Here is one of the missing keys to the ocean’s health, and in fact, to our whole sailing voyage across 15,000 miles of the Pacific. We knew it had to do with marine reserves- and the incredible fish we had been catching on our boat- but we weren’t sure how.
The revelation began with a scream.
“Aaaaaah!!” Sabrina exclaimed as she lept up, nearly sending her dinner plate flying across the cockpit. “A flying fish just hit me in the back of the head!” she said bewildered, jumping up and down. We turned on a light with excited anticipation.
“No way, it’s actually a squid- check it out!” Michael scooped the slimy cephalopod off the cockpit bench with his fingers and put it on the table for closer inspection. We discovered over 50 ‘flying squid’ on the deck that night, but that first one we named Mr Squiddy: the “magic one”.
Outside was deep darkness, the groan of rigging, and the satisfying flutter of sails. Aldebaran, our 42ft trimaran, was heading south, 30nm off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, surrounded by stars and brisk north winds.
Sunrise over the Pacific the next morning, no land in sight, Ryan baited our trolling rod with Mr. Squiddy on our famous cedar plug lure. Within 20 minutes the line was singing with a catch! All hands were on deck as we pulled in the fish that we had been yearning for, but been eluded by, since we left Santa Barbara a month and a half before: a yellowfin tuna, weighing in at 20lbs. Here was the coveted, delicious “ahi”.
Spirits high, we spent the next two days in Chamela Bay gorging on sashimi and rolling every form of sushi roll we could conceive. The bay is a gorgeous cruising ground with a dozen small islands, perfect for exploring with a standup paddle board. Here was the kind of dreamy seascape that drove us to spend our savings and months of sweat and tears to make this voyage happen.
Admittedly, fishing was my greatest surprise in this trip so far. With our small budget and small kitchen, we were eating better than we had ever in our lives– thanks to the fresh fish from the sea. A deep appreciation for the ocean was growing in each of us as we harvested our daily protein. This reached new heights during magical moments like Mr. Squiddy bringing home a yellowfin tuna.
Just as we were enjoying our latest culinary invention, a “chili-mango-ahi roll”, we saw Four Arrows, aka Don Jacobs, paddling out to Aldebaran. It’s not every day that we see a 70 year old man paddling out to our sailboat, thin frame and sinewy muscles bronzed from sunshine.
Four Arrows is no ordinary man, however. He is a Native American of the Lakota tradition, a university professor and author of books covering dozens of topics. His expertise ranges from riding wild stallions, applied hypnotherapy, and his academic focus, curriculum for balanced education. He lives here in Chamela Bay, partly because it is the best place for him to battle his 7ry old lymphoma cancer. After being given just 2 yrs to live, he’s beating the cancer on a rigorous diet of coconut water, sunshine, organic whole foods, and a lot of exercise.
We had contacted Four Arrows to learn about his latest achievement: how he is setting up a grassroots marine reserve with Kickstarter funds for a local fishing cooperative, just south in a town called Arroyo Seco.
“I knew nothing about marine ecology. But I had a vision during one of my sweat lodges: the fish needed protection. I spoke at the fishing coop meeting with my kindergarten level Spanish, not really expecting much,” explained Four Arrows.
The younger fishermen were naturally very skeptical. But the older fishermen started telling stories of how the fish used to be bigger and closer to shore. Nowadays they had to go offshore many miles to find sizeable fish, which is dangerous with their single outboard pangas. By the end of the meeting they raised their hands and voted to consider the idea further.
They flew in a fisherman from Cabo Pulmo, a famous protected area in southern Baja, to tell the Arroyo Seco fisherman about the experience of creating a marine reserve: “It has transformed our lives,” said the fisherman from Cabo Pulmo.
The fisherman continued: “The fish have come back, because the big fish in the reserve have millions of babies more than the small fish. We also have new opportunities in tourism, which is great for our children – more options for work keeps them around.” Having heard the testimonial, the Arroyo Seco cooperative approved the idea! Now they just needed the $26,000 for biological and social assessments, required for a National Marine Area designation.
Four Arrows took on the fundraising task. He laughed about his first experiment in crowd-funding: “Some one raised a million bucks on Kickstarter to make a cooler; so I figured we could raise the cash for our little reserve. There was no “environmental” category in Kickstarter so I put our project under “seafood”- and we met our goal in four weeks.”
This innocent act – of connecting our love of eating seafood with the protection of the ocean – was an unplanned stroke of brilliance. Here was the missing link key which helped us define our own voyage.
As we had begun the Green Coconut Run, a sailing voyage from California to New Zealand, our dream was to enjoy the wild beauty of the ocean : surfing and diving in remote places. As young professionals in environmental and health fields we also wanted to visit marine reserves and help support them – somehow.
Here in Chamela Bay, enjoying ahi sushi and listening to Four Arrows, we realized that if we can connect appreciation of the ocean – through surfing, fishing, diving and sailing- to efforts like this community led marine reserve, we can help preserve the ocean.
“We are calling this the Three Dorados Project,” explained Four Arrows of the proposed reserve in Arroyo Seco. “The name came to us as I was paddling with a fellow sport fisherman who was quite skeptical of the idea of a marine reserve (as all fisherman are!). Then quite close to shore, unexpectedly, three large Dorados swam between our two boards, entrancing us with their glittering beauty. The sport fisherman was so moved by this moment that he donated $5000 the very next day. He knew the ocean was talking to him.”
Will our grand kids be able to enjoy seafood as we do? Scientists say that pollution and overfishing may cause the collapse of many fisheries by mid century. One of the most important solutions suggested is to expand the small network of marine protected areas, which currently cover less than 1% of coastal areas. Marine reserves give fish safe havens in which to breed and grow to full size and fecundity.
Most existing reserves have been designated by governments in complex bureaucratic affairs. It is no wonder their creation has been slow. In comparison, the proposed Arroyo Seco marine reserve, measuring 16 square km and including a complete mangrove area, was developed in nine months with the support of local community. Official designation is expected in under a year with less than $35,000 invested.
This is the power of the Grassroots reserve effort: it is community led, it is relatively small and attainable, it is crowd-funded, and it is fast.
The science behind protected areas is well documented, and says that reserves are beneficial for both ecology and fisherman. A network of small marine reserves, located in important habitats every 50 miles, would make a vast improvement to fisheries and the ocean’s health.
The capstone to improve our relationship with the ocean will be to shift our attitude. Four Arrows put it eloquently:
“While we consider the ocean a ‘resource’, we will continue to abuse it. When we consider the ocean a ‘relation, – the fish and corals as our brothers and sisters – then we love and protect it.”
We have been moved by many moments on this voyage, only the latest being Mr Squiddy’s yellowfin tuna. The next night, we swam around the most brilliant display of bioluminescence, snorkeling through a galaxy of tiny stars. Two days later, we found a “magic log” in the middle of the ocean with dozens of turtles, small sharks, and schools of fish.
These experiences make it easy to see what Four Arrows is talking about. But even on a mundane beach, looking out at the horizon of the vast ocean, who doesn’t catch a glimpse of this awesome power and beauty?
Raising anchor and continuing our voyage south, we contemplated our fishing poles with new eyes- ever grateful for the offerings from the sea. We also contemplated our tasks ahead: to dodge hurricanes and lightning as we sail to Panama in the storm season; to find (and share) amazing experiences that move us; and in so doing, do our part to promote a growing network of marine protected areas. Because now we know that it is possible.
- Support the grassroots, community marine reserve being set up in Arroyo Seco with Four Arrow’s help… see their Kickstarter link here.
- Like what the Green Coconut Run is about? Become a ‘patron’ of our video series and help the voyage keep going! Follow this blog for updates on our up-and-coming Patreon campaign.