In June, Mexican President Felipe Calderón denied permits to develop a Cancun-like resort in Baja California because plans failed to prove the project would not harm nearby reef systems’ biodiversity. Environmentalists rejoiced. Over the past 15 years, the small town of Cabo Pulmo has enjoyed publicity and tourism generated by a hugely successful marine reserve. A 2011 study showed a 460 percent increase in fish biomass at Cabo Pulmo.
The people of La Ribera, a desert town north of Cabo Pulmo, perceive no benefits from the reserve’s success. The 2,000 La Ribereños had mixed reactions to Calderón’s decision. Since the reserve was established in 1995, park authorities have denied La Ribera’s fishers access to some of their favorite fishing grounds. And now La Ribereños have another axe to grind with Cabo Pulmo. Big development meant job opportunities and now the precious corals have stripped them of that potential.
Rare Conservation Fellow Lluvia Macklis Duran wants to help the community think critically about the future they want, and empower them as decision makers. “When they are informed, and opportunities exist, they won’t be able to place blame,” says Duran. She is developing a marketing campaign to teach her community about the science of reef restoration and engage them to participate in land-use planning and economic alternatives to fishing. The campaign includes a recently-started study to explore alternative income options like sustainable agriculture and craftsmanship.
La Ribera meets Lolo the blue crab mascot
After a year of planning Duran began her campaign, which will unfold over the next year, with a spectacular launch event on August 4. She nervously watched a meager crowd trickle into the venue. The scheduled start time was 5 p.m. By 5:30 a steady stream of more than 200 curious adults and children arrived and participated in a host of activities Duran planned: cooking contests with local ingredients, marine-themed drawing games, a photo exhibit with community-member submitted photos, a puppet show and the debut of Lolo the blue crab mascot. Fishers seldom see the blue crab any more. The cryptic creature of local lore warns of storms and reminds the community to always be prepared for what is coming.
By 10 p.m., Duran could not wipe the smile off her face as folks continued to enjoy, and participate in, all of her activities. People apologized for not helping with the event and inquired about future workshops and volunteer opportunities.
A few weeks after the campaign launch, a different company proposed a plan quite similar to the one rejected in June. La Ribereños depend on natural resources. Duran’s campaign moves people to acknowledge that dependence and motivates them to conserve what they already have. Whether this new plan gets approved or another one comes along in a different political climate, the people of La Ribera will have an informed voice.