Monday, March 26, 2012

Baja Travels With Carl Safina and John Steinbeck

Mexican Green Turtle (Photo by Eddie Kisfaludy)
I’ve been enjoying this month two fine accounts of voyages of discovery along the Baja Mexico coasts.

Over the last week, Carl Safina’s been posting reports from Laguna San Ignacio and Punta Abreojos on the Pacific side of the peninsula while filming for his TV series Saving the Ocean.

Grey whales, of course, but also some observations about how whale watching is regulated. “A world Biosphere Reserve, the whale-watching is limited to core areas, with other areas off-limits. Sixteen boats, max, can use the whale-watching area at any one time, and only for an hour and a half. A guard, hired by the tour operators, “to keep it a nice experience,” says Jesus, polices the rules. The boat operators are skilled at letting the whales set their own perimeters. The boats don’t chase or hassle them here.”

At Punta Abreojos, Safina reports on a “60-year-old fishing cooperative so oriented to conservation and sustainable fishing—and to patrolling their area against outside pirate-fishing—that their catch has been certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.” The catches of the day are red rock lobster and kelp bass, and a visit to an abalone breeding program.

At Estero Coyote, Safina describes an estuary “filled with migratory and nesting herons, shorebirds such as curlews, godwits and others, Ospreys, and fish. And Coyotes (we saw 3 on the sand flats in about an hour). And—sea turtles.”

My other Baja travels this month has been with John Steinbeck and The Log from the Sea of Cortez, written in 1941 describing the collecting expedition undertaken with Ed Ricketts in March and April in the other side of Baja, the Gulf of California. The account is a spirited mix of marine science, sociology, sailing, philosophy and religion written in a simpler time but a time on the brink of a second great war.

On March 31, Steinbeck wrote: “Our own interest lay in relationships of animal to animal. [A]ll life is relational to the point where...the feeling about species grows misty. One merges into another...until the time when what we know as life meets and enters what we think of as non-life: barnacle and rock, rock and earth, earth and tree, tree and rain and air.... It is a strange thing that most of the feeling we call religious...is really the understanding and the attempt to say that man is related to the whole thing, related inextricably to all reality, known and unknowable... plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time. It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.”

-- Mike Sato

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