Protecting Baja

Of the five features to be created in Henley Spiers' time as Storyteller in Residence, three rely extensively on fieldwork in Baja California Sur, Mexico. "It seems apt therefore to share with you an introduction to the man spearheading the most ambitious project of marine protection in the region: Mario Gomez," says Henley.

Words and photographs by Henley Spiers

Although based in the nation’s capital, Mexico City, an appreciation for the ocean was instilled from a young age in Mario Gomez through frequent family visits to Mexico’s coasts. His father was passionate about the ocean and would even host Jacques Cousteau on his expeditions to the region. It may even be after spending time with the Gomez family in Loreto, Baja California Sur, that the ever quotable Commandant Cousteau would describe the Sea of Cortez as the “aquarium of the world”.

Mario Gomez would grow up to become a skilled advocate for the interests of the ocean in Mexico. In this interview, he traces back the history of marine protection in his country, from the successful but small-scale Cabo Pulmo National Park (a story also covered in Issue 19) to the impressive protection and regeneration of the Revillagigedo National Park.

In the words of Paul Nicklen, Mario is like a chess player – he has the rare ability to successfully communicate and negotiate with disparate interest groups, from artisanal fishermen to government ministers. After three decades of fighting for marine protection, he shows no sign of letting up and, in 2022, he was recognised with a Lifetime Achievement award by the Blue Marine Foundation’s Ocean Awards.

Just days after our interview, Claudia Sheinbaum was elected as Mexico’s new president. The first ever female president, she has a background as a scientist with studies in sustainable development. Mario and his team at Beta Diversidad will hope to persuade her administration of the Dos Mares Biosphere, a giant marine protected area to encompass 19.2 million hectares of ocean surrounding the Baja California Sur state. If approved, it would bring the total marine protected areas from 5% to 12% of Mexico’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

Watch the interview here:

For more Despatches, behind-the-scenes insights and images from his travels, follow our 2023 Storyteller in Residence’s journey here or over on Instagram.


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