In 1980, pilot Will Worthington fell in love with the wild side of Baja California. On a recent a 10-day aerial expedition, he found change on the horizon. This is the second in a series of guest posts he wrote about his adventure.
When I fly as a LightHawk volunteer pilot, I donate my aviation skills for conservation groups who want to leverage air support to benefit their causes. I fly scientists, staff, donors, governmental representatives, elected officials, and media giving them a unique perspective of the land (and water) from above.
The Baja aerial photo mission I had embarked upon would span a number of important areas. We would fly over ongoing construction projects, sites of proposed mega-developments, areas threatened by mining, and other sensitive areas in need of careful attention. Images made during our expedition would be immediately put to use by the conservation partners supporting the mission. Today we would focus on Cabo Pulmo on the east cape of Baja.
Cabo Pulmo from 1,000 feet up
My first flight departed at 9:20a.m. with four passengers on board. They were part of a conference discussing ways and means of guaranteeing wise development of the Cabo Pulmo region. Three more flights followed the first, carrying 14 influential environmentalists and conservationists along the gorgeous coastline from Los Barriles to Cabo San Lucas.
My Spanish served me well as I was able to understand our guide’s in-flight commentary and the discussion between the conservation experts along the way. I also gained an appreciation of the new perspective my passengers were getting as we traversed this area at an altitude of a thousand feet. As always, one of the most fascinating aspects of piloting LightHawk flights is listening to world-class experts as they explain the innuendos of conservation issues we are viewing.
Cabo Pulmo is the only living reef in the Sea of Cortez. It’s also the site of a proposed mega development larger than San Jose del Cabo. I was struck by the stunningly beautiful, remote coast, and the hope that the description will still fit twenty years from now.
What Skilled Eyes See
That day I saw recreational boat harbors that have displaced wetlands, and large development that infringes on the lush desert. Drawing on my background in civil and coastal engineering, I recognized other needs and issues as we flew over the coastline.
Jetties and groins interrupting the littoral movement of sediment and shorelines have started receding. Landfills are out of place and some burn continuously. Inadequate respect for scour depth, and other geotechnical conditions, has led to the collapse of some dwellings and shoreline structures. Inefficient, or nonexistent, zoning has allowed incompatible developments to come into conflict.
I’d also heard of some excruciatingly unfortunate incidents of developments that displace longtime residents who thought they owned the land they lived on. Then they find out the developer has a superior claim and more political influence.
On the other hand, there have been skilled harbor engineers and developers involved, and they have kindled a world-class destination resort. There is a fine art and considerable science to harbor construction, using the natural water wave phenomena to refract and diffract and dissipate the ocean swells to provide the safe haven of the harbor, and the engineers have done this masterfully. One can only hope that they pay as much attention to the details of conservation issues as they have in golf course and harbor design.
After locking up the airplane, I reflected on our accomplishments for this very long day: four flights, fourteen important passengers, and 4.8 hours on the Cessna. I’m left with a feeling that our passengers today will carry the torch to ensure wise development and preservation of Cabo Pulmo.
At the hotel I am privileged to meet my passengers for the next few days, renowned conservation photographer Ralph Lee Hopkins, videographer Jeff Litton, and my colleague Armando Ubeda, LightHawk’s Mesoamerica Region Program Manager. We share a beverage and make our plans for the exciting adventure that will unfold over the next week. I hope you’ll join me for the next installment from wild Baja.