3. Bahía de los Án­ge­les

Im­merse your­self in the nat­u­ral world by swim­ming with whale sharks and sea li­ons in the Sea of Cortez

Lonely Planet (UK) - - Baja California -

AAT FIRST IT’S JUST A shadow mov­ing in the water. It seems im­pos­si­bly big: eight, maybe nine me­tres. Dive un­der the sur­face and you can come face to face with 20 tonnes of mus­cle and car­ti­lage with fins; the broad mouth suck­ing in plank­ton as it reaches up to­wards the light; the re­moras cling­ing on to its white-spot­ted body; the grace­ful stroke of its huge tail fin as it glides through the water. It moves leisurely, av­er­ag­ing around 3mph, so for a lit­tle while you can swim along­side it, kick­ing your scuba fins hard to keep pace. Not just a big fish, but the big­gest fish of them all: the whale shark. It is a ma­jes­tic sight in a place that is over­run with ma­jes­tic sights. The Sea of Cortez, the hun­dred-mile wide strip of water be­tween Baja Cal­i­for­nia and the Mex­i­can main­land, was a favourite of the great ocean con­ser­va­tion­ist Jac­ques Cousteau. He called it ‘the world’s aquar­ium’. It is home to a vast panoply of sea crea­tures, with some 900 species of fish and 32 types of marine mam­mal liv­ing, eat­ing and breed­ing here. It’s not un­com­mon to spot sea tur­tles, manta rays and even grey whales. You can swim with sea li­ons, who bark and tus­sle like a pack of aquatic dogs, and an­glers come here in pur­suit of yel­low­tail, red snap­per and grouper. The fish­ing is so good even the birds join in. Brown pel­i­cans and blue­footed boo­bies soar through the air and then sud­denly dive, freefalling out of the sky and snatch­ing up their prey. It is ex­pe­ri­ences like th­ese that en­cour­aged Ri­cardo Arce to start his epony­mous div­ing tour com­pany in his home­town of Bahía de los Án­ge­les. ‘I grew up here and I’ve been div­ing for 21 years,’ he ex­plains. ‘I wanted peo­ple to have the same ex­pe­ri­ences that I’ve had.’ Bahía de los Án­ge­les is a small fish­ing town of just 800 peo­ple be­side the moun­tains of the Sierra San Borja. Its iso­la­tion makes it such a per­fect place to get close to the Sea of Cortez’s many won­ders. Re­turn­ing by boat af­ter a day at sea, the town is barely vis­i­ble on the shore­line. ‘A reg­u­lar day here means get­ting up early to give a tour, then hav­ing a chilled life,’ says Ri­cardo with a shrug. ‘It’s a re­lax­ing place.’ This has not hap­pened by ac­ci­dent. The com­mu­nity of Bahía de los An­ge­les has con­sis­tently come to­gether to fight plans to make the town into a more com­mer­cial re­sort. ‘We’re con­cerned about devel­op­ment, it wor­ries us,’ says Ri­cardo. ‘We think the area has been con­served very well like this so we don’t want it to grow that much. There have been lots of projects that have tried to get in here, but as a com­mu­nity we didn’t want them. We’re very selec­tive about the sort of tourism we want to at­tract. We don’t want Spring Break­ers or the party crowd. We only want peo­ple who are re­ally in­ter­ested in get­ting to know na­ture.’ Places like Bahía de los Án­ge­les are cru­cially im­por­tant be­cause the whale shark is an en­dan­gered species. Ri­cardo

is a mem­ber of a lo­cal con­ser­va­tion group, Pe­je­sapo, which since 2008 has worked to pre­serve the whale shark’s habi­tat and to count their num­bers. The sharks are most com­monly seen be­tween June and De­cem­ber, and at the sea­son’s peak Ri­cardo has seen as many as 55 in one day. ‘It’s a good feed­ing ground here,’ he ex­plains. ‘We used to think that they just ate plank­ton, but by film­ing them here we found out they eat big­ger fish too.’ There are only a cou­ple of very small ho­tels in the town, which means that for most of the year there are likely to be more whale sharks here than tourists. Ri­cardo is happy to keep it that way. ‘We try to set an ex­am­ple for the next gen­er­a­tion about how you should do things,’ he says. ‘We want to show them that this is how you pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment.’

A whale shark sur­faces in the Sea of Cortez. OP­PO­SITE FROM FAR LEFT Div­ing spe­cial­ist Ri­cardo Arce; sea li­ons bask in the sun­shine at Bahía de los Án­ge­les; brown pel­i­cans take a break from fish­ing

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.