City Nature Challenge

43676323_731335040547404_6810896483013885952_oOutdoor enthusiasts, environmentalists and photographers delight in the wealth of flora and fauna to be found in Mazatlán. Now we have a terrific chance to let the world know about the incredible biodiversity of our urban area—we are much more than just sun and beach!

Francisco Farriols Sarabia, local naturalist guru, along with our Faculty of Marine Sciences have registered Mazatlán for the City Nature Challenge 2019, or Reto Mundial de la Naturaleza Urbana. The effort is officially supported by the Secretary of Tourism (SECTUR) and the National Commission on Biodiversity (CONABIO). The goal is to put us firmly on the international ecotourism map. I hope that you, your friends and family will join in as citizen ecologists! If you are a teacher, let’s get the students involved, too! There is a nice online education toolkit. Let’s do this! Let’s put Mazatlán on the map for good reason!

The challenge will take place April 26-29, 2019, and there will be several pre-event warm-ups or “BioBlitzes.” To participate you’ll need your cell phone or a camera and the iNaturalist app—you can install it on your phone and/or register and use via your desktop on a web browser. If you prefer to work in Spanish, the fully synched Mexican equivalent is Naturalista.mx.

City Nature Challenge is an initiative started in 2016 as a friendly competition between Los Angeles and San Francisco during Citizen Science Day. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the California Academy of Sciences wanted to highlight urban biodiversity in their cities, and asked residents and tourists alike to help them document it. The multi-day effort met with such success that, three years later, over 100 cities worldwide are registered to participate! Their website states that in 2016:

Over 20,000 observations were made by more than 1000 people in a one-week period, cataloging approximately 1600 species in each location, including new records for both areas. During the 2016 CNC, we heard so much excitement and interest from people in other cities that we decided we couldn’t keep to the fun just to ourselves. In 2017 the City Nature Challenge went national, and in 2018, the CNC became an international event!

I first learned about City Nature Challenge back on October 13th, when Paco (Francisco) held a meeting of local photographers up at Estero del Yugo, to help get the effort started. Since then Paco has decided to hold mini-challenges, to help more people become involved and ready for the big effort.

48380454_2035974423369486_863078217911631872_oThe second BioBlitz or mini-challenge will be held at the lighthouse beginning 8-11am on Saturday January 12th. Register with inaturalist.org and bring your cell phone or camera of your choice. Together we’ll have fun, get out, breathe some fresh air and get some exercise, and learn a bit more about our local flora and fauna. It’ll be a great way to get trained and prepared for the main challenge in April!

iNaturalist.org is a really cool platform where normal people like you and me can register photos we take of plants, animals, insects or marine life. We upload a photo we’ve taken, along with the place and the date on which we captured the pic. If you know what the plant or animal is, you label it. If not, somebody who does know will fill it in for you, and you can “accept” their ideas and recommendations, or choose which one is correct. In this way we all learn a bit, and scientists are able to track migration routes and the proliferation of different species. Paco himself has more than 35,000 identifications and 2200 species registered! Me? I have about ten…

I hope you’ll join me, both on the January 12th and in April for the main event! Please help me get the word out by sharing this and inviting your friends and family to join in! Together we can build more ecological awareness and care in our fair city.

Parque Central / Central Park Update

4d55d780179b1adbc4563c98da8f4dc1I announced the new Central Park to you back in 2014, to be built on the site of the current Bosque de la Ciudad in front of the baseball stadium. Plans, naturally, have changed significantly since then, as you can see on its new website. The developers are excellent marketers, the designs are very modern and world-class, and I know this will be a huge boon to tourism and hopefully to schoolchildren and the general community in Mazatlán.

Construction of the Avenida de la Bahía and the park thus far have been a total destruction of the environment, preceded by the burning of the laguna which murdered thousands of turtles, nesting birds, iguanas and badgers, then by filling in nearly two-thirds of it. The one saving grace is that the new avenue will provide much-needed parking for those nearly 1000 spaces lost when they remodeled the malecón, and it will provide access during the sporting events (marathon, triathlon, etc.) that so often close the Avenida del Mar.

We have reported on concrete mixers and painters cleaning out their trucks into the estuary with zero regard for the environment. Our video on that was shared tens of thousands of times, to no avail. The road is nearly done now, and the estuary is nearly completely filled in with reclaimed land. The builders have a lovely video on their site where they show a biologist relocating some of the animals from the current Bosque de la Ciudad to make room for construction.

It looks like the plan is to completely scrape out the existing lagoon and build small islands that will be accessible by paddle boat to visitors. Our current park is a habitat to so many large migrant birds; I do pray they will continue to visit the new man-made, modern lagoon.

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The new park does look lovely if you don’t think about the flooding that it is most likely to cause. I hope it will be accompanied by civic education around litter and the environment as they’ve said, because otherwise those small islands in the pond are going to become trash heaps. Good news is that designs include water circulation to keep things fresh, and hopefully lots of trash cans and cleaning staff.

I love that the new 5 million liter aquarium, which looks like it will completely replace the old one, will have an exhibit dedicated to Jacques Cousteau, champion of the Sea of Cortés, though no doubt he is turning in his grave to know the environmental destruction leading up to its construction. Greg is excited for the Food Truck Park and the promise it brings.

 

I am excited about the museum as well, designed to look like an oyster, since we are the “Pearl of the Pacific.” It is supposed to contain an IMAX theater and the second floor will have a killer view of the ocean, supposedly, though I think we have so many towers on the malecón that that could be challenging. Best part? The map seems to show it occupying the corner of Insurgentes and Avenida del Mar, where Geronimo’s has stood vacant for how many years. Will be great to get rid of that eyesore!

Plans still include two walkways from the park out to the malecón, which would be hugely welcome to all those who enjoy sports and the outdoors. I’m confident the park will be a huge boon to the city, as long as we can keep it clean and maintained. I remain saddened that “development” has to mean “destruction of nature.”

Our Renovated Faro

_DSC8045©The glass walkway atop the lighthouse is, indeed, a reality. The glass for the walls is there and ready for install; the glass floor is scheduled to arrive and be installed next week. I walked to the edge of the solid surface and looked down, and it is truly a thrill! Long, long, long drop down! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The new paved walkways and lookouts are beautiful and have been very well received. Nearly all the walkways are now paved; I’d say there are three main sections that has concrete but are in need of paving stones still.

Our beloved faro has been so long overdue for a makeover; thank goodness tianguis has brought it on! There are far fewer workers up there now, but the ones who remain are working hard. The letters that I showed you being built are now assembled and in place at the bottom of the hill. Yesterday the sewage facility had empty pools; let us hope it just might be true that they plan to decommission this one!

Despite its on-again/off-again status, I was told yesterday that the zip line will be a reality. It will go from the site atop the faro photographed below to the corazoncito or little heart-shaped pull-out on Paseo del Centenario, according to the workers. Here’s the view from top and looking up from the bottom. The good news is it won’t go over the sewage treatment facility, but, rather, to its west. I did not see any building happening yet, however.

The top of the lighthouse is going to become a very crowded place if all this comes to fruition, I fear. With the new museum, the glass walkway, the round observatory, and the zip line, it’s very little space up there for so many activities, IMHO.

The other thing I noticed yesterday morning is that they are building on Paseo del Centenario just below the old fort that’s atop the cerro. I thought it was for the zip line, but the workers told me it’s for a small train to take tourists up to the old fort. They have already installed the stairs and are building the lower platform. Years ago there was a similar train on the other hill, near the antique bridge, you may recall. I guess we’ll know for sure once it’s more near completion.

If you haven’t visited the lighthouse in a while, you might want to check it out! Although, in a couple more weeks it should look a whole lot better.

Lighthouse Renovations

IMG_4320-1A welcome investment of over 14 million pesos of federal and state funds have gone towards the renovation of our long neglected yet incredibly wonderful lighthouse, a major tourist attraction as well as a popular workout space for residents here in Mazatlán. The design plans included a transparent, cantilevered overlook, and there was talk about a zip line to Paseo del Centenario as well.

While the lighthouse walk was closed for a while, it is again open and just as crowded as ever with happy people out for a walk in the fresh air. Most of the way up the formerly dirt path is now covered with concrete and faced with rock—it looks really nice. I feel for the workers who have to haul their equipment plus the sand for the concrete up the hill. I guess they will be in shape once this project finishes!

In most areas there is a two to three foot wall protecting visitors from falling; in one key area, at the last major turn to the right up the hill, the wall has not yet been built. At the bottom, before the stairs, there is still a lot of walkway that remains concrete and has not yet been faced. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

 

At the bottom of the trail they have installed a rock wall in the roundabout and are in the process of building a nice sign. At the top, they have completed a round viewing platform, with stepped seating for visitors to take in the view. Supposedly they will install a statue of a whale in that space, which I find a bit confusing as it will block the view.

 

The lighthouse keepers will be moving to a new building just to the west of the lighthouse; the lighthouse building itself is scheduled to be turned into a museum. I have noticed a whole lot of trash from the renovation project. Hopefully workers will be cleaning all that up before they finish the job.

What I don’t see any sign of, yet at least, is a transparent, cantilevered overlook. Likewise there has been talk that the zip line is history. If you haven’t climbed up in a while, now is a good time. I find it interesting to watch projects as they progress, and adding some safety and beauty to the natural beauty of Cerro del Crestón is very welcome.

Adios Estuary :'(

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Sunrise over city park, with the new Avenida de la Bahía in the foreground

For eons Mazatlán has been the land of the estuary—brackish water, half fresh and half salt, that rises and falls with the tides. There used to be estuaries all over Mazatlán, from south to north, brimming with shrimp and mangroves, home to turtles and a myriad species of birds, but sadly not many remain. Most have been filled in completely, like those in the Golden Zone, which leads to the frequent flooding of that area in rainy season. Now we are losing Estero del Camarón, shown on the map below (as Laguna del Cameron), which runs south from Rafael Buelna over Insurgentes to the Aquarium at Av de los Deportes, thanks to the building of Avenida de la Bahía.

estero map

Avenida de la Bahía has been in the city’s plans for over a decade; it’s nothing new. What is new is that most everyone believed the road would be built in the “set aside” behind the existing buildings along Avenida del Mar. There was plenty of room beside the estuary for two lanes of traffic plus parking on both sides. Thus, when it was announced that the long-planned road would be built, there wasn’t too much ruckus.

People who live on Avenida del Mar are grateful to have a second egress, as this major city artery is so frequently closed due to races and other events. We actually, naïvely, were pleased to think that those who had “stolen” land from the estuary—hotels and salones de eventos that had “pushed out” into the estuary—would now have to give up that appropriated land in order for the road to be built.

Alas, no such luck. Despite the fact that city park is supposedly a wild bird sanctuary —”protected land,” we’ve always been told— construction of the new Avenida de la Bahía doesn’t even start till way beyond the land that we were told was set aside for the new road. Contractors have spent six weeks now filling in OVER HALF of the estuary facing the Bosque de la Ciudad/City Park! They have been working 24 hours a day seven days a week, dredging the estuary of plant life, then dumping trucks full of huge boulders into the water, dozens of truckloads per hour. They add dirt over the boulders, and cement on top of that. First they built two lanes, which we thought was bad enough; then four. Now they are adding diagonal parking on the west side and possibly more on the east. It just keeps getting wider and wider! The road is now wider than a freeway. After removing all the parking from Avenida del Mar, of course more parking is needed. But does the estuary have to pay the price? Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The way they have built the new avenue actually leaves water trapped in between it and the Avenida del Mar—water that will attract mosquitoes and disease. I can only imagine they’ve left that area so that property owners (primarily the Tellería family, I believe) can build locales or storefronts facing the planned Parque Central.

The entire project is the most blatant disregard of our environment that I have witnessed. I was told the project was stopped, put in amparo, and according to the Noroeste, that is when they started working at night instead of during the day. A few days later they extended from night work to 24-7 work, and about ten days ago they put up signs that say they are taking care of the environment. I find the irony heartbreaking.

They are now within a couple hundred yards of Insurgentes. To my knowledge they have yet to buy any of the houses they will have to knock down to connect the new avenue with Insurgentes and continue north to Rafael Buelna. Eminent domain?

That housing area already floods in rainy season, as does the area in front of the Gran Plaza. I imagine now that they’ve reclaimed over half of the estuary, the area around the stadium, city park, Insurgentes and the Gran Plaza will flood much more dangerously; where is the water to go at high tide? They have built the road up high, to keep it from flooding. But we sure haven’t seen them build any exit for flood waters. Hopefully I’m just missing something.

Mazatlán’s allure for tourists and residents is its natural beauty, its marine life and seafood. Destruction of the environment like this is shortsighted. I was excited about Central Park and the new Mazatlán Museum, but if losing our estuary is the price we are paying for them, it is way too high.