Cabo Pulmo: The Reef and the Jacks

The People (Past and Present)
What make Cabo Pulmo a success story is its people: when faced with the dilemma to either continue fishing or to turn towards conservative goals, the community decided they needed to change.
Led by the Castro family, Cabo Pulmo became a national park--and a successful one at that: the community collectively put their fishing gear down, able to build an alternative livelihood. The proposal itself was revolutionary--even by today’s standards--and the economic sacrifice was monumental. Not many communities can see past that self-deprivation, especially without the guarantee of a brighter future. But Cabo Pulmo did.
The locals have also bonded with outsiders: researchers and politicians to collaborate on the success of the park. Organizations such as Gulf of California Marine Program (GOCMP) and Autonomous University of Baja California Sur deliver education to the community, conduct research on the surrounding ecosystems, and communicate their findings to stakeholders. The community lobbied to establish Cabo Pulmo as a national park and fended off coastal development: it is clear that the people of Cabo Pulmo’s desire for sustainability and conservation spawned a thriving ecosystem and economy, instilling a deeply rooted sense of pride and responsibility for the marine world in the community.


The Resource 
In the 70's, large sharks were regularly caught as part of the sport and small-scale fishing industry. However, this practice failed to be sustainable, both environmentally and economically. Sharks and marlins disappeared, and large reef fish, such as groupers, followed their decline. Without the charm of large reef species, tourism stuttered and the economic returns of fishing declined. In short, the reef fell sick and the local economy faltered. However, with the national park designation in play and desperate for an alternative economy, Cabo Pulmo turned to tourism, using the very habitat they had depleted. With a strict no-fishing policy and 10 years time, the amount of fish increased by more than 400%, top predators like sharks increased by 1000%, and tourists came flooding in. Today, tornados of spawning big-eyed jacks and Gulf groupers regularly visit the park.
The Future 
Cabo Pulmo is the model rags-to-riches story- just-the marine habitat version. By contributing objective research, GOCMP plays a role in future of this real-life fairy tale. The next steps for Cabo Pulmo are to understand the ecologyholistically , and not just as an isolated system. Rather, recognizing that both land and sea processes intertwine and overlap is part of conserving Cabo Pulmo above its salty waters. Underwater, research on the diversity, life and nuances of the local species will continue to evolve. This includes integrating new techniques such as genetic identification of fish eggs to analyze the species diversity, hydroacoustics to count fish biomass, and autonomous underwater vehicles. Understanding these mechanisms, enables the application of certain principles to other failing ecosystems, so that Cabo Pulmo can be the first of many ecological triumphs. From a fishing community to an eco-tourism community, Cabo Pulmo transformed not only their natural environment, but the community attitudes and actions as well. Aptly designated as a Hope Spot by Mission Blue, the reserve wouldn’t have recovered the way it did without the community's willingness to protect the environment and their own future.
Back to Top