5 Discoveries in Cabo Pulmo Marine Park


On Mission Blue’s recent Hope Spot Expedition to Cabo Pulmo Marine Park, located in the Gulf of California Hope Spot, five discoveries were made.

1. The Ocean is For Everyone


Dr. Sylvia Earle and the Mission Blue team were deeply honored to spend the morning of February 27th with Eduardo Martinez, director of Fundacion Teleton. This Mexican nonprofit works with disabled people—like the three Mexican teens named Fausto, Roberto and Salma who came along to dive with Dr. Earle—their first ever dive in the ocean! Dr. Earle expressed directly to these newly coronated divers her deepest admiration for their courage. The ocean, truly, is for everyone and we have Fausto, Roberto and Salma to look at for proof. This memorable dive was made possible by David Castro, a special friend of Mission Blue and a disabled diver instructor who runs Cabo Pulmo Divers.

In a vibrant display of youthful enthusiasm, Mission Blue and the Cabo Youth Center also took nearly 30 local children snorkeling with Dr. Sylvia Earle. Many thanks go to ScubaPro for donating the masks, fins and snorkels to the youth of Cabo Pulmo. The snorkel kits will now reside at the Cabo Youth Center where local children can check them out like library books and explore the ocean in their spare time.


2. Sharks Are In Trouble


(Bahia Los Frailes in Cabo Pulmo Marine Park)

On February 27th 2016, the Mission Blue team was greeted by a dismal sight as we arrived at Bahia Los Frailes in Cabo Pulmo Marine Park: strewn across the beach were the hacked carcasses of approximately 20 sharks of several species. Sitting on the sand was a box full of shark fins, no doubt destined for Asian markets. How can shark slaughter happen in a marine park that is purportedly “no-take”? Carlos Ramon Godinez Reyes, Director of the Cabo Pulmo Marine Park (CONANP), was with us and questioned the fishermen. They produced a permit and asserted that these sharks had been fished outside of the prohibited boundaries of the park. But how could this be verified? It couldn’t. The annual operating budget of the Cabo Pulmo Marine Park is roughly $20,000, according to Mr. Godinez Reyes, making comprehensive enforcement all the more challenging. The issue of shark fishing is complex, on both a conservation and social level, but Dr. Earle said it best as she gazed at the dead sharks: “I’m just as worried about legal fishing as illegal fishing.”


Indeed, from wherever these sharks were harvested, the fact remains that shark populations have plummeted in the Gulf of California to the point where a local shark biologist, Dr. James Ketchum, is saying hammerheads are “ecosystem extinct,” i.e. there are a few around you’d be lucky to see, but for all intents and purposes, they are no longer a real part of the ecosystem due to low numbers. Studies done in Mexico and elsewhere in the world have concluded that a shark alive in the water is worth anywhere from $250,000 to $2 million dollars through ecotourism and ecosystem services. We will have full video coverage of the shark finning we found in Cabo Pulmo coming next week. Stay tuned.

3. Marine Protected Areas Work… And We Need More

On February 26th, the Mission Blue expedition team received a full briefing from Dr. James Ketchum, a shark biologist and lead at Pelagios Kakunjá, a nonprofit shark research organization based in La Paz, BCS, Mexico. Dr. Ketchum pointed to encouraging data, such as the 400% rebound in fish biomass since Cabo Pulmo was declared a no-take marine protected area 20 years ago. However, through analysis of his telemetry data, he also noted that some shark populations were barely registering and had migratory routes that were relatively unknown. In a broader sense, Dr. Ketchum’s research shows that marine protected areas are not enough; sensible conservation also calls for the creation of protected migratory corridors. What good is a marine protected area if a female shark goes there and gets fertilized, but then is slaughtered when she leaves the zone to give birth? To get the full skinny on Dr. Ketchum’s research and the amazing work his non-profit performs in the Gulf of California Hope Spot, watch the video above.

4. Community Drives Success in the Creation of Protected Areas


(A special thanks goes to dive master Pilu for her leadership.)

We came across it over and over again in talking with the community of Cabo Pulmo: real passion for the Marine Park and a clear understanding that by protecting it, the community is guaranteeing a sustainable future of natural beauty and economic prosperity. Take, for example, the legendary Castro family of Cabo Pulmo, which now operates Cabo Pulmo Divers. The family used to kill marine wildlife—sharks, fish, turtles and the like—to makes ends meet. Yet decades ago, they accepted the challenge of creating sustainable ecotourism instead of harvesting living resources from the ocean as means to secure prosperity. Their investment has paid back in spades and this dedication to marine protection runs deep in the community, from the staff of Nancy’s Restaurant to locals we met in the streets.

5. Two Organizations On The Move in Cabo Pulmo


(Deb Zeyen of Baja Coastal Institute, Norma Sanchez of Pronatura Noroeste, Dr. Sylvia Earle and  CONANP Cabo Pulmo Park Director Carlos Ramon Godinez Reyes)

A brand new Visitors Center is being constructed right now in Cabo Pulmo thanks to the efforts of Pronatura Noroeste and the Baja Coastal Institute (BCI) along with other critical support from the local community. This custom designed complex will include a public amphitheater and orient newcomers to the ecological riches that Cabo Pulmo contains and the work required to keep them protected. HANT Architects donated all the architectural design and construction drawings for the Visitor’s Center. They are young architects dedicated to building in a way that is environmentally sustainable. We were honored to spend time with Deb Zeyen, the Executive Director of BCI, a critical ally whose organization collects scientific data in the Gulf of California Hope Spot and broadcasts findings to drive conservation of this marine haven.

Background to this series of posts

Bold Plan for 50 Ocean Hope Spots


Exciting news came out of the 3rd International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC 3): Her Deepness Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue and IUCN launched 31 new Mission Blue Hope Spots — Marine Protected Areas — across the globe to massively scale up the level of marine protection that experts consider necessary for a sustainable future.

A Hope Spot is an area of ocean that merits special protection because of its wildlife and significant underwater habitats. Each Hope Spot can give the ocean a breathing space from human activities so that it may recover and flourish. Dr. Earle named these areas Hope Spots because they represent a real hope to restore the health of our imperiled ocean.

The 31 new announcements come in addition to the 19 Hope Spots that Mission Blue was already working to protect over the previous four years. Click on the thumbnail below to hear about Hope Spots straight from Sylvia.

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When Dr. Earle won the TED Prize in 2009, she implored ocean supporters “to use all means at your disposal – films, the web, expeditions, new submarines, a campaign! – to ignite public support for a network of global marine protected areas, Hope Spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.” Click on the thumbnail below to hear the TED talk.

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Read all the Voices posts in this series on Mission Blue Hope Spots

Keywords: Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue, IUCN, Mission Blue Hope Spots, marine protected areas, underwater habitats, TED Prize, oceans, Cabo Pulmo Marine Park, Gulf of California


  1. Hollis Hampton
    Colorado, United States
    March 14, 11:56 am

    In May, 2012, my daughters and I were snorkeling from the beach at Los Frailes. We discovered sharks that had been killled and were tethered to the bottom of the sea. Appeared to be used as bait to attract other sea life. It was a very disturbing sight.
    I so appreciate the Cabo Pulmo Marine Park and all of the people who work so hard to protect it!
    Thank you,
    Mrs. Hollis Hampton

  2. Manuel Lizarraga
    Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico
    March 7, 8:38 pm

    Hi Brett,

    This is Manuel Lizarraga and Fatima Cordova from HANT Architects.

    We are the architects who designed the Visitor’s Center along with Pronarura (Norma) and BCI (Debra) and currently designing the amphiteathre, in fact we were in Cabo Pulmo just the day after Dr. Earle left. Well, I talk with Deb Zeyen and Norma and we agree that it would be wonderful if we could be mentioned (HANT Architects) as a collaborator with Pronatura an BCI in your note of the Visitor’s center. If you want to check this is our website , or ask Deb. I could send you more pics if you want, or if you are interested in other topic just tell us.


    • Brett Garling
      March 8, 2:11 am

      Thanks for the comment Manuel and Fatima! We added the credit and website URL. Your work is AMAZING!!

  3. reina macklis
    La Ribera, BCS
    March 3, 9:30 pm

    Hello, I want to thank on behalf of the 5 children from La Ribera and mine, we are very excited to have explored the sea with Dr . Earle. Thank you!!!

  4. Cremin Huxley
    Cabo Pulmo
    March 3, 5:18 pm

    A problem that needs to be addressed is the fishing at night on the reef

  5. Sergio González
    La Paz, B.C.S. México
    March 3, 2:14 pm

    Hi, first of all, this is an amazing report, thanks for sharing this!!

    And just one observation. I work for Pronatura Noroeste and we are building that visitor center, so my request is that change the name of the organization from just Pronatura to Pronatura Noroeste, also the link to the web page:

    We are a different Pronatura.

    Thank you very much!


    • Brett Garling
      March 3, 2:16 pm

      OK we have changed it. Thanks!