Scientist on crusade to save Mexico’s sea turtles

Scientist on crusade to save Mexico’s sea turtles

Turtles caught in fishing nets are tossed aside to become food for creatures in the sea. They are byproducts of an industry that can be cruel.

Stephanie Rousso, who is a wildlife biologist, marine scientist and spatial ecologist, is one of many who are working to make life better for sea turtles by partnering with fisheries and educating the general public. On Feb. 14, she gave a talk at Paleta’s restaurant in Todos Santos.

Stephanie Rousso on Feb. 14 talks about the preservation of sea turtles in Mexico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

She praised the chef for knowing where the seafood came from, and acknowledged their practices are sustainable. That is one of the things Rousso likes to promote – sustainable actions, which includes consumers being aware of the food they consume. She is an advocate for California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium’s ratings for sustainable seafood consumption.

By eating food from sustainable fisheries people could be helping to save turtles. These fishermen are employing practices that don’t arbitrarily kill turtles. They are also tagging turtles for researchers.

Rousso is working with Upwell Sea Turtles and the Rufford Foundation in her research. She also relies on area fishermen and citizen scientists to provide data. When people report a sea turtle sighting with exact coordinates of its location that information is recorded. From there scientists can delve into the habitat and migration corridors.

“We want dead and live sightings,” Rousso said. Nesting information is gathered by other organizations.

“Where” is her big question. Where are they living? Where are the juveniles? Where are they nesting? Where are they mating? Where are they migrating? Part of her doctorate will be to find those answers.

These air breathing reptiles don’t breathe underwater, but they eat underwater. Seven species of sea turtles live throughout the world. Five call the waters of Mexico home. The olive ridley is the most common in the Todos Santos area. Leatherback and green are also in Todos Santos. Others in Mexico are hawksbill and loggerhead.

“(Olive ridley) are the most reproductive. They mate every year,” Rousso said.

While their numbers indicate they could be taken off the endangered species list, according to Rousso, that isn’t going to happen because in Mexico that would mean they could be fished again.

Leatherbacks, though, are not doing as well. Their softshell makes them unique.

“They could go extinct in our lifetime here,” Rousso said. “They are getting caught in nets and dying.” In Costa Rica in the last year only three nests were documented.

A mountain of fun despite never finding our destination

A mountain of fun despite never finding our destination

Marilyn, from left, Pat and Judy point to where we should go. No one knew for sure. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Some of the best adventures are misadventures.

“I’ve seen this before.” We all said it more than once. We were wrong each time. Another U-turn.

Our destination was Marco the pottery guy who lives and works in the mountains near Todos Santos. Two of the four of us had been there before. They were our driver and navigator. Our directions were to make all lefts except the one right at the sign. We never saw a sign. We never saw Marco. We all should take an orienteering class.

Arroyos look the same after a while. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It didn’t matter. It turned out to be an incredibly fun day driving around the Sierra de la Laguna mountains. It was a bit disconcerting that one dirt road looked like another, as did other markers like buildings, retaining walls and the flora. Everything looked different and the same.

We asked more than one person we stumbled upon to direct us to Marco. No luck. Some had no idea who he was, some tried to help. These are ranchers who live in the mountains. Cow bells alerted us to the livestock not far off the road. Other times we slowed down to let them move along.

The meaning of a saddle hanging in the middle of what seems like nowhere remains a mystery. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I never felt truly lost, though it was alarming that the two in the front seats thought they saw the Sea of Cortez when it was the Pacific Ocean. When they first said this I thought they were joking because I knew we hadn’t traversed across the mountains, we hadn’t gone that far east. The fact they were this disoriented meant they thought we were going north when we were going south and vice versa.

These two were also the fluent Spanish speakers – adding more intrigue to the sojourn.

With an eye on the gas gauge, it was time to ask how best to get back to the highway. We made it – just not the way we came in.

A couple ranchers help direct the gringas back to the highway. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

We had worked up an appetite, so off to lunch we went at Hierbabuena in Pescadero. A bottle of wine was necessary to toast to a fun day, even though our original intent got thwarted.

After lunch we decided to head to the ranchero store in Todos Santos to see if any of Marco’s work was for sale. Nope. All gone. We also learned Marco wasn’t at home that day so it really didn’t matter that we never found him. We were told we could come back the second Saturday in February for the festival at the ranchero store that would feature several local artisans. I got there too late. Marco’s work was sold-out in the first 20 minutes. I just might not be destined to own any of his pottery.

A woman’s best friend at age 17

A woman’s best friend at age 17


One of AJ’s favorite spots is on the front porch of her home in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I know that every day AJ is with me is a gift. Today she turns 17.

She’s a different dog than she was even a year ago. Slower, sleeps more often, but is more affectionate. She uses stairs most of the time to get onto the bed. She usually needs a helping hand to get in and out of the Jeep. Mostly she walks behind me off or on leash, instead of running ahead out of sight.

I worry every time I have to leave her overnight. Before I do, I promise her that I will always come back. When I returned earlier this month from a few days in the United States, my pet sitter Pickle (that’s her surfer name) left me this note: “I have to tell you that this was a very special pet sit with AJ. From the minute I came in the gate, she was just so happy to see me. For the last 6 days, she stuck by my side … and kisses and putting her head into my chest when I was petting her. She broke my heart!!”

The times AJ wants to play with her monkey are few and far between. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

She seems to keep breaking my heart as well. Lately AJ has been climbing onto the bed where I’m reading or doing something on the computer. I put whatever it is aside after she places her paws or head on me. I pet her, talk to her, tell her how much I love her, what I’m thinking about our future, how I’ll always be there for her. We stay like that until she doesn’t want to be petted anymore. I won’t be able to get those moments back. Reading, writing, working, watching whatever – those things can wait.

I’ve never had a bond like this with a dog. I used to think Bailey, my black Lab who lived to 14, was the best dog. And she was awesome. But AJ has something I can’t quite describe. I’m sure it’s wrapped up in how I got her – which was when my friend Joy passed away in August 2012. AJ has also been with me through significant transitions in my life. It’s the first time a dog has been a friend, not just a pet or companion.

AJ on her mom’s lap. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

She is so much more mellow now that twice in the last two months we’ve stayed with friends who have cats. We both behaved. There was a time when I would say, “Get the kitty.” This would be on our walks. Off she would run, never successful in her pursuits, though. Now she can co-exist with felines indoors.

My heart aches when I think about the attack she survived last May and how much worse it could have been. We were both changed by it and not in good ways.

I’m not taking her on hikes in Baja anymore. Mostly because I don’t know how long any of them will be until they are over. We don’t walk in the neighborhood because of my lingering fear. Instead, we go to the beach. When it’s just us, we venture to the fresh water lagoon and back – about 1.5 miles round trip. She loves to drink and linger in the cool water. Other days we walk with Jill and her two pups. These are about 2 mile treks, with beach time always a component. The dogs are all friends, but not playmates. AJ is beyond that for the most part. On occasion she will playfully interact with another dog, but for that to happen I need to be secure and she needs to be in the mood.

While her vision is going, she stopped in her tracks the other day when a whale close to shore came out of the water. She didn’t bark like she used to at a bear; she just stared at the water. If only she could tell me what she was thinking.

I know she loves the climate of Baja so much better than the chill of Tahoe. She spends so much more time outside. She has the run of the yard, even when Airbnbers are staying below us. Often I find her on the front step; which necessitates guests walking around her. She can see what is going on on the street from there. The guests just mean more hands to pet her. Some even let her inside downstairs and give her human food. No wonder she stays downstairs.

Even though I bought birthday treats for her when I was in the U.S., today we’ll go get papas fritas – our favorite junk food. We’ll walk, we’ll talk and it will be all about her – just like what all birthdays should be.

Lake Tahoe snowshoe guidebook just published

Lake Tahoe snowshoe guidebook just published

Snowshoeing Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Treks provides snowshoers with an invaluable guide for adventures in the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond. Whether it is traipsing through virgin snow or on a worn path, this book contains a route for everyone who likes to play in the outdoors in winter. Venture to frozen alpine lakes and wilderness peaks or enjoy the beauty at lake level.

Snowshoeing Around Lake Tahoe is more than a guide to interesting places. It is written in narrative form, with facts and figures interwoven. Each excursion is a story about what one can find and experience on the trail.

Snowshoeing Around Lake TahoeOne thing that sets this book apart from others is the rating system for scenic quality and difficulty. Each snowshoe is rated on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most scenic and most difficult.

Snowshoeing Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Treks is available via Amazon, and Barnes and Noble as an eBook for $5.99 and paperback for $9.99. Local bookstores can order it upon request.

Information about author presentations and signings may be found online.

Author Kathryn Reed is an award-winning journalist who loves the outdoors. She has either been living at Lake Tahoe or visiting the area since she was a child. She is also the author of The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes that was published in 2019.

Art walk in San Jose del Cabo like a treasure hunt

Art walk in San Jose del Cabo like a treasure hunt

Even the old doors at a store are like art. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Art was in every direction while meandering along the cobblestones of downtown San Jose del Cabo, including inside the stores.

Every Thursday during the busy season several streets in the art district are closed to vehicle traffic so people can more easily stroll through the galleries, stores, restaurants and other businesses.

Those without a shop peddle their wares along the sidewalks, with the bulk being in Plaza Mijares. (The main plaza is named after Manuel Mijares, who was a war hero.)

One doesn’t have to know much about a specific art form to appreciate the work. There is something for everyone – from photography to painting, jewelry, baskets, sculpture, blown glass and so much more.

The art walk is Thursdays in downtown San Jose del Cabo. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

An advantage to an evening like this is often being able to meet the maker of the art. This is an opportunity to delve into the backstory of a piece of art, to understand better how an idea became reality, and the work involved to create it. Photographer Bruce Herman had an array of photographs for sale on the far side of the plaza away from the church. An incredible shot of a baby Baja turtle captured several people’s attention. Asked if he had more turtles, he said he stopped shooting when he got the best one. So, no, would be the short answer. It’s stunning.

The concept of this walk is the brainchild of the 12-member Gallery District Association. It started more than a decade ago.

Allowing only pedestrian traffic on several streets gives it a more intimate feel.

It’s not just the art galleries that are eager to have people visit. All the shops throw open their doors, benefiting from the people sauntering by. Often musicians are playing, with traditional Mexican dancers known to put on a show as well. Restaurants are crowded. It would be wise to have a reservation on Thursdays.

A woman surrounded by traditional Mexican fabric goods looks down on the streets of San Jose. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Deets:

  • Every Thursday from November-June, 5-9pm.
  • Start at the main square and walk from there.
  • Part of the main street, Obregon, is closed as well as a few side streets. Parking can be difficult, so arrive early.

Bevy of law enforcement keeping watch on Todos Santos

Bevy of law enforcement keeping watch on Todos Santos

ACTS President Sergio Jauergui, right, interprets for law enforcement at a January meeting. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Not even the gang of law enforcement officers could answer whether it’s legal for non-Mexican residents to own a gun. And this was at a presentation in Todos Santos about safety and security.

A permit is required. Beyond that, no definitive answer. However, Mexican citizens can only own .25 caliber handguns or lower, and 12-gauge shotguns for hunting.

ACTS (Asociación de Colonos de Todos Santos or Todos Santos Community Association) at its annual meeting in January gathered the mayor, Roberto Tito Palacios; the Mexican army commander; Mexican army lieutenant; major commander from the newly formed national guard; a representative from the police ministry, which is similar to a district attorney’s office; and a local cop. Even though the marines have a base in Todos Santos, they were not represented at the meeting.

As with law enforcement throughout the world, each agency has a specialty, though they work in tandem when needed. The national guard is the newest organization. It was started by the president less than a year ago.

The biggest issues going on locally are domestic violence, traffic accidents and thefts. A dog is the biggest deterrent to crime, according to officers. Security cameras can be used as evidence in court. Alarms might scare the bad guys away.

Empty homes, especially in August, September and October, are targeted by criminals – often from La Paz and Los Cabos.

A neighborhood watch program is one of ACTS big projects. Information about it and other programs are online. According to ACTS website the purpose of the nonprofit is: “To take a pro-active role in supporting and representing our area’s interests as a recognized voting body to municipal, state, and federal government agencies, as well as community organizations, and the media. To be a valuable resource of information on matters relevant to community. To support initiatives that protect and enhance property values. To encourage responsible stewardship of the land for generations to come.”

Eight police officers work each of the three shifts in Todos Santos. Pescadero has three officers per shift and a separate commander.

Palacios blamed the higher ups in La Paz for the lack of local personnel. He would like more independence from the state capital as well as for state officials to understand the growth that is taking place in the Todos Santos area. Palacios said the local cops are struggling with eight people at any given time to handle a population of 10,000. However, in a city like South Lake Tahoe, California, that would be considered a luxury. That town has four officers per shift, plus a sergeant on the streets, (sometimes it’s a total of four) for a population of 25,000.

Todos Santos recently received two new police vehicles, with Pescadero getting one. Four officers ride around in one vehicle in Todos Santos. Perhaps if they each had a vehicle, like they do in Tahoe and so many other places, there would be less crime and/or more crimes would be solved.

Some of the nearly 100 people in attendance at the meeting wondered about the funding for the police department, especially considering officers come around “begging” for money in December. That is supposed to be the only time they ask for a handout, which supposedly goes toward their Christmas party. They have money for gas and uniforms. It was suggested donations be made for their food. It would seem like all workers in all professions would love that sort of hand out.

It was confirmed it is legal to videotape officers when being questioned or if they are asking for cash. If anyone suspects police corruption, they can go to the delegado, aka mayor.

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Deets:

  • More information about ACTS is available online. Membership is 500 pesos a year.
  • In an emergency, call 911.
  • Local police may be reached at 612.145.1052.
Mexico in the News: Tourism, Butterflies and Toyota

Mexico in the News: Tourism, Butterflies and Toyota

  • Forbes says La Paz is the place to visit, not Cabo.
  • The New York Times in this story delves into women in Mexico fighting back against violence.
  • Climate change is taking a toll on monarch butterflies in Mexico, according to this Washington Post.
  • The most dangerous source of ocean plastic is fishing gear, according to Sea Shepherd Global. Mexico is mentioned in this story.
  • Toyota is moving more vehicle production to Mexico, according to the Associated Press.

Baja home to world’s largest salt operation

Baja home to world’s largest salt operation

The world’s largest salt plant is in Guerrero Negro, Mexico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Salt isn’t just for seasoning food. It has about 14,000 industrial uses – including making detergents with chlorine compounds, deicers for roads, soluble cutting oil, latex, and paper products.

The 8.5 million tons of salt that comes from the plant in Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur, Mexico, is mostly used by Mitsubishi, which owns 49 percent of the company. The Mexican government owns 51 percent of ESSA. The odd thing about this arrangement is that the minority shareholder is the largest client.

Micro-organisms naturally turn the salt ponds a rose color. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It is the largest salt making facility in the world, having started in the 1950s by a private individual. It covers 86,500 acres of land. Nine percent of the world’s salt comes from the plant. Most of this salt is for industrial purposes.

Jorge, who leads tours of the facility, said part of the area was natural salt flats before it became industrialized. Daily, 27,000 tons of salt are harvested. This takes a workforce of about 1,500 people.

This pile of washed salt is about 500,000 tons. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Water from the Pacific Ocean is pumped into the various ponds to a depth of more than 1½ feet. About 700 million tons of water is used each year. Some of the ponds look as though they’ve been dyed a rose extract. In truth, the coloring is from a single-cell organism known as halobacteria.

The air and sun combine to evaporate the water. Left behind is the salt. Standing in a dry pond ready to be cleared of salt it is like being in a field of snow. The bright sun made glasses and sunscreen necessary. Chunks of the salt were like small blocks of ice, only not cold. Some resembled rock salt that could be used in a homemade ice cream maker.

Salt is scooped from a pond into a truck where it is then taken to a washing area. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In an operation that resembles clearing roads of snow, a grader sucks up the salt to deposit it into a massive truck with three storage compartments. From there it is taken to the washing facility. Conveyor belts deliver the cleaned product to a large mound that eventually ends up on a boat headed to Japan.

While in some respects the salt business is a natural occurrence, on the other hand it is an environmental nightmare. The operation is now located in a United Nation’s biosphere reserve. This area of the Pacific Ocean is where whales give birth and birds call the region home, along with other species. However, on a tour last year, birds were non-existent on the 72 ponds.

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