Disrespected Beauty

dsc_0107Mazatlán is blessed with estuaries, lagoons, the ocean, rivers, and all the water fowl and marine life that go with it. Everyday we see glistening fishing boats casting their reflections in the water, and we are blessed to eat the delicious product of their labors.

Perhaps because we are so spoiled by all the natural beauty surrounding us, Mazatlecos all too often seem to take it for granted. Without thinking, seemingly, people throw trash on the beach or the coastline, and that trash ends up in our waterways and all too often into the stomachs of our marine life, murdering them. Especially harmful are fishing nets, lines and plastics, as they entangle marine life and kill them.

One of the saddest of such beautiful places in Mazatlán for me is Estero del Infiernillo. It’s the body of water to the north of Avenida Gabriel Leyva as you go over the bridge, between Avenida Juan Pablo II and Avenida General Pesqueira. I love this place! It is gorgeous! Yet, it is horribly, heart-wrenchingly awful. The photos in this post were taken from where the star is on the map below.

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I know the area fairly well, because our son was a Scout. The Scouts went out to Estero del Infiernillo about once a month for years and years to clean up the garbage. We, and mostly they, would pack dozens and dozens of trash bags full of garbage and remove them from the estuary. It would feel so good! Nature had a chance to shine again after our cleanups! Alas, the following month, you’d never known we had done a clean up, as the trash had somehow always reappeared. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

People in the neighborhood tell us that Mazatlecos come to the estuary specifically to dump their trash. The city has a big sign posted, warning that there should be no dumping of garbage here. The sign is obviously widely ignored. There are many fishing pangas that anchor here, making the area all the more scenic. It’s my guess that these fishermen, also, frequently throw entrails and other trash onto the shore, making the area stinky and unsightly.

Estero del Infiernillo is gorgeous! It has good views of the military school hill and the faro/lighthouse, and in the other direction great views to the cranes of Parque Bonfil/the port. Despite the trash strewn everywhere there are loads of water fowl, and on a sunny clear day the muddy, brackish water looks blue.

A couple of years ago the Municipio put in a nice park at the estero: a basketball court and soccer field combination, jungle gym and swings. Later, they added in one of the gyms we are fortunate to have all over town. At the time they built the park, there were plans for the city to clean up the area and to have kayak rentals in the estuary; plans that have never come true. Now it’s still usable but pretty run-down; the most remarkable thing are the many shoes hanging from the wires.

Kayaking in the area would be absolutely beautiful, even with the trash, but if we as community members could find a way to come together and re-educate ourselves, so that Estero del Infiernillo, and other waterways in town, stayed free of trash, how much better all our lives would be! I shudder to imagine anyone eating fish caught amidst all the garbage flung in that estuary, yet fish there they do.

Mexican Bobcat

dsc_0103bThe below is a guest post by John Childress, a birder and naturalist whom I have the pleasure of calling friend and photography colleague, building on earlier post here about Estero del Yugo.

The Estero del Yugo is a small estuary in the northern part of Mazatlan. It is not very well known by residents or tourists. There is a small inlet to the ocean on the west side and two lagoons to the east, on the other side of Avenida Sábalo Cerritos. The water flows from the inlet to the lagoon via a tunnel under the Avenida and is dependent on the tides.

The area to the east of the Avenida is controlled by the Centro de Investigacion En Alimentacion Y Desarollo, A.C. (CIAD)  which is an organization, in part, dedicated to studies “of the socio-economic impact of the processes of economic development and international integration.” There is a gate with very friendly guards who collect a 100 peso fee to enter and enjoy the area around the lagoons. The paths around the lagoon are very obvious and it would be difficult to get lost. There are also paths that go quite a distance into a semi-arid environment. Bicycle tours are also possible.

The morning of 2.13.17 started off very foggy. By 8:30am I had walked almost all the way around the lagoon and the fog was lifting. I was at the Estero del Yugo to take pictures of birds and I had my camera in my hand (Nikon D3300 with a 70 – 300mm  lens). As I walked around a curve I saw something run across the path. I walked back around the curve and saw an animal running towards me. I saw that it was a cat and thought it was possibly someone’s pet. But then I saw that it was at least twice the size of a normal cat. I immediately started taking pictures of it. As the cat turned to run off I saw that his tail was very short and I thought to myself, “Aha, I know what you are.”

This is the second time in my life that I have taken a picture of a bobcat, but the first time that I have seen the Mexican bobcat. This cat stopped in his move to flee and looked back curiously. The picture included here was taken at this moment. I had a way to go before I got to the entry, but I stopped looking for birds. I was very excited to show someone the pictures and hurried to share it with the guard and the biologists working at the center.

Wikipedia states that the Mexican bobcat (Lynx rufus escuinapae) is a “solitary, nocturnal animal, and are rarely seen by humans.” Que suerte!

Sunrise Hike

dsc_0569I am not a morning person, but with the thought of sunrise over the lagoon at Estero del Yugo in my mind, I got out of bed at 5:15 Saturday morning to make the trek north, so I’d be there and ready by sunrise at 6:00. The guard was ready for me, and I hiked right in and was able to enjoy the pink colors of sunrise over the lagoon.

We are blessed with wildlife in Mazatlán, and this Nature Interpretation Center is another gem for locals, expats and tourists, a non-profit center aimed at conservation through environmental education. It’s a photographer’s dream. Entrance to Estero del Yugo is straight across the street from the Hotel Riu on Avenida Sábalo-Cerritos. The area has a brackish estuary and a fresh water lagoon, an extensive forest, and is great for bird watching: great and snowy egrets, roseate spoonbills, great and little blue herons, black and yellow crowned night herons, bitterns, ibis, wood storks, anhingas, cormorants, crested caracaras, black necked stilts, kingfishers, swallows, ruddy ducks, blue winged teals… Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

My friend John saw a lynx there the other day (his photo below)—the lynx is actually the mascot of Estero del Yugo—and you can sometimes see crocodiles and snakes, as well as iguanas, raccoons and the other usual local suspects. I saw tracks this morning for several other mammals. There are loads of huge termite nests throughout the area; the old, broken-up ones are so very cool!

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The Estero del Yugo CIAD (Centro de Investigación en Alimentación y Desarrollo, A.C., or Scientific Research Institute on Food and Development) is a non-profit civil association, so if you go PLEASE give generously to help support their efforts. They request US$5 per person to enter without a guide. If you make a reservation, a guide will take you around, help you spot birds and plants, flora and fauna, and know what they are. For a guide the requested donation is US$7 per person. What a bargain! They also have weekly and monthly passes.

This year is their 20th anniversary! The guard is on location 24/7, but  you’ll need to get a pass at the park office, which is open 8am-4pm. You can call them at (669) 989-8700, or email emurua@ciad.mx. Please don’t remove any plant or animal life from the area, and remove any trash you bring in. There is a small gift shop, also.

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I had not been in quite a while, and I was disappointed to see that the walkway out over the closest lagoon, along with the lookout hut, has been disassembled. Eunice assures me, however, that it’s all just under reconstruction. The bird-watching hut on the estuary was padlocked shut, and the boards over the muddy areas on many of the walkways are in disarray. Even the 3-story metal lookout platform has seen better days.

The hike around Estero del Yugo is about 4km; the paths are fairly clear and well-marked. The trail takes you behind MazAgua Water Park, then winds around and back to where you started. On two sides you have busy roads: the street to Cerritos and the road past Emerald Bay out to the highway. Inside the park, however, all is peaceful. People also frequently bicycle through the reserve.

There were loads of birds but I didn’t have the greatest luck capturing them through my camera lens. I love a few of the photos I took of the scenery, and the one above of the tree. Below you’ll see a couple of bird shots, plus the twisted plant they call “the screw.” There weren’t many flowers in bloom this time of year, but the yellow one below was gorgeous.

My muse spoke to me more in non-birding ways on Saturday. As usual, I was mesmerized by the numerous reflections. In some of them, it’s hard to distinguish between what is real and what is reflection!

Textures fascinate me, also. Here are some of my favorite Estero del Yugo textures from the morning’s walk; can you identify what all of them are?

There are so many trees in the forest here, and such a variety, yet somehow on this day it was the cacti that caught my eye. Here are a few pics:

If you go to Estero del Yugo be sure to wear sturdy hiking boots or shoes, take a hat and some water. In the summer when bugs are out and about be prepared!

A Morning in the Botanic Garden

Yesterday morning a photographer friend and I went to the botanic garden on Stone Island to see if we could capture a few pictures. It was a clear pleasant day and so very enjoyable! We saw a LOT of birds, and while my friend knows the names of most of them, I do not. Here I’ll share a few photos though.

I also really enjoy bees and butterflies. Sometimes these photos turn out well, and sometimes they don’t, as I don’t have a macro lens per se. I just zoom in on them and do my best to get good focus.

Since I last went to the garden, Amaitlán has built a whole new section. It’s not yet finished, but it looks to have three new ponds. The colors of the flowers, accompanied by the green of the trees and the water, sure delights the soul. Reflections also fascinate me, so I’ve always got to take a few of those as well.

After our photo safari we stopped to get a drink and have a few snacks. I couldn’t resist a few pics of the dive-bombing pelicans and the island in the bay, which is the reason Stone Island got its name.

On the way back to Mazatlán in the water taxi, I had to get the requisite shot of the two cruise ships in port with the lighthouse in the background. And the brewery 😉

Thanks for the beautiful morning, John!

Shark Tank, Mazatlán Style

dsc_0865UPDATE 3 February, 2017:
The aquarium is open again! Today a video purporting to be created by employees of the Aquarium is circulating on social media. It says that the Aquarium’s new director ordered employees to enter the tank and remove a yellow covering from the window shown above. As you can see in the photo, no yellow covering seems apparent. According to the video, the Aquarium personnel are not qualified to make any repairs or changes to the tank. Sadly, one erroneous hit with a tool, just as the workers finished, caused a crack in the acrylic. The video includes photos. It is hard to know, of course, what actually happened. To me this is hopeful, as it would mean the basic structure of the tank may be sound and the acrylic just needs replacing. Hopefully all will be sorted out soon.

UPDATE 2 February 2017:
The curved acrylic wall of the new shark tank, pictured above, cracked open yesterday afternoon about 6pm, just one and a half months after its inauguration. It was what so many had feared, given the storied history of the building of the tank and the final heated push to get it open before the change in city and state administrations. The rupture caused nearly two million liters of salt water to flood the surrounding area. Fortunately the fissure occurred after closing time, so no visitors were in the facility and staff were quickly evacuated. The Aquarium will be closed while a safety assessment is conducted and repairs are done. It has been reported that the 20 sharks and other sea animals are unharmed and will today be transferred to another tank. Mayor Pucheta promises legal action against those responsible for the shoddy design, labor or materials. Such a sad new chapter in this lengthy and expensive saga, and just before Carnavál.

Mazatlán’s long-awaited 2.5 million liter (660.5 thousand gallon) shark tank, which opened on December 23, includes one of those cool acrylic tubes you walk through to be completely surrounded by fish. The light in the kids’ eyes as they realize they are in the middle of a tank with 23 sharks is most definitely delightful.

Acuario de Mazatlán’s new Tiburonario was built at a cost of 80 million pesos over six years, two governors, three mayors and four aquarium directors; construction was far from the height of efficiency (final costs were 5x more than originally forecast), but unlike other projects, in the end this one delivered to us a first-rate attraction that will generate revenue and jobs for the city for years to come. The aquarium had 435,000 visitors in 2016—a 41% increase since 2013, and in early January when I visited the lines to enter snaked around the block and seating for shows was completely full. Last year the facility took in 20 million more pesos than in any prior year, and I have no doubt the new shark tank will add to that popularity. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with the aquarium’s Director, Milay Quintero Beltrán, just days after she was sworn in to her new position. I was impressed with the knowledge she demonstrated with only four days on the job! Lic. Quintero is a public accountant and holds a master’s in human resources. Brenda García, the Director of Marketing, joined us on my visit. They both were charming, hospitable and extremely enthusiastic about the aquarium, and made sure I was hugged and kissed by a sea lion in a private show. I was guided through the rescue facility, including the veterinary clinic and the temperature-controlled building where the sea turtle eggs are hatched.

I had not visited the aquarium in a few years, remembering it as tired and outdated. Its recent major remodeling, which is nearly complete, is the first in 36 years and one well worth checking out. More modern architecture and new acrylic murals jazz up the space, and plans include a new restaurant beside the shark tank; more fish, additional decorations and finishing to the shark tank itself; overall remodeling and updating with a consistent tropical theme; and the addition of habitats for both penguins and dolphins! If, like me, you wonder why those tinacos/water tanks right in front are such an eyesore, Milay assured me they will be covered up shortly.

The Acuario de Mazatlán opened in September of 1980 as part of the Bosque de la Ciudad (city park) project. The one-hectare site includes 34 salt water and 17 fresh water exhibition tanks, a botanic garden with 75 kinds of trees from around the world, three aviaries, and Latin America’s only frog habitat. It has partnership agreements with both the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California and the Acuario de Veracruz. Mazatlán’s aquarium is administered by DIF (Family Development Department), SEMARNAT (Secretary of the Environment) and PROFECA (Environmental Protection). Its goals include education and rehabilitation. The aquarium regularly hosts school groups and collaborates with the Mexican Academy of Sciences to host “Science Saturdays” for local youth interested in science and technology. The on-site clinic has four veterinary staff who most commonly aid pelicans and sea turtles, but have been known to treat tigers, raccoons and all sorts of birds as well.

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The aquarium’s sea turtle rescue program has protected over 4,500 nests and released nearly 300,000 babies. The hatchery facility is made of paja, or straw and clay walls, to keep the eggs at a consistent temperature. The eggs are all in OXXO coolers, as the chain of supermarkets sponsors the turtle rescue program. Did you know the eggs must be gathered from the beach within four hours of being laid? They gestate for about 40 days, and then the babies are immediately released. Mazatlán’s aquarium will host turtle specialists from all over Mexico in a convention February 7-9.

While sea turtle rescue is well known, you might not have heard about the aquarium’s Pato Pichichin program. The Pichichin ducks, who are in danger of extinction, reproduce on Bird Island, the northernmost island directly offshore—an environmentally protected area. Young pichichines leave the nest to come to Mazatlán’s lagoons, and some become separated from the flock. The aquarium receives about 300 of these babies annually. Aquarium staff also aid about 72 pelicans every year, most of them injured by fishing nets. Any wildlife that recovers sufficiently and is able to fend for itself is returned to its natural habitat.

The Acuario de Mazatlán is open 9 am to 5 pm every day of the week. You may, like me, be spoiled by having visited some of the world’s best aquariums. Mazatlán’s is much quainter in comparison. I went not expecting to enjoy myself, honestly, more out of curiosity, but I had a hoot of time! If you haven’t been, it’s well worth a visit.

In addition to the fish tanks there are extensive displays of reptiles, birds and amphibians. Admission includes access to all the shows; the four half-hour espectáculos run back-to-back from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm and 3:40 to 5:00 pm, and include tropical birds, sea lions, animals of prey and divers feeding the fish. Most of the aquarium’s show performers are rescue animals who cannot be returned to the wild.

Entry costs 115 pesos for adults and 85 pesos for children 3-11. Swimming with sharks or sea lions is an extra charge (300 and 400 pesos, respectively). The swimming still takes place in the aquarium’s original 123,000 liter main tank.

Did you know that sea lions live in captivity up to 40 years, and eat up to 25 kg of food per day? Or that an owl can turn its neck 270 degrees, not 360? I know you’ll pick up some more fun facts on your next visit, and greatly enjoy yourself. If you’re lucky, you might just get a sea lion kiss, too. Below is the official video from the inauguration of the shark tank.