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Hope + History in Cabo Pulmo


Article by Sue G. Collins

Photography by Cabo Pulmo Brewery and Montage Los Cabos

Alejandro Velasco’s family fished the crystal waters of Cabo Pulmo, at the southernmost tip of Mexico's Baja California Sur for four generations. Since the eighteenth century when settlers first discovered the waters of the Sea of Cortez were rich with the mollusks from which mother of pearl could be extracted, the coast has attracted an aggressive commercial fishing community. 

“Back then Cabo Pulmo was a fishing camp with houses made of wood from ships that had been driven onto the rocks by storms,” says Alejandro, Expedition Coordinator for Montage Los Cabos. “There was great poverty because the fish harvests that had once been so plentiful began to decline. The waters had been overfished and it was necessary to go farther away from home to get harvests that were smaller or nonexistent.”

The Cabo Pulmo Reef has eight fingers of hard coral reef, providing a safe haven for many of the 800 species of marine animals found throughout the Sea of Cortez. The rich biodiversity of the area is unparalleled and as a result was targeted by overzealous sport and commercial fisherman during the '80s. Abusive over fishing and a tremendous decline in fish population caused great concern in the local community, which subsequently lobbied the government to protect the region.

Thankfully, in the early 1980s students and professors from the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur began to visit the community and explain to the fishing families the importance of the coral reef that existed just offshore from our houses, explains Alejandro. Later, in 1995 Cabo Pulmo was named a National Marine Park by the Mexican government. “Now, 19 years after no extraction, the biomass of sea life has increased over 460%, making Cabo Pulmo the most recovered marine reserve in the world.”

Cabo Pulmo National Park is located just 60 miles north of Baja’s tourism epicenter, Los Cabos. This jewel of the East Cape region is surrounded by undeveloped desert and a stunning mountain range. The pristine beaches of Cabo Pulmo Park give way to a shallow bay that cradles one of three living reefs (the only hard coral reef) in North America offering unparalleled diving. In 2005, the park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the islands and protected ares of the Gulf of California. World Heritage is the designation for places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity including the Taj Mahal, Grand Canyon, Acropolis, Pyramids of Egypt and Great Barrier Reef

Stay at Montage Los Cabos where guests can take an immersive off-site expedition northeast to the Cabo Pulmo for an exclusive itinerary to snorkel with a private guide and have a local meal in the charming village. After a scenic two-hour drive through the magical Mexican desert, guests will be fitted with gear and board a “panga,” a traditional fishing boat. Alejandro explains: “On our last trip, we dove El Cantil, a beautiful site with a plethora of reef fish and corals. We were lucky to dive with sole and turtles. Then we went to El Bajo to search for jacks. We jumped in and there were hundreds of fish — the biggest school I’ve ever seen. They are so used to divers that we were able to swim through the middle of the school and could take our time to appreciate the beauty of this special site.”

El Cantil is a large reef with sheer walls that drop beyond sight. All sorts of nudibranchs (colorful sea slugs), shrimps and crabs await. El Bajo is an amazing reef at advanced depths offering a different kind of neighborhood to explore. 

Often, a dolphin will join the snorkelers, he says. Alejandro is one of a dozen enthusiastic Montage guides, all local and knowledgeable about the flora, fauna and culture of the Baja Peninsula. They promise to make divers feel safe while helping fulfill any “animal wish.”  

At the end of the day, divers will head to a favorite beachfront restaurant, chosen for its menu of local seafood and local beer, like Mobula IPA from Cabo Pulmo Brewing. Arturo Ortega and his partners opened the brew pub in 2018, cementing their commitment to the area. They also own a dive shop and have pledged to donate a portion of annual profits to conservation efforts in the area. Thus continues the tradition of rebuilding and loyalty.

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