Mexico – Plan B, Expedition
May 24 – June 3, 2014

Photo: Juan Oliphant.

Expedition Outline: Mexico – Plan B

The initial plan was to visit Socorro Island, the largest of the four islands of the Revillagigedo Archipelago located 600 km off Mexico’s Pacific coast. Its status as a Nature Protected Area under the denomination of Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO was a good comparative context given our development of a conservation program for Cocos Island’s pelagic species, following our recent expedition. As such we invited Ocean Ramsey and Nico Ghersinich to join this next expedition, as this presented us with the opportunity of developing the pelagic research and conservation project for Cocos. We also invited Dayne Buddo, marine ecologist at the University of the West Indies and TBA21–Academy’s director for the Alligator Head Marine Lab, which was inaugurated in 2013. This was a great opportunity for us all to experience first hand one of the most remote protected marine reserves first hand. As a Mexican navy base, Revillagigedo is one of the best policed marine protected area in the Pacific, and since illegal- and overfishing is huge problem that we are trying to tackle in these other locations, we were really looking forward to this trip as we all boarded the Dardanella in Puerto Vallarta.

A few days prior to our departure we got news of hurricane Amanda building up in the region of Socorro, and very quickly it became clear that it was impossible to go out into the Pacific. Our best option was to go into the Sea of Cortez and visit several marine protected areas there and see how they differ from each other. We left from Puerto Vallarta to cross the Sea of Cortez to Cabo Pulmo. In 1995, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo declared the area surrounding Cabo Pulmo a National Marine Park after being urged by the local fishermen and community to do so. The national reserve is staffed by only two park rangers, but otherwise efficiently policed by the local community itself. The primary form of income used to be fishing, so this represented a self imposed change of substantial proportions. They found alternative sources of income by developing a now thriving business in scuba diving trips, whale watching tours and sport fishing outside of the park.

The rules and regulations in Cabo Pulmo are very strict but the results are spectacular. The variety, sheer quantity and size of the fish population there was breath taking. On our first dive we swam with four bull sharks that had only returned to the area 7 years prior, and on the second dive we swam with huge schools of black and tiger groupers. We may have missed Soccorro, but we found one of the best grass roots national park. The commitment to change of the local community was key to the success of Cabo Pulmo, and was an essential lesson to be learned for us all in terms of the future success of the Alligator Head Marine Lab. Dayne Buddo took home a great first hand experience which he speaks well about in the short video that we made of the project.

Our trip led us further north to the Isla Ceralvo, home to a huge resident population of Californian Sea Lions. This also being a national park, but only in the hands of the municipality is under staffed and under policed. Even dynamite fishing is still in practice. The local fishing community knows that no one is around to prosecute them. Never the less free diving with the Sea Lions was a unique experience. They are so used to humans that it is literally like playing with pups. The very big and impressive male Sea Lion didn’t feel threatened by any of us, so he just made sure that none of his females left the area by circling his harem whilst barking loudly underwater.

Probably the most spectacular encounter of this trip was even further North in the bay of La Paz, where we ran into a group of 20-30 feeding whale sharks feeding on plankton. We swam with them for hours and hours until we were completely exhausted.

Throughout the trip we had invited Mexican artist Ariel Guzik to join us. We had first seen his work in the Mexican pavilion in Venice Biennial 2013. In the last10 years Guzik has concentrated his efforts of searching for a way of communicating with Cetaceans. He has an instrument called the Neirida, which resonates with the sound of the ocean, it picks up its currents, its energy, and it reverberates it into a melody that seems to attract pelagic animals. This creates a natural interaction between human beings and nature, through sensation and emotion. We performed several tests with him over and under water and we have several really interesting recordings. He wants to create a mini Neirida that we would be able to deploy on the boat, to interact with Cetaceans. A wonderful person with a good soul.

In view of this rich and inspiring experience, our plan B worked out perfectly. We learned a tremendous amount about the successes and flaws of marine conservation. We experienced the effects of meaningful monitoring of marine reserves as well as the effects of total abandonment of UNESCO world heritage sites. These extreme positions proved to us that if there is no motivation on the part of the local community and if largely unpatrolled interactions with the marine wildlife become a money making tourist attraction (such as the whale sharks in La Paz and sea lions in Espiritu Santo) human abuses are inevitable. One has to appreciate the work done in Cabo Pulmo, and the Galapagos Islands to monitor and limit the level of human interaction with wild species. It was not until our dive guide showed us a video he shot in Socorro, that we realized what we had missed. Diving with schools of Hammerheads, and endangered species and mating manta rays all in very clear water.

Even though we really missed a spectacular opportunity to see Isla Socorro, we were very happy with Plan B. It was an important eye opener for us all.  It provided us with valuable information that we have incorporated into the outline of the Cocos project and will try to implement with variations adapting to the local situation in Jamaica.
TBA21–Academy Fellows
  • Dayne Buddo: Centre for Marine Sciences, University of the West Indies (UWI) & Research Director Alligator Head Marine Lab
  • Ariel Guzik: Researcher, Musician, Artist, Iridologist, Herbalist and Inventor
  • Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza: Executive Director TBA21–Academy
  • Eleonore Habsburg
  • Phil Hoelting: Co-Director of FYF Fest in Los Angeles, CA
  • Juan Oliphant: Underwater Photographer-Videographer, Divemaster/Freediver
  • Ocean Ramsey: Water Inspired Lead Conservationist, Shark Biologist, Research Diver, Photo/Videographer & Dive Safety Officer
  • Markus Reymann: Project Manager TBA21–Academy
  • Thandi Wedderburn-Buddo: Diving Medicine Physician