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 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.

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.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

Emergency declared in Todos Santos because of fruit fly

Government officials and agricultural representatives in Baja California Sur are worried about fruit flies that have been found in Todos Santos.

They are calling it an emergency. This Mexican state can send produce to the United States and elsewhere because dangerous fruit flies have not been an issue here. While the area has fruit flies, the one causing the emergency declaration is new.

At the Jan. 25 meeting for ACTS (Asociación de Colonos de Todos Santos), multiple people from the agency responsible for the fly’s eradication spoke. They have been in Todos Santos for seven months spraying trees and setting traps. Now they are running into issues with the ability to access private property.

They will be going door-to-door asking for permission to treat trees. ACTS will be sending an email to its members and putting a notice in the Baja Western Onion. It is possible to let the delegado’s office know spraying is allowed if you are not home. Officials urge people to not leave fallen fruit on the ground.

Every parcel with a fruit tree (citrus, mango, plums, pomegranates) needs to be sprayed with what is essentially a non-toxic sugar compound. The best time to spray is when there is no fruit. For those not wanting the spray, traps can be set up.

Of the 100 traps in the Todos Santos municipality, four flies were found when they checked before the meeting. Traps are examined every three days. Larvae has been found in fruit as well.

The emergency will be deemed over once no flies are located for three consecutive months.

The shame of watching a pirated movie

Not everything is meant to be free. Many people have a hard time grasping that reality.

People have been looking for a deal since time began. The internet has taken the free concept even further. People want their news, music, books, movies and most everything for free that can be delivered digitally. Why don’t people respect what it took to create those things? They seem to begrudge artists and those associated with the production from making a living. They are stealing, though, that isn’t likely what they’d call it.

I hate to admit I am guilty of watching a pirated version of Academy Award-nominated “1917.” A restaurant in Todos Santos shows first run movies every week. On Jan. 21 this World War I film was shown after having been released in Mexico four days earlier. This wasn’t a copy; the quality was too good. Someone at the restaurant must have connections to someone in the film industry to continually do this.

According to TorrentFreak, “1917” was the second most downloaded movie for the week of Jan. 20, with “Terminator: Dark Fate” being No. 1.

The Todos Santos restaurant doesn’t release that week’s title until a couple days before. Presumably because it doesn’t know what will be bootlegged.

Admission is free. The restaurant is hoping to increase food and beverage sales. The public, mostly gringos, benefits by seeing a first run movie in English. (Cabo San Lucas, an hour away, has movie theaters so it’s possible to see movies the legitimate way.)

I knew I shouldn’t have been there. I told myself I wanted to see the “crime scene” in person. I don’t have an excuse for not walking out. I know I won’t be going back.

Pay for what you read, watch and hear; and don’t go to establishments that help cheat the system.

Todos Santos music fest cloaked in controversial vibes

La Santa Cecilia vocalist Marisol Hernandez dazzles the crowd in January 2019 at Hotel California in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Music has the power to be a unifying force. It can bring people together around a common cause with lyrics that can be persuasive and provocative. Emotions can run the gamut no matter the genre.

Peter Buck, former R.E.M. guitarist, in 2012 launched the inaugural Todos Santos Music Festival. (Buck had bought a house in Todos Santos in 2008.) The goal was to bring his music industry friends as well as Mexican bands here for a few days, entertain thousands, and make a few dollars for nonprofits in town, most notably for the Palapa Society, an education organization. After Hurricane Odile swept through the area in 2014 concert proceeds that year helped residents rebuild.

All seemed to be going well until 2016. The last day of the festival coincided with people marching in the street to protest the Tres Santos project and rally for the fishermen.

Buck got on stage in the public square during the free concert and said, What’s gone on in this town for the past two years is a fucking crime. This town is not owned by crooked politicians, sleazy developers or Cabo silver merchants. This is your town. Every one of you people has a say in this town. So everybody wake up! This is your town, take it over!” For some who were there, Buck’s tirade was personal, mean and uncalled for. It went beyond the politics of the day.

Peter Buck, right, and Joseph Arthur at the Todos Santos Inn in January 2019. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In Mexico it is illegal for foreigners to be involved in local politics; Buck was persona non grata.

With Buck essentially being run out of the country, there was no music festival in 2017. In 2018 it was revived with the name Tropic of Cancer. Even though Buck and Joseph Arthur performed in 2019 just before the actual festival started, he is not affiliated with the current festival.

On Reddit on June 12, 2019, Buck wrote, “I’d like to state for the record that I don’t know Joe Firstman well, and that his Tropic of Cancer festival has nothing to do with me. The Todos Santos Music Festival was run and owned by myself and Chloe Buck. All money earned from ticket sales, t-shirts, auctions, etc, was given to the Palapa Society, a wonderful school educating local children. I did not turn the festival over to Joe Firstman and the implication that this festival has anything to do with me or our festival is incorrect. I hope people are not confused, which is why I am making this statement.”

No longer is there a big, free concert in the town’s plaza. Estimates are more than 4,000 people would attend it. Most concerts are at Hotel California in the middle of Todos Santos, with smaller venues hosting lesser known acts. Hotel California revamped its courtyard for the 2015 event, doubling that area. Lighting and sound equipment were upgraded as well.

This year’s Tropic of Cancer Concert Series is Jan. 15-19. The headliner for 2020 is Holy Spirits. More information is online.

A raw look at the reality of illegally crossing Sonoran Desert

Journalist Jason Motlagh speaks Dec. 27, 2019, in Todos Santos about immigration. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

What could be worse than confronting the drug cartel, paying to be their mule and knowing that could get you killed, walking across the desert without enough water, and entering a country illegally? Going home. That could be worse than everything else.

People are fleeing Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, making their way to Mexico and hoping to end their journey in the United States. Life is so bad in their home country, death seems inevitable. Cartels make it impossible to live, extorting money to the point there is little left to pay for even the basics. To survive they leave.

Only death will end the migrants’ dreams. Since the 1990s, it is estimated that at least 9,000 people have died crossing the Sonoran Desert between Mexico and the United States. The desolate landscape likely has cut short many more lives; whose bones are now part of the desert and likely never to be recovered.

“Committed to reaching the U.S. at any cost – and fearful of the increasingly hostile U.S. authorities at the border – migrants who have given up on the asylum process are detouring into this remote, scarcely policed stretch of desert gambling their lives on a journey through hellfire,” writes Jason Motlagh in the October 2019 issue of Rolling Stone magazine.

Motlagh on Dec. 27 launched the fifth season of the Todos Santos speaker series. He shared the hourlong documentary “Deserted: Death and Dreams in the U.S. Borderlands” that he narrated and produced.

“It’s a very dark time for not only migrants, but Good Samaritans,” Motlagh told the crowd gathered at Teatro Marquez de Leon in Todos Santos.

The film and magazine article point out the risks the migrants take, as well as those trying to help them. People leave water in the desert. Others search for remains in hopes of bringing closure to families.

Immigration should not be that complex of an issue. People want a better life. As it was pointed out at the presentation, the United States’ intervention in Central American governments helped create the immigration crisis of today.

Motlagh, a journalist who has lived in Todos Santos for two years, is using his skills to shine a light on immigration issues. In December 2018, he spoke in Todos Santos about his experience in the Darién Gap and struggles of emigrants there.

Other events in the speaker series will be Jan. 10, Jan. 24, Feb. 14 and Feb. 21. El Tecolote Bookstore has details and sells tickets. Most cost 200 pesos.

Padrino Foundation making a difference in children’s lives

“A community in which all children achieve their full potential for health and well-being.”

Since its inception in early 2016, the nonprofit Padrino Children’s Foundation based in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, has been committed to this vision. The need continues to grow, which also means the group needs more pesos.

Dec. 10 was the organization’s largest fundraiser of the year, ExploreSabor at el Mirador by Guaycura. Chef Luis Armando Mukul from Gastro Bar in San Jose del Cabo created a delightful four-course meal, which was complemented with plenty of wine.

Alejandra Peña Salguero, the primary physician associated with Padrino, that night talked about a handful of the youngsters who have been assisted by the foundation. (Peña works with six others on the Padrino clinical team, along with medical professionals throughout the region.) To see pictures of the children, to know their stories made it all so real. One 6-year-old was on the social services waiting list for six months. The professionals at Padrino weren’t going to wait for other groups to step in and began care right away, helping this child with immediate needs. A 16-year-old was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis. After 11 months of treatment through Padrino the child was symptom-free. More success stories are on the group’s website.

The foundation was formed by Nancy Naigle and Nancy Serfass “to provide access to professional medical care for children in need and promote wellness for children in the community of Todos Santos and the surrounding region.”

Jim Cardillo, chairman of the board, said that the need for the foundation’s services is increasing and that the forecast is for it to continue in this direction. The sold-out event of more than 100 people learned that in 2017 165 children were served, that grew to 191 in 2018 and 545 in 2019. As of the night of the event Padrino was actively helping 150 children. They need doctor appointments, to be seen by specialists, prescriptions, therapy, lab tests and more.

According to the foundation’s website, “Since January 2017, we have provided 10,668 medical interventions to 707 local children.”

Interventions provided include:

  • 5,470 – children with special needs
  • 3,272 – financial aid for medical services
  • 709 – teen outreach
  • 695 – health clinics
  • 429 – mental and social health
  • 93 – family nutritional counseling.

The top five services are:

  • Special stimulation therapy
  • Transportation
  • Teen workshop
  • Psychotherapy
  • Screening.

It’s not all a free ride; families are asked to contribute. One had to sell a vehicle to help with bills. While the treatments cost significantly less in Mexico than the United States, the income here is even less. The minimum wage in Mexico is just more than $5 a day – not an hour, a day. Padrino’s current fiscal year budget is $200,000. Donations are accepted year-round, with other events throughout the year.

Dog walks double as opportunity to rid beach of trash

Scanning the beach, it looks pristine for miles. Looking down, that’s another story.

While the beaches of Todos Santos are not full of litter, there is something to be picked up along each walk. This could probably be said of any sandy oasis in the world. People leave things behind – sometimes deliberately, other times unknowingly. Debris gets washed ashore during a storm or with the normal ebb and flow of tides, while other particles are brought to the beach during rain events from higher land points.

Styrofoam protrudes from the sand in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Wind covers and uncovers items, so walking the same stretch each day can reveal something new. AJ and I walk a similar section on a regular basis, but it would be near impossible to walk the exact path because the beach is so wide and long.

It used to be when I had an unused poop bag after walking, I would bring it the next time. Now I use it for trash.

I have Jill to thank for this. AJ and I regularly walk with her and canines Ruby and Pepper. She has been picking up trash for a handful of years; starting after a neighbor she used to walk with was doing so. Jill and I share a bag, thus cutting down on the number of plastic bags when we walk together.

Styrofoam is Jill’s biggest pet-peeve. She has a knack for spotting tiny pieces of this non-biodegradable material. I confuse them for shells. Some of it is from cups, other is the tiny beaded Styrofoam used in insulation. Recently she found a syringe on the beach. My most interesting item was a pair of rusty pliers next to a barbed wire fence; guessing someone left them behind after the job was done. Mostly pieces of plastic, bottle tops and cigarette butts fill our bags, along with the occasional beer can.

While we are using plastic bags, that isn’t completely terrible. This last summer Baja California Sur outlawed single-use plastic bags at stores. Produce bags are still available. Those often become my dog poop/beach litter bags. I also have biodegradable poop bags I brought from the United States. Jill is even better, bringing bags that rarely see a second use like what dried beans come in. This is where I need a lot of improvement – to reuse my quinoa, trail mix and chip bags. Those bags are also being used to clean up after AJ in the yard. I used to toss them in the garbage without giving them a second life.

Jill isn’t the only walker I know who picks up other people’s garbage. My mom has been doing this for as long as I can remember. She does so when walking her neighborhood, picking up what she can carry. I, too, have picked up trash on any street I’ve lived on.

It proves garbage is an issue everywhere; not just on a beach. “Leave no trace” is a mantra for hikers, as is “carry out what you pack in.” These sentiments should be applied in all circumstances when it comes to trash. One day it would be great if nothing ended up in anyone’s bag because the world was that clean. But statistics make that seem like a fantasy.

According to National Geographic, “There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Of that mass, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some 4 billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea.”

Human trash is an environmental nightmare – for the land, ocean and animals consuming our crap. It’s bad enough for wildlife to eat human food, even worse to ingest our trash. Think of all the toxins getting into the soil/sand, waterways, animals’ bodies. Plenty of humans are then eating those contaminated animals. The ecosystem can’t survive if we keep trashing it.

Thanksgiving is more than a meal

Thanks and giving – two words that together should mean more than turkey.

While I have not eaten turkey for years, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I’ve never gone hungry – all those wonderful sides, and then dessert. It is a feast whenever I’ve been with a group. Thanksgiving dinner is one of my favorite smells. It puts a smile on my face, all those aromas blending into one delicious memory.

Thanksgiving 2018 at neighbors in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

But it’s so much more than the food. Thanksgiving is an opportunity to take stock of what you are thankful for and to give to others. Giving can be in the form of sharing food, sharing friendship, sharing memories – giving thanks for the people who are part of your life in small and large ways. Neither the thanks nor the giving have to be in person. Both can be done afar.

For the past several years I have participated in a Friendsgiving instead of the usual family ensemble. While in Lake Tahoe, it had to do with weather, work and my Airbnb rental. In Todos Santos, it’s all about location – 1,500 miles from family. Sharla and Jay continue to open their Tahoe home to a group of friends. While I miss that time, I have found something similar south of the border.

Last year was special with my mom and oldest niece in Todos Santos. We went next door where an elegant table for more than 20 was set. It was cathartic for my mom, who only a couple weeks earlier had lost her Paradise home in the Camp Fire. These people, many whom I had not met and the rest who I barely knew, took us all in. I will forever be grateful.

It’s back to Connie and Andy’s that I go this year, though with a bit of sadness without mom in tow. She’ll be with one of my sisters, so I know it will be special for her. That celebration will also be a bit of a Friendsgiving at Pam’s.

I have plenty to be thankful for this year. Thank you all for being a part of my life and making it that much richer.

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