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Gary Graham – ROAD TREKKER

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Thursday, December 13, 2018
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Tuesday, January 15, 2019
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Baja Reef Conservation Catches On in 2018
In 1972, successful U.S. businessman Mike McGettigan bought the 52-foot Cheoy Lee sailboat Vagabundo in San Carlos, Baja California Sur. He traveled, dived and fished in the Sea of Cortez for a year. And, he watched as the reefs and reef fisheries declined at an alarming rate. Fishermen using compressed air ravaged them in the 1970s and ’80s, spurring him to found SeaWatch, committed to exposing the destruction and often illegal fishing practices.

In 2007, Sea Watch’s attorney Maria Ugarte Luiselli, petitioned and received a change in the federal law prohibiting fish extraction by using compressed air, adding that it is also “illegal to use hookah equipment for spear fishing and it is illegal to place nets on rocky reefs, or anywhere there is a coral reef as well.”

IN RESPONSE TO the tourist closure at Los Islotes Island (a popular destination for snorkelers and divers within Espiritu Santo's protected area), ROC collaborated with CONANP (the Mexican Park Service) to set-up a temporary base camp.

Regardless, in June 2009, illegal netting and nighttime spearfishing using hookah equipment was still rampant.

This decimation was halted temporarily in 2009-2010 as a result of Red de Observatorio Ciudadano (“ROC”), the first citizen-driven vigilance group formed explicitly to prevent illegal fishing in the Bay of La Paz.

During its first year, ROC prevented the killing of more than 500 tons of reef fish in the Bay of La Paz and the number of illegal boats was reduced from 29 to 4.

However, in 2011, unlawful fishermen persuaded CONAPESCA to delay and stop the prosecution of illegal fishing, and not patrol the area.

Recognizing the success of ROC’s efforts, new formal agreements were negotiated with CONANP (the Mexican National Park Service), CONAPESCA (fisheries) and PROFEPA (the legal arm of the Mexican National Park Service) that included placing government authorities on ROC patrol boats.

This was brought about with the support of the CONAPESCA inspectors who worked diligently with the ROC Vigilance Team to prevent illegal fishing in the Bay of La Paz and at Archipelago Espiritu Santo.

ROC's citizen-driven ROC vigilance, in collaboration with State and Federal authorities, produced outstanding results.

In 2017, ROC patrol boats worked with CONAPESCA (the federal fisheries authority) leading to the confiscation of 13 illegal pistolero boats (carrying divers spearing parrot fish at night while using illegal hookah equipment).

In 2018, ROC acquired a patrol boat and a new 175 HP motor donated by McGettigan making it possible to chase down illegal fishermen and increasing ROC's surveillance in the Bay of La Paz. The new ROC patrol boat is larger, allowing it to carry ROC's captain and staff, along with the federal fisheries’ authorities and navy personnel.

Since April, 2018, not one boat has been caught illegally fishing at Espiritu Santo National Park , and fish populations have dramatically increased, especially the heavily targeted parrotfish.

The ROC patrol boats are operated by ex-pistoleros (illegal fishermen) who are used to running boats at night without lights, providing around-the-clock vigilence, and know where the illegal boats fish. The volunteers and inspectors traveled more than 14,000 miles and spent in excess of 3,000 hours on the Bay of La Paz; since April 2018, no illegal fishing has been discovered. By comparison, in 2017, 13 illegal boats were confiscated.

In response to the tourist closure at Los Islotes Island (a popular destination for snorkelers and divers within Espiritu Santo's protected area), ROC collaborated with CONANP (the Mexican Park Service) to set up a temporary base camp on the island.

For 75 days, staff from ROC and CONANP patrolled the protected area night and day, contacting an average of 55 boats a day and more than 26,000 tourists, sharing information about the new regulations and the reasons for the closure.

In November, 2018, Espiritu Santo National Park was named one of the best managed protected areas in the world by the ICUN – International Union for Conservation of Nature – the first ever in Mexico and only the second in Latin America.

Moneys contributed to SeaWatch funded the two programs instrumental in achieving both world-wide recognition for environmental protection in Espiritu Santo National Park, La Paz, and fisheries recovery that has occurred there the last two years.

In 2018, ROC, a citizen-driven vigilance program initiated by and partially funded by SeaWatch and run by Lic. Maria Ugarte, the past director of SeaWatch, also received two awards in November: recognition by the Mexican government as one of the most important environmental organizations for nature conservation in marine protected areas and as a model non-profit conservation organization by the Mexican Senate.

Recently, Sea Watch started a collaboration with the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), which this year requested the Mexican government include ten species of parrotfish in the national registry of protected species, under Official Mexican Law 059, which is currently being updated. All of the species included in this first draft live in the Caribbean.

In 2019, they will work with AIDA and the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California Sur to meet all the requirements needed by the government to include the species of parrotfish that live in the waters of Archipelago Espíritu Santo and the Gulf of California under this law. The requirements include scientific data, and public engagement.

The university will gather scientific data of the parrotfish species in the sea of Cortez; AIDA will focus their efforts in the legal strategy; and the Espiritu Santo es parte de ti team will keep working to engage the community in this issue through our campaign.

McGettigan wrote, “Thank you for your support in the past. We hope our successes in 2018 will merit your continued support in 2019. Your donations to SeaWatch go directly to support the Espiritu Santo es parte de ti campaign and the successful vigilance efforts of Red de Observadores Ciudadanos (ROC. -Mike McGettigan, Sea Watch

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