In 1995, the 150 villagers of Cabo Pulmo, many of whom were fishermen themselves, demanded that their home be named a marine national park by the Mexican government.
A blood red sky announces the arrival of another mercilessly hot day. The blinding sun peers over the arid hilltops, preparing to claim back the night’s precious dew. Shadows stretch behind towering cacti that stand sentinel over the dusty, barren landscape, their arms raised in tireless worship of a relentless sun. A haze shimmers and shifts over the baked earth, snakes retreat from the glare to the respite of their shadowy lairs and vultures circle overhead, hoping to profit from the misfortunes of others. But as the red rocks crumble to silken dunes and into the rolling waves, a secret is waiting to reveal itself below the briny waterline.
Beyond the tide that washes the pale sands, an abundant utopia blossoms. Its image fractured and hidden by the white horses that gallop at the surface. A wild and sprawling metropolis of coral reaches its trumpeted chimneys into the current. Myriad forms of technicolour fish peek between the waving fingers of fluorescent anemones. Armoured turtles plunge swathes of the reef into darkness as their huge silhouettes glide above. Hidden in the sands, beady eyed rays lie in wait for passing prey. Out in the deep, beyond the protective forest of coral, smiling sharks lurk, their noses twitching. And every winter the gentle ocean behemoth, the noble whale shark, returns to feed in the nutrient-rich waters.
Twenty two years ago, this opulent underwater eden, which inspired John Steinbeck and was described by the French explorer Jacques Cousteau as “the world’s aquarium”, was fast becoming as desolate as the parched desert above. And it would still be today had not a determined and pioneering group of local people decided to put a stop to the rampant and unchecked fishing practices that were starving the Sea of Cortez of life.
In 1995, the 150 villagers of Cabo Pulmo, many of whom were fishermen themselves, demanded that their home be named a marine national park by the Mexican government. Their plea for protection successfully put a stop to all fishing and commercial diving activity from that day forth. In just two decades 800 species of marine creature reclaimed the reef, returning their underwater garden to its former glory.
The visionary environmental movement was spearheaded by three generations of the Castro family. Fishermen by trade, they were being forced further and further out to sea to find their catch. They also noticed the growing number of outsiders appearing each season to explore the waters opposite their hunting grounds. Swimming down to inspect the watery depths themselves, the Castros discovered that their anchors had scratched and broken the precious coral. Devastated by the destruction, they vowed to dedicate their lives to protecting the unique ecosystem on their doorstep.
For the protection of their paradise, Cabo Pulmo turned from the glossy, seduction of development. Unlike their neighbouring towns, they refused to trade their wild land for the shiny lights of gleaming hotel complexes and stuffed wallets of spring break crowds. They found their salty dell to be worth more than the ease of electricity and running water. They realised that nature had made them the richest community on the Californian peninsula.