Friday, August 19, 2011

Color Mex 1 green

When I was asked by Pat McDonell to escort the trailer boaters, along with the assistance of the Green Angels, to the hotel Coral and Marina in Ensenada to participate in the WON’s Ensenada Coral Saltwater Championship, I didn't have to be asked twice. The Green Angels have been omnipresent, a welcomed sight along the highway since my first venture down the recently completed narrow Mex 1 in 1973.

Every trip I have made over the years from border to tip I have encountered their distinctive soothing green road truck cruising up and down the highway, offering services similar to AAA, acting as a reassuring safety net for Baja travelers.

In the early years, we all carried spare everything…tires, fan belts, fuses, etc. to keep us rolling. For the neophytes breaking down in a foreign country on a deserted desert road could be intimidating. If you were broken down on the side of the road, seeing a Green Angels truck on the horizon could quickly turn an extremely bad day into a good one.
 According to the Green Angel web-site they want everyone who travels overland to a destination in Mexico to act as a spokesman, not only for Baja's history, culture, values, beautiful nature, and tourist attractions, but also for their hospitality and the quality of guidance, roadside and tourist assistance services that they offer.

Today the Ministry of Tourism’s Green Angels patrol an average of 60,000 kilometers per day and over 22 million kilometers every year, providing assistance to road users using a quick dial number, 078, and offering the following services:
·         Guidance and information about destinations, state and regional tourist attractions and services.
·         Mechanical assistance and emergency radio support.
·         Assistance in the case of accidents.  
·         Assistance to the general public in the case of disasters.

The Green Angels use a modern radio communication system to provide roadside guidance and tourist assistance services. This means that they can respond more effectively to all service users. The Green Angels Dispatch and Service Control Center now uses state-of-the-art technology that not only gives them radio contact with the Green Angels patrol vehicles but also integrates the service with automatic geographic location of vehicles with the option of interconnection with other communication equipment (UHF/VHF) to provide assistance in the case of emergencies. This replaces the amateur radio system that the Green Angels 
had been using for over 40 years.

Recently in response to the concerns of visitors traveling by car in Baja, the Green Angels have been offering escort services to groups wishing to caravan to tournaments being held in Baja Norte.

When Yvonne and I arrived at Shelter Island on Friday before WON’s Ensenada Coral Saltwater Championship,  Gail Davis, her husband Bob and five other family members were already waiting in the parking lot. They had driven down from Chino with their Seaswirl Striper in tow in their tightly packed 4-door service truck. Introductions were made and we became acquainted while we awaited WON staffer, Bob Semerau and his wife Chris.

Our caravan headed for San Ysidro border crossing. After clearing inspection, Antonio, our Green Angel escort was waiting. With overhead lights flashing, he led our group through Tijuana with a second Green Angel vehicle bringing up the rear.

We cruised down the Toll Road as the sun burned off the early morning haze. Zipping through the three toll gates, we soon arrived at the Hotel Coral and Marina launch ramp.

On Sunday, the trip was reversed with WON staffers joining the caravan back to the border. Arrangements had been made by the Department of Tourism for everyone to return via the Sentri gate. However, the rigs with boats were redirected to another gate. Seems that RV's and boats are not allowed through the Sentri gate.

“It was wonderful!  The whole tournament, and having the escort for first-timers bringing a boat  eliminated a lot of worry since we’d never trailered down in Mexico,” said Gail. “They just pulled out in front of us with their lights flashing and stayed with us all the way down to the hotel.”  Said her husband Bob, “A lot of our friends said they wouldn’t come down with their boats but we’ll be telling them about the great experience we had. We’re coming next year and we’ll have other people come after they hear about how fun this was.”
Green Angels website

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fish croak…no joke

June 16th and 17th, masses of mostly smaller-sized snapper species, one pound or less, deeper water specimens, and a few larger fish, were found floundering on the surface, barely alive and eventually dying and drifting onto the beaches from north of Punta Gorda to Palmilla.  

In early March while doing some research about the sudden disappearance of Humboldt squid, I was introduced to William Gilly, a professor of Biology at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station.   Gilly was a member of the team of writers and scientists who re-created Steinbeck's voyage in 2004 to once-remote waters chronicled in author John Steinbeck's classic book, 'Log From the Sea of Cortez' and recently he has been part of a group that has been studying the effects of El Nino Sea of Cortez Humboldt squid population.

In June, 2010, they only found small 8-inch mature squid spawning in the Guaymas Basin…totally abnormal. The preceding summer, big squid were in the midriff islands and off northern Sonora this winter.
"Now they are nowhere to be found," Gilly said,  "we traveled throughout the Guaymas Basin, up midriff islands area, and found very few squid. Commercial boats have also been searching without success."

Gilly observed that, "From February through March this year the mixed surface layer has gotten steadily shallower -- along with an extreme fall-off in oxygen. Yellowfin tuna and  billfish probably would have a really hard time at oxygen concentrations below half of the peak values plotted here -- so right now they would be compressed into the top 60 feet or so. If the bait is missing it would be stressful, but if it is bountiful, it would be good for the species." 

In 2009 and 2010 a similar trend developed during the spring,  but it was much less severe. This is definitely unusual -- these are features normally associated with tropical eastern Pacific waters farther to the south.

Recently, unusual cold winds along with cooler currents from the south caused water temps to plummet into the 60s along the Sea of Cortez coast from Baja's tip to Las Frailes which resulted in off-color murky green water extending twenty miles from shore.

June 16th and 17th, masses of mostly smaller-sized snapper species, one pound or less, deeper water specimens, and a few larger fish, were found floundering on the surface, barely alive and eventually dying and drifting onto the beaches from north of Punta Gorda to Palmilla.  

Locals, who could not remember anything similar happening in the past, were quick to volunteer a variety of possible causes: By-catch from commercial netting, red tide, natural occurrence, nuclear fallout from Japan, drastic current/temperature change, air bladder rupture, limited oxygen levels or maybe a terrorist poison attack.

Gilly who had sounded the alarm back in March commented that with the combination of winds, cold water and lots of chlorophyll, it sounds like upwelling, either from the wind or possibly it has something to do with the several early hurricanes far to the south.

Gilly went on to say:  "Hurricanes often churn up a lot of nutrient-rich cold water to the surface quickly, much like normal wind-driven upwelling and the effects are often left in its wake. I suspect that severe south winds resulted in the strong local event and a red-tide bloom. Some harmful algal  toxins may have bloomed. Knowing the actual oxygen levels at the time of  die-off would shed some light on the event."

"Coincidentally, we witnessed something similar, June 12th to the 14th, in the Bahia Las Animas and San Rafael areas south of Bay of LA on a research cruise."
"The entire Salsipuedes Canal was a deep red-brown color, surface temperature was 18C rather than 27C nearby, and oxygen was very high. The air on deck was colder than inside the air-conditioned ship. Chlorophyll readings reached 70 mg/cm -- a garden-variety productive bloom would be more like 10-20 mg/cm and everyday blue water is typically <1."

"We did not see any die-offs in this area, but we had great difficulty trying to keep squid alive in our temperature-controlled, holding tanks on deck. Here the squid all died in less than 8 hours because they were held in recirculated surface water, so they could not escape the bloom by going to depth. In all other areas we worked, from Guaymas to Santa Rosalia to San Pedro Martir, the squid routinely lived 2 to 3 days in the same conditions."  

The explanations for the event are all across the board. From the old standby 'El Nino' to my personal favorite 'Terrorist attack'. It seems the consensus by the experts is that lower oxygen levels along with some algal toxin associated with a huge bloom were at the root of the event.

It's about the kids

The purpose of the day was not to make the kids compete, but to let them enjoy fishing as a sport. We don't give prizes; we give kids a good time. 
Playas de Tijuana…a beach more famous for contraband under the cover of darkness than family outings, a beach where the roar of the surf was seldom penetrated by the exuberant, unbridled laughter of parents and and hotdogs offspring as they fished and frolicked while soaking up the sun or gorging on burgers . 

The outing resulted from an inspiration of a band of three young Mexican fathers - Juan Flores, Martin Banos and Eddie Rodriguez- and now in its third year, it has grown to include many members of the popular Spanish fishing forum.

Taking their cue from the popular annual national holiday,  El Día Del Niño (Day of the Child), which began in 1925 and grew into an annual celebration of the children…a tribute to their importance in society and endorsing their well being throughout Mexico.

That holiday and date seemed like a perfect match for Llevame a Pescar where dads and families could introduce their children to a family fishing adventure on the beach. This turned out to be a wildly popular idea that has now become an annual affair.

Like years before everyone pitched in to make sure that there were plenty of  fishing rods, tackle and bait for every child. Plus, T-shirts were provided for each participant commemorating the event.

As the stubborn marine layer melted away on the morning of May 1st, keyed up kids huddled around their parents eagerly watching as the tackle was rigged and hooks baited. Then clutching their rods, they sprinted across the wet sand toward the hissing surf with their Moms and Dads hustling to keep up.

The bright sun framed by blue skies warmed the parents who became teachers and guides for their kids as they fished, mostly catching small barred surf perch.  Patient instruction, smiles and laughter were the morning's currency. When a few tears of frustration appeared they were quickly brushed away

Buenapesca volunteers pitched in helping the kids cast, untangling lines, and cheering the kids on as they balanced desire and caution in the gentle rolling surf while encouraging catch and release; still they found a few minutes here and there to fish themselves.

When the - sun, sea, sportfishing - became overwhelming there were canopy-covered tables loaded with art supplies where the exhausted kids could retreat. 

Of course no trip to the beach would be complete without plenty of food and in a Mexican version of pot luck the tables beneath the canopies were overloaded with more than enough food for everyone with Buenapesca volunteers cooking and serving.

The most anticipated Cerviche contest was not only popular but tasty as well and everyone enjoyed sampling the various concoctions entered. After the last tortilla chip laden with cerviche had been devoured, the judges convened and Juan Zuno was declared the winner of this year's contest.

The volunteers of this event, mostly Tijuana residents, have demonstrated their passion for sportfishing and the willingness to share with their neighbors and friends. From conception to execution the group has worked tirelessly to offer a hands-on experience demonstration that catching fish is not just a commercial enterprise without any social merit, instead that sportfishing is a family affair that blends well with Mexican family traditions.

Speaking we give kids a good time.for the Mexican sport fishermen who sponsored the event, Juan Flores commented, "The purpose of the day was not to make the kids compete, but to let them enjoy fishing as a sport. We don't give prizes; "