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 80’s. Abusive over
fishing and a tremendous decline in fish population caused great
concern in the local community, who subsequently lobbied the government
to protect the region. Moreover, a series of studies at UABCS were
directed by lead biologist Oscar Arizpe to provide strong evidence
supporting the biological relevance of Cabo Pulmo to the Sea of
Cortez. And on June 15, 1995, President Zedillo Ponce de Leon declared
the 7,111 hectares and waters surrounding Cabo Pulmo, a National
Although conservation efforts are headed in the right direction,
federal enforcement and financial aid remains scarce and the quest
to protect Cabo Pulmo National Park falls heavy on the shoulders
of the local community, just 113 residents. But the people here
are positive and last year La Comisión Nacional de Áreas
Naturales Protegidas or CONANP appointed the first official Park
Director, Carlos Narro to direct conservation efforts in the park.
Citizens, local and international conservation groups and the park
director are working together to implement programs such as Park
Enforcement, Reef Monitoring, Nest Monitoring for Sea Turtles and
To understand more about the reef, the threats and what is being
done to protect the park, Baja Life Magazine interviewed marine
biologist and former Cabo Pulmo resident, Hector Reyes Bonilla.
BL: What are the different types of Reefs?
HRB: In general there are three kinds: barrier,
fringing and atoll. In western Mexico and the eastern Pacific in
general most are fringing reefs, but one atoll exists (Clipperton)
BL: The Cabo Pulmo Reef is known as a hard coral
reef, how is this different from a typical coral reef?
HRB: Other than the one I mentioned before, there
are generally no accepted nomenclature for coral reefs. For many
people Pulmo is not a true reef as corals barely modify the bottom
topography (a characteristic of all "true reefs" in the
Caribbean and Indo Pacific). We believe that Pulmo functions as
a reef in that the fish and invertebrate assemblages depends greatly
on the physical structure and energy provided by the corals.
BL: What are the greatest threats to the Reef?
HRB: Fishing was the main problem until 1995 when
the area was declared a marine park. Today we fear that large-scale
tourist complexes (a la Cabo San Lucas) would cause irreversible
damages, especially because of the input of nutrients and excess
use of the area.
BL: What is the state of the Reef now compared
to 10 years ago when it was first declared a National Marine Park?
HRB: Much better now. Fish communities (species
richness and abundance, size of organisms) are among the best in
the entire Gulf of California.
BL: What direction do you see development taking
in Cabo Pulmo and how will that affect the health of the Reef?
HRB: Some representatives of the state government
and many developers want to continue the Corredor del Cabo del Este
from San Lucas to Cabo Pulmo and even further to the north, in order
to continue their large-scale tourism policy. Cabo Pulmo locals
are opposed to this and want a more relaxed approach using small
bungalows and limited number of rooms in the bay. As the latter
own most of the land, possibly they will be able to at least diminish
the potential damages.
BL: Should there be restrictions and guidelines
put in place for developers to help protect the Marine Park and
HRB: There are restrictions already included in
the Management Plan. Basically it considers limitations on the size
of hotels or bungalows, total number of rooms and tourists at one
time, and other regulations involving water use and treatment.
BL: What is a Management Plan and how does it work?
HRB: In Mexico, a management plan is the main tool
that determines the kind of uses that are acceptable in protected
areas. It is important to mention here that law in Mexico forbids
no-take zones; all protected areas should be able to produce some
kind of economic benefit to their residents. However, in the core
zones ("zonas nucleo") of the parks extractive activities
BL: How does silting, sewage and human waste affect
HRB: Silting is natural during summer as arroyos discharge a lot
of sediment from the Sierra de la laguna. However, it is a normal
situation and causes no concern. Sewage and human waste are very
well controlled in the town, although in camping areas (south of
the bay) it can represent a problem on particular dates when visitors
arrive in flocks (semana santa, summer vacations).
BL: What methods do scientists use to determine
the health of the Reef? What is a Reef Monitoring Program? Is there
one in place and if so, how does it work and who is leading it?
HRB: The health of a reef is a very difficult thing
to establish. In general it is considered that a healthy reef has
many fish and invertebrate species, high coral cover, low algal
cover, and no apparent diseases or other kind of perturbations.
Most monitoring programs thus measure these traits in the field
and compare results from time to time. The analyses provide evidence
of the state of the reef that can be used by managers to do their
job and make any decision is needed. Pulmo has no official monitoring
program, however, UABCS (our laboratory) has been making census
of fish, corals, gorgonians and echinoderms since 1987, and with
more intensity after 1997, when the ENSO caused a severe coral mortality.
Héctor Reyes Bonilla, studied Marine Biology (UABCS,
1990), has a M.Sc. degree in Marine Ecology (CICESE, 1993) and a
Ph.D. in Marine Biology and Fisheries (University of Miami, 2003).
He has done research in coral reef communities in the Pacific coast
of México since 1993, and particularly at Cabo Pulmo reef,
area from where he has obtained data for seven of his 54 peer-reviewed
papers. He leads the Reef Research Group of the Mexican Long-Term
Ecological Research Network (MEX-LTER), and his main interests are
macroecology of reef associated fauna (especially related to distribution
and functional diversity of corals, echinoderms and fishes) and
the effects of large-scale perturbations (especially El Niño)
on community structure.