Mark J. Spalding
Monday, March 27, 2017

The other night I shared pizza with young cousins Harry and James in Lafayette, California. I discovered that they visited one of my all-time favorite places—Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Like me, their most vivid memories were of the dolphins, the incredible wildlife and outdoor adventures to be had, in other words, the magic of Loreto.

Loreto is a special place. All of us who visit here can feel that. Collectively we have decided to Keep Loreto Magical. The Ocean Foundation’s local educational videos, event posters etc. repeat the need to “Keep Loreto Magical.” How? To protect the cultural, historic, and natural resources that make Loreto so special, and enable the people who live here to make the most of those resources to thrive in a diverse economy that respects their heritage and their future.

Loreto Whale.jpg

The Programa Pueblos Mágicos is an initiative led by Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism to recognize towns around the country that offer visitors a “magical” experience because of their natural beauty, cultural riches, or historical relevance. The magical pueblo known has Loreto still has relatively pristine waters along a remote, rugged Baja California Peninsula coastline rich with wildlife. And, at the same time, Loreto is a thriving community, tied to traditional ranching, nature-based tourism, recreational fishing, and people who are passionate about their second homes here.

Part of what makes Loreto special is certainly its robust cultural and historical significance such as the oldest mission in Baja. Loreto has also its mountains, its oases in the desert, and that special connection where the desert meets the sea. And there, the National Marine Park has islands in the Gulf of California and an array of birds and animals who live and migrate through its waters. This park was created to protect a large and highly productive marine upwelling, where just these last few weeks, locals and tourists have enjoyed seeing the largest visitors ever to live on the earth – a pod of blue whales here to feed on the rich biological resources of the Park. 

Loretanos and visitors alike value what the area’s natural resource provide. Many of us worry that over-development could turn Loreto into another one of the self-destroyed tourism destinations where much of the natural beauty and cultural resources have been obscured by high volume visitation and all the high-rise resort hotels, artificial landscapes, and the infrastructure to support it. Homeowners, tourism businesses, and environmental groups also worry about the current move to encourage mining in the region to meet international demand for metals. Clean safe water is fundamental to human life, to all life. Loreto has so little water, it barely can carry the population it has, much less risk losing any of its water to contamination from toxic mining tailings and run-off. Such toxins could destroy the livelihoods and lives of Loretanos, causing financial devastation, the loss of food sources, broken families, and serious health concerns for people and for ecosystem structure and function. 

Loreto Coast.jpg

In a narrative of power, greed, and impunity, the global mining industry tends to cut corners, yet play down the risks, and then, respond brutally to any opposition to its operations. There is evidence of betrayal of fundamental safeguards for human and natural resource health from elsewhere in Mexico and throughout Latin America: mining’s toxic legacy of polluted land, water, and even beach sands. Thus, any proposed mining requires careful reassessment, and even reordering, of conservation priorities to foster policy and action that enhances long term community health—what we call environmental sustainability. And, the best time to solve this problem is before mining extraction has begun, and thus while there are other options for economic development that ensures a safe community for future generation.

On March 28th, thanks to the hard work of about 30 volunteers, local vendors, and artists, Ceci Fischer, our community organizer, and I are hosting a dinner for well over 100 local supporters. These are people who value this place, who live here (full time or part time), and who are committed to a healthy people. These are Loretanos, Canadian and American expatriates, and Mexicans from the mainland, among others. Thus, The Ocean Foundation is working in Loreto, for Loreto and with people from the community from every walk of life. 

Loreto Dolphin.png

We collectively want Loreto to thrive as a sustainable blue economy, and for the blue whales to continue to be safe and well fed here. So our job is to keep focusing on bringing people together as a community to Keep Loreto Magical. The Ocean Foundation community never gives up on the coasts and ocean. 

  • The places we LOVE
  • And the PEOPLE who depend on them (whether we love them or not)
  • Not to mention the magnificent creatures who abide in them.

A previous municipal administration in Loreto took an enlightened approach and adopted an environmental ordinance that among other things seeks to protect fresh water resources for the community. There is still an opportunity to assist Loreto in defending this local ordinance before mining risk becomes critical. Mexico has many challenges in managing its coastal environment and few resources to do so. The good news is that Mexico’s science base is strong, if under resourced. The nation, the state of Baja California and the municipality of Loreto are going to need our help to protect Loreto’s health and interests, and well as the health of marine creatures large and small. The ecological ordinance defines the goal, and the defense is science-driven and oriented in community-engagement.

Loreto is a special town in a special place on an amazing body of water, the Gulf of California. There is a future to be built here that depends on reverence for all that is magical here. There is precedent to be had for defending a town’s right to choose a different kind of thriving economy, one that envisions a legacy of generations to come sharing the same amazing stories of a magic pueblo where the desert meets the sea.

Learn more about Loreto at https://www.oceanfdn.org/resources/loreto

Photos courtesy of Richard Jackson