The no extraction biosphere reserve at Los Islotes has become the private fishing ground for yachts that can’t find fish in any other place. Most evenings, about an hour before dark, you can see boats arrive checking to see that no one is in the area before they start spearfishing illegally. There has never been good vigilance protecting this vital area in the evening and at night (OC was there in 2010). Since diving is the main reason to visit La Paz for many tourists, a solution to the problem is that the tourism operators that make their living here could invest to have their livelihoods protected every evening. The vigilance unit ‘Observadores Ciudadanos’ (OC), originally setup to work from dusk till dawn, is the perfect solution for vigilance in the evening and at night at this La Paz tourism icon. Without VIGILANCE all Marine Protected Areas are nothing more than private fishing grounds for those fishermen willing to break unenforced laws.
Despite Espiritu Santo being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a Marine Protected Area and Los Islotes a “No Extraction” Nuclear Zone in the Biosphere Reserve, illegal fishing practices continue to degrade the marine life which, in turn, is placing the ecological sustainability of the marine tourism industry of La Paz and its islands in jeopardy.
Activities including diving, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing and whale watching, generate substantial profits for operators and the benefits extend throughout the community of La Paz for additional services such as hotels, food, transportation, gifts and souvenirs, currency exchange, and other tourist activities.
So why does the degradation of Isla Espiritu Santo and Los Islotes continue when it is supposedly ‘protected’ and commercially important to the community? Basically it’s because there is neither vigilance nor enforcement of the regulations for fishing in and around this unique group of islands. The environmental agencies involved, CONANP and PROFEPA, are in charge of vigilance and enforcement of these regulations but in reality prosecutions resulting from denuncias are rare and consequently the marine protected areas (MPA’s) have simply become private fishing grounds for illegal fishing operations.
Yachts, like the ones pictured, regularly arrive to illegally fish in the “no take”, nuclear zone around Los Islotes. It is the only real dive attraction in La Paz and without it there would not be any dive tourism here. Since the officials won’t provide the vigilance and enforcement, the commercial operators that make their living here need to start providing the vigilance necessary to stop the constant fishing violations that are destroying Los Islotes and Espiritu Santo Island. Such incidences of yachts and sports fishing boats using ‘protected’ nuclear zones as private fishing grounds are becoming increasingly commonplace around the Isla Espiritu island group, highlighting the urgent need for the community to take over vigilance and to urge the government and its agencies to enforce the protection laid out in the management plan for the region.
A number of groups are working to restore Isla Espiritu Santo. One such group is ‘Observadores Ciudadanos’ (OC) whose primary focus is on illegal fishing activities around the island. The group is underfunded and understaffed and patrols the island only 4-5 days a month but with support from the user groups and the community, OC could provide the vigilance, evidence collecting and reporting necessary to stop the continuing destructive violations.