Re— Five Year Anniversary of the Defeat of the Salt Project
By Serge Dedina – March 1, 2005
This is my 12th year visiting Laguna San Ignacio, and I am always surprised and stunned by the beauty of this landscape of scale, its pristine and undeveloped state, the magnificence of the animals that thrive here, and the passion of the local people for protecting their community and their animals.
Upon arriving here on Sunday, (after driving through a wildflower desert) — we quickly headed out to see the 230 gray whales that are hanging out in the lagoon. Within five minutes a mother-calf pair had appoached our boat and was seeking pets, hugs and kisses from Ken and Spencer, the LA Times team who journeyed here with me.
After about 20 minutes the whales left, and we headed out nearer the main ocean entrance. Suddenly we were approached by a giant female and her playful newborn — but a bit differently. This time the mom approached on her back, fins in the air, and then proceeded to swim under the boat, and then finally she wrapped her fins around the boat, hugging it and swimming the boat around.
That initiated a two hour session with Valentina, the world’s friendliest whale. The only whale known to hug the entire boat — allowing us to stroke her fins and pet her belly, Valentina and her newborn stayed so long, that in the end we moved away, because the calf was so exhausted.
At one point, I stoop up in the boat and surfed the whale — or felt the sensation as Valentina hugged our panga, lifted it out of the water on her belly and surfed us around the lagoon as her newborn looked on…
That experience not only demonstrates the specialness of Laguna San Ignacio, but more importantly the critical need to protect this place against the predations by the corporate interests who would turn this whale sanctuay into an industrial park.
Every resident wants to continue their lives and livelihods organized around conservation — and this combined effort we have all made over the past ten years of conservation and promoting community development is paying off in a huge way.
Since that fateful day ten years ago that Homero Aridjis of the Grupo de los Cien, announced to the world that ESSA and Mitsubishi were going to turn the lagoon into a salt one, our team has stayed on working with local people and for wildlife.
I would like to thank this all-star team — NRDC, Group of 100, Pronatura, Pro Esteros, Packard, Homeland-Marisla, Punta Abreojos Coastkeeper, Global Green Grant Fund, IFAW, Greenpeace-Mexico, Earth Island, Bobby Kennedy, Dick Russell and Wildcoast who worked to protect the lagoon from ESSA and Mitsubishi, but more importantly, continued conservation efforts long after Mitsubishi had left.
Five years ago (almost to the exact date), President Zedillo went whalewatching with our good friends at Kuyima and made the decision to cancel the ESSA salt project.
Since then we have jointly helped to do the following, 1) provide loans to fishermen to purchase four — stroke engines for whalewatching, 2) supported the construction of the kindergarten, 3) added another building to the primary school, 4) built the tele-secondary school with internet service; 5) build the community center, 6) send local students on educational exchanges, 7) bring back sea turtles to the lagoon 8) support the training of local tourism outfitters,9) and built three of Bajas most effective grassroots NGOs: Laguna Baja ARIC, Abreojos Coastkeeper, and the Community Organization of Laguna San Ignacio. Finally — we all continue to spread the word that Laguna San Ignacio is ours to protect or lose.
All of this work led to our successful effort we will soon celebrate to permanently protect the lagoon in partnership with the people who live there in a groundbreakng 120,000-acre conservation easement.
This morning — Daniel Aguilar, a fourth generation fishermen and second generation whaleman, ran over to me in front of his parent’s house at the fish camp of La Fridera. He had a sea turtle in his arms.
Early this morning after going to check on fishing net, he noticed the turtle struggling for help. Rather than stash it away with plans to cook it as his grandfather would have done (his granddad Antonio Camacho was one of Baja’s biggest turtle hunters), Daniel carried it back to the beach and released it.
As I write, Daniel is escorting a group of tourists around the lagoon to see his whales.
So, as we move forward with our effort to help our friends protect their lagoon, livelihoods, way of life, and families, I thank all of you for allowing me to join this journey, and helping preserve one of god’s special places.
(from Laguna San Ignacio, preparing for the 14 hour drive north)