Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea…Baja Style

Brad Erisman of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego (left) and Ralph Chaney of iTV aboard DeepSee submersible during their 2008 expedition to Gulf of California. photo; Octavio Aburto-Oropeza, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego

Last year Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and San Diego Natural History Museum partnered a series of underwater expeditions in the Sea of Cortez using a DeepSee submarine, reminiscent of Jules Verne’s visions when he authored his classic science fiction novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, in 1870.

Captain Nemo would have been right at home in this state-of-the-art custom built one-atmosphere submarine, capable of carrying one pilot and two passengers down to a depth of 1,500 feet. The crystal clear four inches thick sphere literally disappears when submerged. It provides the occupants an unparalleled and unobstructed 360 degree view of the undersea world. DeepSee was designed to allow its passengers to board and disembark the sub while it is floating alongside a mother ship. Decompression isn’t necessary.

One expedition included researchers Exequiel Ezcurra (adjunct professor at Scripps Oceanography and former provost of the San Diego Natural History Museum), Brad Erisman (Scripps postdoctoral researcher), and Octavio Aburto-Oropeza (graduate student researcher). They used the three-person DeepSee to explore marine life in the Gulf of California's deep sea reefs and around undersea seamounts. The vehicle allowed the researchers unique access to depths below 164 feet which is generally inaccessible to SCUBA divers. The results were revealing, yielding some of the Sea of Cortez’s deep sea secrets.

"Our investigation resulted in many new discoveries which included new species of invertebrates and possibly fishes," said Erisman. "We collected and observed species that had not been recorded in the gulf, had never been observed alive or had never been observed at such depths."

The exploration at depths formally inaccessible also yielded evidence of disturbing declines in sea life populations caused by human impact. Large schools of fish documented in earlier expeditions at locations such as the El Bajo seamount have vanished.

"The human impacts in shallow areas have been well documented, but our observations make it clear that we are reaching down deeper and affecting the deeper ecosystems and their communities as well," said Aburto-Oropeza. "We have lots of evidence of ghost nets with trapped animals at many depths, along with pollution, including beer cans, in each deep location we studied."

As the researchers ventured farther offshore to Las Animas, a seamount tucked halfway between Loreto and La Paz, (an area that has little impact from fishing, boating and human activities), they found encouraging booming fish populations, an extraordinarily rich variety of red snapper, unique shrimp and possibly new species of sea urchins and cucumbers.

On another trip in October, Erisman and Aburto-Oropeza studied marine life at Cabo Pulmo, a protected national park near the southern tip of the Baja peninsula. In the absence of human environmental pressures, like Los Animas farther to the north, they recorded a "biodiversity hotspot" with thriving fish populations and a rich mix of sea life. They even witnessed large tiger sharks, now a rarity in Baja California. According to Erisman and Aburto-Oropeza, "Cabo Pulmo, demonstrates that if the areas are protected over time they can rebound to a previous healthier ecosystem state." World-renowned marine biologist, Bill Boyce recently wrote, “If Cabo Pulmo Marine Park wasn’t protected, it would be a biological desert, over fished, and then over looked.”

Off the beaten track Los Animas and Cabo Pulmo are living proof that there is still time to implement conservation and management practices that will restore healthy marine-life populations. Hopefully, this added to growing body of evidence will influence the Mexican Government to pursue more aggressive conservation efforts.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Finally…GPS Road Maps

The Baja Navigator works with any Garmin GPS product that uses MapSource™ Software.

If you fish, chances are you wouldn’t dream of heading out fishing without a Global Positioning System (GPS)… of one kind or another. Last spring, Yvonne gave me a Garmin unit for the Roadtrek van. My initial reaction was something along the lines of, “This is just another superfluous toy; I don’t need directions.”

Within a few weeks, however, I was as addicted to the GPS on my dash as I am of the marine version. Whether I’m traveling across town or cross-country, I don’t leave home without it! I have become accustomed to relying on the silky female voice of this device gently prodding me to turn this way or that, becoming seemingly more strident nearing the turn and finally mumbling “recalculate” in disgust when I miss the turn completely.

As I crossed the border into Tijuana on my next road trip, I glanced at the GPS on the dash and only a red line representing Mex 1 appeared -nothing else - no streets, service stations, or hotels…bummer!

After that trip, I searched the web for Baja maps which could be used with my Garmin. I found that GPS and laptop interface users have both Raster and Vector maps to choose from.

Raster maps are similar to paper maps and are converted into large image files. In addition to taking up lots of space, the files cannot be ‘searched’ or ‘zoomed’ beyond the resolution of the original map.

Vector maps save the map information as data (rather than images) which can be interpreted and searched by a computer or the GPS unit. Garmin offers a program called MapSource© which will open the Vector maps once they are uploaded onto your computer.

Larry Buck, owner of LB Maps, was my first contact. He began traveling to Baja with his family in the early 90’s.

It is important to note, LB Maps and Larry Buck are not just simply reselling maps, they are ‘hands on’. Using government data, satellite imaging for verification and real time updates gathered from his and other users’ frequent Baja trips, he is able to provide updates on a regular basis. The Baja Navigator works with any Garmin GPS product that uses MapSource© Software.

LB Maps’ Baja Navigator, with free updates for a year, was just what I was looking for!

Larry also offers Bicimapas maps. While these are more expensive, they include both the mainland of Mexico as well as Baja. In addition, they offer more detail, topo-contour lines and they work on both Garmin and Magellan GPS units.

Now comes the “I didn’t know I could do that” part: MapSource© software allows you to edit maps to include your own waypoints, routes and other points of interest. Then, these updates can be downloaded directly to your GPS device. On return trips, you will already have a jumpstart on your trip and you will possess some local knowledge that can be ever-expanding.

Whether your interest lies in off-roading, bicycling, hiking, fishing, RVing or just wandering around Baja, you will find, as I did, that GPS maps and devices are a welcome and an invaluable traveling tool.


Friday, January 9, 2009

2009 Here We Come!!!

As we head into the New Year, I thought that it would be interesting to hear what some of the experts in Southern Baja expected might happen in their respective areas. Here are a few of their responses.

Cabo San Lucas

It’s hard to predict with any accuracy, but in reviewing the last two falls, I believe in 2009 the striped marlin fishing, as well as the shark fishing, will stay the same or even increase.

Tuna catches have been fewer and we are not seeing as many quality fish as we have in previous years; then again most boats are not willing to spend the time and fuel going to look for them. Tracy Ehrenberg

San Jose del Cabo
We expect another quality winter and spring bite lasting until the warming conditions attract the exotics in late spring and on through the summer months.

Local business operators are cautiously optimistic that the United States’ economical crisis will not cause a downfall in the tourist industry in Southern Baja. Hopefully the cheaper fuel prices will allow airlines to lower their ticket prices and people will be able to afford traveling.
Eric Brictson

East Cape
Water temperatures are quite a bit warmer than normal…75 degrees, indicating an early spring bite. While local hotels are anticipating fewer anglers in the coming year, the lighter fishing pressure is bound to help the fishing. The billfishing on the Pacific side has been very strong this winter and with the warmer water, these fish should migrate into the Sea of Cortez earlier than usual. The tuna fishing has also been good on the Pacific side. With any luck we'll see an early tuna bite as well. John Ireland

The sport fish of the East Cape have no idea the world is suffering financial difficulties. Those fishermen fortunate enough to visit should be in store for some epic fishing action. Mark Rayor

La Paz
I wish I could say what will happen. Just when I think I have a handle on things, nature surprises us! I'm looking forward to a more normal year with good inshore fishing for pargo, cabrilla, amberjack and yellowtail from the end of winter to early spring. Then I expect the dorado will get back on track with smaller school fish early, getting larger as the season goes into the fall.

Wahoo are cyclical, so hopefully more wahoo this year from the end of spring to fall and this should be a good fall for better sized tuna. We had a good year in 2008 for striped marlin so I expect we'll see more sailfish in 2009 if patterns hold for our area. Jonathan Roldan


The weather patterns this year are milder than we have seen in recent years. Also the fish that are being caught now are more consistent and larger than we are accustomed to catching this time of year. This information points to an early spawn…however we are not yet seeing egg sacks which indicates that we should expect a typical spawn cycle time period. In terms of numbers of fish in the yellowtail population, it appears to be healthy despite the frequency of shoreline gillnetting that has taken place over the last year. I would even be comfortable to say that our spring 2009 run will probably be typical to above average in terms of quality and size of fish. Pam Bolles

Cabo San Lucas
Tracy Ehrenberg
San Jose del Cabo
Gordo Bank Pangas
East Cape
Rancho Leonero Hotel
Vista Sea Sport http://vistaseasport.com/
La Paz
Jonathan Roldan's Tailhunter International
Baja Big Fish Company

Friday, January 2, 2009

A Small Solution to a Big Problem

Captain Sergio Garcia was eager to give the Hobie a shot. In the water it went and in minutes he was being towed around by a tuna.

Hobie Mirage i9S Inflatable Bridges the Gap

I frequently spend the night in remote areas as I travel up and down the Baja peninsula in my Roadtrek, a practice which allows me to take advantage of the opportunities to fish on pristine, virtually unfished beaches. The satisfaction of catching quality fish from shore can be exhilarating, but many times the fish are frantically feeding just out of casting range. In the past, my options were to tow a small boat, carry a float tube device or maybe carry a kayak on top. While allowing me to bridge that gap from beach to offshore, these options are hardly worth the hassle as my goal is to be able to stop and quickly take advantage of a fishing opportunity.
Last July, at the world’s largest sportfishing trade show, the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades in La Vegas, better known as ICAST, Hobie Kayaks PR Director, Ingrid Niehaus, introduced me to their latest kayak, the 9’ Inflatable Hobie Mirage i-9S. Weighing only 53 pounds, the Hobie quickly inflates and deflates and comes standard with a rolling travel bag designed to be transported in cars, trucks, RV's, or boats. Its small dimensions makes it easy to store in condos or any other place where space is limited. The travel bag is within allowable dimensions for air travel with a slight surcharge for extra weight.

But more importantly, the Hobie MirageDrive is simple and easy to use. Your feet rest naturally on pedals similar to a bicycle. You use your leg muscles to pedal (or paddle), freeing your hands for casting. The pedal mechanism is connected to two underwater flippers, which are similar to penguin wings. The steering is controlled via the left side, and it has a fingertip-controlled twist and tow rudder system. The pedaling is quiet and creates no splash.

Let me be clear, I fish first and I wasn’t looking for a new fishing platform. The technical aspects of ‘kayaking’ are best left to experts like Paul Lebowitz,, WON Kayak Chronicles. My interest was not in kayaking, but in being able to take advantage of fishing opportunities which had eluded me in the past.

When I took delivery of my kayak last September, Vince Console, Fishing Product Manager, gave me a quick course in Inflatable Kayak 101. Out the Hobie popped from its travel bag and in just a few minutes, Vince had it inflated using the hand pump that was part of the package. After demonstrating the patented Mirage Drive, Vince had covered the basic features of the boat and it was deflated, packed and loaded into the Roadtrek.

On the first trip I made with the Hobie down Mex 1, I spotted a handful of baitballs with birds diving into the fray as I zipped down the hill overlooking Bahia de ConcepciĆ³n. I pulled off on a small beach and unloaded the Hobie. In minutes I was on the water, pedaling toward crashing fish with a flyrod in hand. The hands-free operation of the kayak allowed me to work the edges and it was full on fishing for a couple of hours. Yellowtail, roosterfish and small barracuda were all easy marks for my fly. I lost count of the number of fish I caught before I returned to the van.

The Hobie and I have made several trips since that first one. I become bolder (with maybe a hint of dependency) as I increase my skill and confidence.
I just returned from an offshore trip at Magdalena Bay and yep! I loaded up the Hobie on the boat heading for Thetis Bank and deep sea fishing. It wasn’t long before we were in a WFO tuna bite in flat calm seas. Captain Sergio Garcia was eager to give the Hobie a shot. In the water it went and in minutes he was being towed around by a tuna.

Most kayaks have a “show me what you’ve have” feel requiring some technical skills; the Hobie with the MirageDrive is more a “let me help you” kind of kayak…which was just what I was looking for!