Baja’s Cabo Pulmo by Air – Pilot’s Log Day 2

In 1980, pilot Will Worthington fell in love with the wild side of Baja California. On a recent a 10-day aerial expedition, he found change on the horizon. This is the second in a series of guest posts he wrote about his adventure.

When I fly as a LightHawk volunteer pilot, I donate my aviation skills for conservation groups who want to leverage air support to benefit their causes. I fly scientists, staff, donors, governmental representatives, elected officials, and media giving them a unique perspective of the land (and water) from above.

Will Worthington donates flights in support of LightHawk's conservation activities.
Will Worthington (left) donates flights in support of LightHawk’s conservation activities.

The Baja aerial photo mission I had embarked upon would span a number of important areas. We would fly over ongoing construction projects, sites of proposed mega-developments, areas threatened by mining, and other sensitive areas in need of careful attention. Images made during our expedition would be immediately put to use by the conservation partners supporting the mission. Today we would focus on Cabo Pulmo on the east cape of Baja.

Cabo Pulmo from 1,000 feet up

My first flight departed at 9:20a.m. with four passengers on board. They were part of a conference discussing ways and means of guaranteeing wise development of the Cabo Pulmo region. Three more flights followed the first, carrying 14 influential environmentalists and conservationists along the gorgeous coastline from Los Barriles to Cabo San Lucas.

Estuary at San Jose del Cabo, Baja California Sur, Mexico ©Ralph Lee Hopkins with aerial support by LightHawk
Estuary at San Jose del Cabo, Baja California Sur, Mexico ©Ralph Lee Hopkins with aerial support by LightHawk

My Spanish served me well as I was able to understand our guide’s in-flight commentary and the discussion between the conservation experts along the way. I also gained an appreciation of the new perspective my passengers were getting as we traversed this area at an altitude of a thousand feet. As always, one of the most fascinating aspects of piloting LightHawk flights is listening to world-class experts as they explain the innuendos of conservation issues we are viewing.

Cabo Pulmo is the only living reef in the Sea of Cortez. It’s also the site of a proposed mega development larger than San Jose del Cabo. I was struck by the stunningly beautiful, remote coast, and the hope that the description will still fit twenty years from now.

Coral Reef, Cabo Pulmo National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico ©Ralph Lee Hopkins with aerial support by LightHawk
Coral Reef, Cabo Pulmo National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico
©Ralph Lee Hopkins with aerial support by LightHawk

What Skilled Eyes See

That day I saw recreational boat harbors that have displaced wetlands, and large development that infringes on the lush desert. Drawing on my background in civil and coastal engineering, I recognized other needs and issues as we flew over the coastline.

Jetties and groins interrupting the littoral movement of sediment and shorelines have started receding. Landfills are out of place and some burn continuously. Inadequate respect for scour depth, and other geotechnical conditions, has led to the collapse of some dwellings and shoreline structures. Inefficient, or nonexistent, zoning has allowed incompatible developments to come into conflict.

Cabo Riviera Marina, Mega-resort Development, Resort, La Ribeira, East Cape, Baja California, Mexico
Cabo Riviera Marina, Mega-resort development La Ribeira, East Cape, Baja California, Mexico. © Ralph Lee Hopkins – With Aerial Support by LightHawk

I’d also heard of some excruciatingly unfortunate incidents of developments that displace longtime residents who thought they owned the land they lived on. Then they find out the developer has a superior claim and more political influence.

On the other hand, there have been skilled harbor engineers and developers involved, and they have kindled a world-class destination resort. There is a fine art and considerable science to harbor construction, using the natural water wave phenomena to refract and diffract and dissipate the ocean swells to provide the safe haven of the harbor, and the engineers have done this masterfully.  One can only hope that they pay as much attention to the details of conservation issues as they have in golf course and harbor design.

Tie Down

After locking up the airplane, I reflected on our accomplishments for this very long day: four flights, fourteen important passengers, and 4.8 hours on the Cessna. I’m left with a feeling that our passengers today will carry the torch to ensure wise development and preservation of Cabo Pulmo.

Will with LightHawk's trusty Cessna 206. © Ralph Lee Hopkins – With Aerial Support by LightHawk
Will with LightHawk’s trusty Cessna 206.
© Ralph Lee Hopkins – With Aerial Support by LightHawk

At the hotel I am privileged to meet my passengers for the next few days, renowned conservation photographer Ralph Lee Hopkins, videographer Jeff Litton, and my colleague Armando Ubeda, LightHawk’s Mesoamerica Region Program Manager. We share a beverage and make our plans for the exciting adventure that will unfold over the next week. I hope you’ll join me for the next installment from wild Baja.

After spending a year and four days in the extreme cold and white of Antarctica, I came back to the world a changed person. My passion is to share stories of people doing extraordinary things and I've done that since 2008 as the chief storyteller for LightHawk. LightHawk is a unique non-profit that grants flights to conservation groups through a network of volunteer pilots. Nearly everyday LightHawk donates educational, scientific and photography flights covering the U.S., Mexico, Central America and parts of Canada. LightHawk volunteer pilots, aircraft and resources help to tip the balance toward sustainability for every major environmental issue within our targeted areas of focus. My favorite part of flying at 1,000 feet in a small aircraft is seeing how that perspective changes how people see their communities and empowers them to take positive action on behalf of conservation. Taking off is pretty cool too.

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