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Protect Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park
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The Cabo Pulmo Reef has eight fingers of hard coral reef, providing a safe haven for many of the 800 species of marine animals found throughout the Sea of Cortez. The rich biodiversity of the area is unparalleled and as a result was targeted by overzealous sport and commercial fisherman during the 80’s. Abusive over fishing and a tremendous decline in fish population caused great concern in the local community, who subsequently lobbied the government to protect the region. Moreover, a series of studies at UABCS were directed by lead biologist Oscar Arizpe to provide strong evidence supporting the biological relevance of Cabo Pulmo to the Sea of Cortez. And on June 15, 1995, President Zedillo Ponce de Leon declared the 7,111 hectares and waters surrounding Cabo Pulmo, a National Marine Park.

Although conservation efforts are headed in the right direction, federal enforcement and financial aid remains scarce and the quest to protect Cabo Pulmo National Park falls heavy on the shoulders of the local community, just 113 residents. But the people here are positive and last year La Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas or CONANP appointed the first official Park Director, Carlos Narro to direct conservation efforts in the park. Citizens, local and international conservation groups and the park director are working together to implement programs such as Park Enforcement, Reef Monitoring, Nest Monitoring for Sea Turtles and Beach Clean-ups.

To understand more about the reef, the threats and what is being done to protect the park, Baja Life Magazine interviewed marine biologist and former Cabo Pulmo resident, Hector Reyes Bonilla.


BL: What are the different types of Reefs?

HRB: In general there are three kinds: barrier, fringing and atoll. In western Mexico and the eastern Pacific in general most are fringing reefs, but one atoll exists (Clipperton)

BL: The Cabo Pulmo Reef is known as a hard coral reef, how is this different from a typical coral reef?

HRB: Other than the one I mentioned before, there are generally no accepted nomenclature for coral reefs. For many people Pulmo is not a true reef as corals barely modify the bottom topography (a characteristic of all "true reefs" in the Caribbean and Indo Pacific). We believe that Pulmo functions as a reef in that the fish and invertebrate assemblages depends greatly on the physical structure and energy provided by the corals.

BL: What are the greatest threats to the Reef?

HRB: Fishing was the main problem until 1995 when the area was declared a marine park. Today we fear that large-scale tourist complexes (a la Cabo San Lucas) would cause irreversible damages, especially because of the input of nutrients and excess use of the area.

BL: What is the state of the Reef now compared to 10 years ago when it was first declared a National Marine Park?

HRB: Much better now. Fish communities (species richness and abundance, size of organisms) are among the best in the entire Gulf of California.

BL: What direction do you see development taking in Cabo Pulmo and how will that affect the health of the Reef?

HRB: Some representatives of the state government and many developers want to continue the Corredor del Cabo del Este from San Lucas to Cabo Pulmo and even further to the north, in order to continue their large-scale tourism policy. Cabo Pulmo locals are opposed to this and want a more relaxed approach using small bungalows and limited number of rooms in the bay. As the latter own most of the land, possibly they will be able to at least diminish the potential damages.

BL: Should there be restrictions and guidelines put in place for developers to help protect the Marine Park and the Reef?

HRB: There are restrictions already included in the Management Plan. Basically it considers limitations on the size of hotels or bungalows, total number of rooms and tourists at one time, and other regulations involving water use and treatment.

BL: What is a Management Plan and how does it work?

HRB: In Mexico, a management plan is the main tool that determines the kind of uses that are acceptable in protected areas. It is important to mention here that law in Mexico forbids no-take zones; all protected areas should be able to produce some kind of economic benefit to their residents. However, in the core zones ("zonas nucleo") of the parks extractive activities are prohibited.

BL: How does silting, sewage and human waste affect the Reef?
HRB: Silting is natural during summer as arroyos discharge a lot of sediment from the Sierra de la laguna. However, it is a normal situation and causes no concern. Sewage and human waste are very well controlled in the town, although in camping areas (south of the bay) it can represent a problem on particular dates when visitors arrive in flocks (semana santa, summer vacations).

BL: What methods do scientists use to determine the health of the Reef? What is a Reef Monitoring Program? Is there one in place and if so, how does it work and who is leading it?

HRB: The health of a reef is a very difficult thing to establish. In general it is considered that a healthy reef has many fish and invertebrate species, high coral cover, low algal cover, and no apparent diseases or other kind of perturbations. Most monitoring programs thus measure these traits in the field and compare results from time to time. The analyses provide evidence of the state of the reef that can be used by managers to do their job and make any decision is needed. Pulmo has no official monitoring program, however, UABCS (our laboratory) has been making census of fish, corals, gorgonians and echinoderms since 1987, and with more intensity after 1997, when the ENSO caused a severe coral mortality.

Héctor Reyes Bonilla, studied Marine Biology (UABCS, 1990), has a M.Sc. degree in Marine Ecology (CICESE, 1993) and a Ph.D. in Marine Biology and Fisheries (University of Miami, 2003). He has done research in coral reef communities in the Pacific coast of México since 1993, and particularly at Cabo Pulmo reef, area from where he has obtained data for seven of his 54 peer-reviewed papers. He leads the Reef Research Group of the Mexican Long-Term Ecological Research Network (MEX-LTER), and his main interests are macroecology of reef associated fauna (especially related to distribution and functional diversity of corals, echinoderms and fishes) and the effects of large-scale perturbations (especially El Niño) on community structure.

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