Heroes of the Gulf: María Castro



We could have never dreamt of such an extraordinary recovery of marine life, but in the reefs of a hidden undersea marine reserve named Cabo Pulmo in Baja California, Mexico, the total amount of fish boomed more than 460 percent from 1999 to 2009. Cabo Pulmo can be considered the world’s most robust marine reserve (see the article).

I participated, back in the 1990s, in the studies for the declaration of the marine park. Frankly, we decided to go ahead because the community was so determined but the place at that time was not in good environmental health. However, if you visit the place now, you cannot believe the change that has taken place. And all of it has occurred thanks to the determination of a community of coastal villagers that decided to take care of their place and to be at the helm of their own destiny.
If you want to be inspired, then read a story narrated by one of these conservation heroes:

My name is María Griselda Castro Montaño. I am 76 years old. I love God so much that I don’t conceal my age. I am the oldest of eight siblings; two of them have already passed away.

In the old days, when I was young, everybody went fishing. They would catch cabrillas, garropas, and all that; there was plenty of good food. All men travelled on horseback, I had never seen motorcars. Buyers came on horseback to buy pearls from us. Green pearls, blue ones, really pretty. They used to say that one of our pearls was in the crown of the Queen of England. It had come from here, from Cabo Pulmo.

There was a lot of fish but little by little the catch went down and down, and after some time, well, we often wouldn’t even bother to go out fishing. There is no more good fish in the sea, I said to myself, and that is the way things are. Yes, I felt bad. Very bad I felt…

My dad used to build little viewing boxes. He invented them. He made wooden boxes and placed a glass in the bottom, a green glass. He would send us, because we knew how to do it, to collect a sticky substance that bleeds out of the pitaya cactus. He called it breya, that was its name. It is like tar. When you boil it in a pot, any old pan, it melts and becomes just like tar. Then he would add oil, and once it was just the right thickness he would use it to stick the glass to the box. He would also use this tar to caulk the pangas so they would not leak water in; at that time they were wooden canoes not fiberglass boats like we have now.

We used to sail out there, into the reef, and my father would take out two boxes. I would hold one with the glass bottom in the water and would lean out and look down into the sea, into the reef. There was lots of fish and many other things. Like a garden, it was such a beautiful thing.

We used to go out often to find the large fish schools, but I never went when they were dumping explosives into the sea to kill the fish. I was afraid of that, I was afraid of the thunder, the explosion, I was saddened by the destruction. We were terrified by it all, and my father would not take us.





Author Exequiel Ezcurra. Dr. Ezcurra is a former director of the Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias and provost of the San Diego Natural History Museum; current director of the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States (UC MEXUS). Dr. Ezcurra is a professor of ecology at the University of California Riverside and an adjunct professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego. His 30-year career as an ecologist has embraced a vast range of interests that include nature conservation, the ecology and biogeography of coastal deserts and wetlands, land-ocean interactions, the application of mathematical modeling in ecology and conservation, and the management of natural resources in areas under traditional use (Please visit: Ezcurra Lab).
Texts recorded, transcribed, and edited by Ana Ezcurra, Octavio Aburto-Oropeza, and Exequiel Ezcurra.

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