Have you ever tried to sink down a float? It’s really hard and depending on the float’s size it is impossible. So, this is not an option…let’s try something else, but first get your crew ready for work because it is going to be a long day just trying to replace hundreds of floats on all our long-lines. And just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, guess what happens? Your crew, your workers…they don’t show up for work. Why?!?!? Don’t they care for their little oysters?!?!? Well, a terrible hurricane has just struck the area, that means that the city is flooded, roads destroyed, no electricity, no buses…the workers might even have to help their neighbors and friends and relatives since their houses might have become flooded or maybe they are staying over at a disaster shelter. It might take them days to finally come back to work. And during this time…the predators become even more plentiful than before, they can smell death and they –slowly, but surely- reach their destination…
Also, the boats have to be lowered back to the farm’s dock. They have been taken out of the water and into dry land to help them survive the cathastrophe, but without our workers there is not much we can do. The waters are murky and muddied after a storm, so visibility is null: you cannot even see your hand if you extend it in front of your hand. And thus you now understand why prayer is such a great comfort and such a viable option. It is much better to be spared of the wrath of the hurricane than being prepared for one.
In the case of the farm’s undeniable touristic attraction this month is also bad. During this month we give most of our workers a lengthy vacation (paid, of course!) and the skeleton team is left repairing nets and our land based facilities only: the oysters are left in the ocean for the duration of this month and they are neither cleaned nor handled; so when visitors arrive to the farm they just don’t get to see much action. We apologize for this inconvenience, but this is the best thing to do for our Rainbow Lipped oysters: they deserve a vacation as well.
What do I love of this month? Well, besides the food there is this other thing: THE ARRIVAL OF NEW JEWELRY. It is an exciting time to see the new jewelry from our designers! And this year we have some exciting items to share with you, such as:
- The “Opuntia” Pendant by Carlos Cabral: a unique piece of jewelry that clearly cries out “Mexican Gems”!!! This is a hand-forged item made with pure 0.950 Mexican Silver and set with all-Mexican gemstones: it has a big & colorful Blister Mabe Pearl and 3 Cortez Keshi pearls, but it also features a beautiful piece of Amber from the State of Chiapas and a Mexican Fire Opal from Querétaro. The shape of the pendant remembers us of the shape of the prickly pear cactus, and hence the name of Opuntia, which is the scientific name (genus) of this variety of desert plant.
- Our latest Cortez Keshi Pearl Necklace: this very special pearl necklace was made using the best keshi pearls from this year’s pearl harvest. The necklace has 85 keshi pearls starting in size at about 3.8 mm and the larger ones measure up to 6.5×9.0 mm, the necklace has a very baroque Cortez Pearl as well, uniquely colored, that measures 9.1 mm, so the whole array measures 17.5 inches in lenght.
- The New Designs made by Alejandra will be here soon! Just had a glimpse of the new earrings with keshi pearls and they are truly one of a kind!
Anyway, once you get to see this in perspective I do hope you will understand why we have all these “mixed feelings” during the month of September. Shana Tova and see you next time!
For us down here in Mexico the month of September represents many things:
For a Pearl Farmer, September also means a time for Healing and Fearfulness. This is the time when we repair our land-based facilities and use our time to mend and repair our nets, cages, aquculture lines and boats. Starting the month of October all the way down to June we have so much work with our Rainbow Lip Oysters that we do not have the time to taka care of any of these repairs. This is our time for Healing.
And what about Fear? This is the month when we get most of our tropical storms & hurricanes. If you have read some of our previous posts on Hurricane Damage on our farm and related facilities you will understand our anxiety over these powerful acts of Nature.
As always, the best option is to have seconds on the “Chiles en Nogada” and some would say this is not optional. In the case of the pearl farm we only have a couple of options:
There is a good reason to do both things, but I will specifically refer to the second option on this ocassion.
Fixing the Closet
One of the things that happen when we have a tropical storm in the area is that we have very strong winds and these will turn the surface of the bay into a great choppy mess. The waves become big (those that have visited may recall that -during summer- Bacochibampo bay is a beautiful mirror-like bay) and may have a powerful damaging effect on everything found on it, such as: flinging yachts unto the main road in San Carlos (something that happened in 2003 with hurricane “Marty”), “eating up” whatever land based facilities you have (such as a docking area) and destroying a pearl farm. How exactly can these large waves destroy a farm?
In case you don’t know how our pearl farm works, it is basically known as a “suspended culture long-line system” in the textbooks. If you are not an aquaculture expert you can refer to it as what I call “a marine closet” (with no skeletons inside): imagine you are in front of a typical closet and you have a metal-rod from which clothes are hanged (with the help of a wire hanger of course). Now: a “long-line” consists of a horizontal rope (ours are 50 meters/164 feet long) that is kept close to the surface by means of floats/buoys, and from this line of rope we “hang” our oyster cages. So, in essence these two seemingly different things work in almost the same way…but our closet is in the ocean and it would drift away unless we anchor the line, so each line is anchored to the bottom. The following diagram might clarify this a bit.
The nice thing about this kind of aquaculture system is that it is cheaper than other systems and you can use a small boat to easily gain access to your valuable “clothes” (the culture cages) just by plucking your arm into the water, grabing hold of the cage’s line we can easily drag it out of the water and then release the rope from the long-line and you’re off. A good system, barely offering any water resistance nor drag. Great to work with in winter time too, since water temperature may drop to some 15 degrees Celsius (59 Fahrenheit) and you don’t feel like getting inside the water when it is this cold!
Anyway, this great system works very well under most conditions, but hurricanes are an exception because the long-lines are tailored to a certain water depth by means of the lines that are anchored to the bottom. When the waves come in in great numbers –one after another one- and their height exceeds the operating depth what happens is that the floats will keep the main line near the surface and they basically drag the anchoring system off the bottom and the farm –as silly as it may sound- starts “jumping” like an inchworm, slowly, to where the wind & waves command it to go.
In the year 2003, hurricane “Marty” destroyed most of our farm because the lines were carried away, became entangled and many ended up in the beach…were our oysters suffocated. We had never experienced such an effect before and we have never seen it happen again because we now understand how to avoid this enemy.
There are solutions to this problem of course, some are easier to implement and others are more expensive. We managed to find a solution that is easily implemented and cheap. But let us talk of these solutions on the next episode…shall we?
Returning to the subject of hurricanes and tropical storms … a subject that causes our skin to start prickling . For years we have suffered from the ravages of hurricanes, which mostly visit in the shape of tropical storms here in Guaymas. But for some unknown reason, at least for us, some of the most devastating hurricanes have been those that have hit other regions, far from Guaymas, such as 2005′s Hurricane “Wilma” in the Mexican Caribbean (which destroyed our sales store in Cozumel.)
This time we go back to 2001 when a hurricane called “Juliette” struck the coast of Baja California Sur, Sonora and Sinaloa, causing heavy rainfall and leaving behind a trail of death and destruction: perhaps Cabo San Lucas was one of the most affected sites in northwest Mexico (since the hurricane formed off the coast of Central America and also hit the coasts of Oaxaca and Michoacan). Precipitation on top of Cabo was of 449.6 mm, since the hurricane lost strength just above this small town and it remained “parked” on top for several days.
Barely a week after the celebration of traditional festivals of Independence, on September 25th to be precise, this typhoon was dangerously close to the coast of Baja California Sur. In Guaymas, Sonora, felt the effects of “Juliette” with the presence of heavy rains, but … how did our Pearl Farm become affected? In those days we had a Jewelry-Boutique that sold our “Sea of Cortez Pearls” (jewelry and unset pearls) smack in the middle of Cabo San Lucas. This was our first foray into the retail sale of pearls and jewelry in a “foreign” setting, and after having tasted success in our first location within Tec de Monterrey-Campus Guaymas.
Pearls of the Sea of Cortez – Cabo San Lucas
Our store was opened in January 2000, with the local manager of our friend, Mr. Rodolfo Brajcich, and with the presence of Dr. Alberto Bustani Adem, Rector of the Tec de Monterrey, Dr. Guillermo Soberon Chavez then Director of the Guaymas Campus, and Mr. Farell Sergio Campos, leader of our team.
Among the many visitors to our jewelry store, we had a good friend and his team of students: Dr. Carlos Rangel Davalos (co-authored the technical book of pearl oyster aquaculture). Among this group of students was Hugo Ruiz Rubio (another good friend of La Paz, BCS) … who visited with their first batch of experimental Mabe Pearls, produced for the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur (UABCS).
There were great expectations for this store site, due to the presence of cruise ships in the area, but unfortunately this commercial experiment came to an end with Hurricane “Juliette” and the responsability to close this store fell to the new manager, Miss Monica Ocon … and here we closed yet another historical chapter.
And now many will be able to understand our reluctance to open a new branch/store outside of Guaymas, Sonora … we have already done this twice and the stores have had to close for the same reason: Hurricanes …
Until next time!
And we keep going back in time, delving into our memory to bring you the emotional experiences of being “real pearl farmers”: and by this I mean that we are entirely detached from the “glam” associated with this beautiful pearl we produce. Once more then, we begin this chapter by reviewing another hurricane that carved itself unto our memory and souls: “Hurricane Marty” – the deadliest hurricane of 2003 (death toll: 12 people).
On September 2003, a tropical storm named “Marty” was born in front of Mexico’s Pacific coast (near Jalisco) and as it feed off the warmer waters it began growing until we had a Scale 2 hurricane near the Cabo area in the Baja’s tip. This is certainly not a “terrible” scale for a hurricane, but in this case it was more a matter of technique over size…it was more than capable of causing serious destruction in 4 Mexican States (Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora & Sinaloa), some 12 deaths and the destruction of 80% of our pearl farm’s rainbow-lipped oysters. This hurricane is a dividing moment for Mexican Pearl Farming.
On this occasion, the hurricane’s effects were supposed to arrive in a deteriorated state to our locality (Guaymas): the hurricane touched land on the Cabo region, then visited La Paz and became -once more- a mere “tropical storm” when it entered the Gulf of California and began snaking its way upwards into the Colorado River’s mouth. The hurricane’s short lived time frame (September 21-26) gave it time enough to cause havoc in many small cities and towns like Los Mochis, Navojoa, Guaymas, La Paz, Mulegé, Loreto and San Felipe. Somehow the storm’s path inside the Sea of Cortez created a “channel of destruction”: encased between the “Sierra de la Giganta” on the left and the coastline of Sonora to the right. Thus, the rainfall, winds and waves became amplified throughout the area.
Bacochibampo Bay has been -traditionally- safe haven from the negative effects of storms and hurricanes. The reason for it is the way its “mouth” opens to the greater Bay or “Ensenada de San Francisco”: slightly northward, with a curve to the left. This is great help because most storms approach the area from the south, and a good assortment of hills surround the bay as well, thus offering ample protection. But this was not enough for this tricky hurricane because it snaked upwards and was -eventually- north of our position and its effects radiated downwards and then we experienced its effects in full force: tremendous winds, downpour and waves of up to 10 meters…
Under this punishment, our farm became entangled, torn from all sides, our culture cages flung over and our oysters dispersed to the bottom. The dock -with our beautiful palapa built in 1996- was leveled: the damage we saw seemed more like an attack with missiles. The school’s boat could be seen lying on the bottom, our pearl lab was greatly damaged and our boats (taken to higher ground) suffered damages due to the big rocks (60 kilos or more) that were flung as if just tiny peanuts. It was a disaster…
Rescue labor was difficult because our land based facilities were destroyed, we had nowhere to place our oysters and nets, our boats had been damaged and water visibility was really bad. I have to mention here that my friends Enrique and Manuel, as well as our “Yaqui” workers gave a grand effort and endured more diving hours than those deemed “safe” in order to salvage as many oysters as possible. It was a race against time, but the snails won out in the end…80% of our oysters died.
But such is Life: out of a tragedy something good will arise (is this like a “blood sacrifice”???). This event made it possible for us to become independent from Tec de Monterrey (an event that materialized in May, 2004) and to finally become “owners” of our Pearl Farm. And just like a Phoenix arises from its ashes…the Sea of Cortez Pearl farm has recovered.
Oh boy! There are indeed some tough memories associated with certain hurricanes. These memories are like scar tissue on your heart and cause a certain sadness…fortunately this grief does not arise from the loss of a loved one nor does it stem from a mere economic loss. This grief would be more easily associated with that of the loss of a “dream”: you place your hopes and efforts on an ambitious project and then… everything is just wiped from the face of the Earth!
So, on this occasion let us go back in Time to 2005, when we met the fearsome hurricane called “Wilma”. Now, if you are attentive you will notice this “Wilma” and the year 2005 can only mean a hurricane that struck the Atlantic region…but we are in the Pacific side…so, what’s wrong with this picture???
We have first to go back in time to 2004, when we had just purchased the pearl farm from the original owner: Tec de Monterrey. At this moment we believed we could have much better sales if we only had an excellent spot, with lots of customers searching for a special product, and the island of Cozumel is a Cruise ship hub, with thousands of visitors each week: just the spot we were looking for.
So, with our Cozumel business partners we proceeded to establish a small store right on the “malecón” area and made plans to establish a larger store that would be next to the ocean and begin the necessary research to establish a new pearl farm with the Caribbean’s native pearl oysters (Pinctada imbricata and Pteria colymbus). Finally, the store opened next to a couple of fine restaurants and the local dolphinarium. Our small experimental pearl farm was deployed and spat collecting experiments begun. It was May 2005. Our store’s personnel had been prepared and trained, the store was great: lots of natural light, the beautiful Caribbean Sea could be seen from our windows… the future seemed bright! But…it was really short-lived.
When hurricane “Wilma” decided to visit the island of Cozumel it did so at full force: a level 4 hurricane. So, on October 21st, the powerful winds, the rainfall and tremendous waves crashed upon the tiny island and left it in shambles. It would be very stupid of me to say WE were the only ones that suffered losses… everyone did. The town was destroyed, tourists were gone and even the beautiful coral reefs were battered. It was a very sad event. Needless to say, our brand-new store (just in operation for a mere 6 months) was TOTALLY DESTROYED…only one wall left standing. Everything in it was washed away by the fury of the ocean: furniture, pearl jewelry and pearls…
So, like I said in a previous post… we had more than one store, and we even had another store before the one that was wiped out…but this is the subject of yet another post.
We have been asked several times? Why don’t you open a store in Cancún/Cozumel/Playa del Carmen??? The answer is “We did, but we are not going to try again…at least in this Life”.
On this unfortunate occasion we find that hurricanes are more of a threat than a blessing. I will begin with my account of the damages caused by previous hurricanes on our pearl farm and jewelry stores… jewelry stores??? But you guys only have the one store in Guaymas, don’t you??? Well, yes…but it was not always the same.
Let us begin…
Hurricane “Jimena” – 2009
This incredibly destructive hurricane had devastating effects on the coasts of Baja California and Sonora…but its destructive efforts were most effective on the cities of Guaymas and Empalme (with some 220,000 inhabitants in total). The usual effects of a hurricane were not really seen in the area (strong winds over 150 Kph, tidal waves of 10 meters in height, etc.) but instead we had a tremendous rainfall, lasting some 36 continuous hours and exceeding 711 mm of water (some 28 inches). This amount might not be a great deal in certain places, but in the Sonoran desert (with an average rainfall of 210 mm or 8.26 inches) this was a deluge! This was basically the first time we saw actual waterfalls and new arroyos (temporary rivers) on our hills and desert patches…but the water came to our towns like a locomotive and wiped out our hydraulic infrastructure, our roads and streets, dozens of houses just fell down and hundreds more were flooded. Thousands lost all their personal belongings, half a dozen people lost their lives…
Driving around the cities of Guaymas and Empalme, watching the destruction of bridges, people going on without any tap water for weeks, and the lines of people waiting for help from the government you would have to imagine that the pearl farm had been destroyed as well. But no, our Pearl Farm survived and we had minimal damage there. We had worse problems with our main office and pearl store: aside from some leaks in our roof, the main problem we had were the 7 days without electricity.
But we did notice some interesting damage on the environment: the water in Bacochibampo Bay turned extremely cloudy (visibility of less than 30 cm, just inches from your face) and the bottom of the ocean changed from a normal gravel-sandy (very marine) bottom to a truly red-mud bottom. The coastal outline changed and some beach spots were left without any sand, but then again some rocky areas became small sandy beaches. Obviously, we had some chemistry change in our bay’s seawater.
Some years ago, around 2002, the Chinese pearl farms in the region of Hainan suffered massive pearl oyster mortalities (Akoya Oysters=Pinctada imbricata) due to the floods that occurred when a typhoon affected the area with intense rainfall. The water’s salinity and turbidity levels affected them because:
- the Chinese pearl farms were located near the mouth of the river and
- in a very shallow area (depth of less than 2 meters).
Because the area was so shallow, the salinity levels in the bay decreased below the Akoya oyster’s tolerance level: pearl oysters are typically marine organisms, unlike edible oysters that are more estuarine and can even thrive under less salty waters. Bacochibampo bay is far less shallow (average 8 meters), we do not have a river discharging into it and it has a very wide, open, mouth that protects this local environment from a fast and sudden change of salinity.
On this occasion…we were spared. But we have not been so fortunate in the past.
This week I would like to share some of our experiences with hurricanes. I know that most people that live on the coastlines of the Atlantic and Pacific rim have experienced the destructive force of a hurricane or typhoon. Who can forget 2005′s “Katrina” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Katrina) or “Wilma” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Wilma)??? Their destructive force became legendary…
But in most instances the media usually focuses on Human losses, acts of heroism or savagery, economic distress, etc. On this occasion we will only talk about the effect of hurricanes on pearls, and by this I mean the pearl oysters, pearl farms and farmers and even “Pearl Shops” (or stores). Since our experience with pearl farming dates only as far as 1991, we have been able to experience several hurricanes over the years, each one uniquely different in its effects. We also have records of similar events taking place at other places and times. Let us begin with one such account:
Pearly Joy in Guaymas
According to the late Don Manuel “el Tío” Ferreira of Guaymas, Sonora, hurricanes and tropical storms in the area caused some “pearly joy” in the 1960-1970′s because the severe tidal action would dislodge great numbers of pearl oysters from their attachment points (rocks, shells, corals, even from other oysters) and have them lay on the beach. Thus people would walk the beach of Miramar to easily obtain natural pearls. In his years of gathering natural pearls in this manner, Mr. Ferreira said he was able to fill up a large glass jar with natural pearls. Of these, only two -he said- were larger than a bean and very beautiful. Unfortunately I was never able to see more than a cup of pearls because he had given many away over the years.
I was able of experiencing this phenomena just a couple of years ago (2007) just after the arrival of hurricane “Henriette” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_Pacific_hurricane_season#Hurricane_Henriette). I walked the shores of the place once known as “Shangri-La” (now there is a “Beach Club” there, owned by Hotel “Marinaterra”) and found hundreds of clams, mussels and pearl oysters -most still alive- just lying on this small beach.
One can only imagine that -for Centuries- the native inhabitants of the Sea of Cortez (and probably in other areas of the world) could have enjoyed similar benefits after such storms. There is such a thing as a Free Pearl and Lunch (if you eat the pearl oyster)