In 1994, Cabo Pulmo, a fishing outpost in Mexico’s Baja California, was clearly a victim of its own success. Overfishing had left the town destitute.
“It became harder and harder, until the point where we would go so far to fish, and sometimes return with nothing. The problem of overfishing was what made us think about changing our activities, and start dedicating ourselves to ecotourism,” said Cabo Pulmo community leader Mario Castro.
Seeking a radical change, the town petitioned the federal government, and had itself declared a national park.
“It was a very tough decision,” said Castro, “because we lived and ate from fishing. We saw a solution around the corner, and we knew that if we worked hard, we would see the results sooner.”
Twenty plus years later, Cabo Pulmo is one of the world’s premier destinations for ecotourism.
“The diving is tremendous for the quantity of fish that you see at any time. It’s just really teeming with life, you really have the impression that life is just all over the reef,” said diver Maria Coppola.
Cabo Pulmo’s success has seen its population swell from just three families in 1995 to more than 100 residents today. With more than 20,000 visitors last year, its population’s per capita income is double that of the Mexican national average.
But the town faces a fight to preserve its focus on conservation against developers who locals say would destroy the region.
In 2012, the community won a battle against Spanish developer Hansa Baja’s plans to build a massive resort, convincing then-President Felipe Calderon to cancel the project in order to protect the marine environment.
“In my role as one of the community leaders, I have been fighting against many of the big developers who will arrive and destroy what we have worked so hard to build. It’s not that we are opposed to development, we need it. But not of this size, because there’s no way our region can support something of that size. It doesn’t fit here,” said Castro.
Yet the community says pressure from international developers is never-ending and expects to the fight for Cabo Pulmo’s survival to continue for years to come.
Locals say their dedication is critical for the environment and for Cabo Pulmo’s future generations.