Written by WILDCOAST’s Executive Director, Serge Dedina Ph.D.
Just last month, I was on a panga cruising the calm mid-morning waters of Laguna San Ignacio, the most pristine gray whale sanctuary on the Baja California Peninsula. My boatmates were high school students from a nearby fishing village. They shrieked with delight when six grays formed a semi-circle around us. Suddenly, a large adult approached our boat and spent the next hour seeking human contact with the future guardians of the lagoon.
“It was clear that the whale chose our panga and was delighted to play with the students,” said my WILDCOAST colleague Francisco Martinez. He has spent years helping to protect fragile lagoon ecosystems that provide shelter for hundreds of gray whales each winter, many of which engage in friendly or curious behavior. “Those estudiantes, who had never been whale watching before, came away forever changed by that encounter. It seems like the whales know exactly what they are doing to assure their future,” Francisco told me with a big smile.
The world-class and unique spectacle of friendly whales, combined with a pristine and remote lagoon set among the wild desert of Baja California, makes Laguna San Ignacio a globally important wildlife hotspot. This year the aqua colored lagoon, fringed by mangroves and the dunes of the Vizcaino Desert, was filled with more than 200 gray whales, including higher numbers of mothers and calves – all good signs.
On my recent trip this past March, I was also able to spend time with old colleagues and friends from NRDC, IFAW, the International Community Foundation and local leaders about how to revitalize the Laguna San Ignacio Conservation Alliance that has undertaken innovative conservation measures around the Laguna for almost two decades.
As we approach the 25th Anniversary of the cancellation of the proposed Mitsubishi salt project in 2025, “It is more important than ever to make sure we continue to protect lagoon ecosystems, safeguard gray whales and other vulnerable wildlife species , and create good sustainable local jobs,” said local community leader Raul Lopez, “especially now that climate change is already having an impact on the lagoon and gray whales throughout their migratory range.”
Finally I was delighted to spend time with Xiye Bastida, an international youth climate activist on her first visit to the Laguna. She was filmed for a major documentary, Touched By A Whale, now in production. Xiye experienced the magic of the whales and the lagoon and we have the opportunity to reach people around the world with the hopeful message of Laguna San Ignacio: The story of how world came together to save this special place on the planet a generation ago can inspire a new generation at the laguna and around the world to be touched by their own whale and to take action. Conserving this planetary gem, with its pristine mangroves, hundreds of visiting gray whales and their calves, and fishing families who protect the whales and the lagoon, is as important as ever.