Water, Water everywhere and no place left to anchor? It seems that the pleasure boater is taking the hit for decades of allowing the natuarl resources of the Bay of La Paz to be abused. In the last 12 years two La Paz resort developments have demolished large areas of mangrove to build marinas and to attact boaters to the Bay of La Paz with governmental 'waivers' to allow the removal of Mangrove. Suddenly the brakes have been slammed on and where you can enjoy the wonders of the region are becoming limited. Mooring buoys are just around the corner, so if you wanted to enjoy the wild wonders of the Sea of Cortez you may have already missed out.
Increasing numbers of pleasure craft in La Paz are the result of the fishing grounds, beautiful anchorages, and availability of marinas and marine services available in La Paz. But in the last two years, it seems that La Paz wants to change its mind about being a haven for those seeking to enjoy the magic of the region and limit the number of boaters and their activities in the Bay of La Paz. Establishment of new regulations and now the enforcement thereof is really going to take the shine off the region as a cruising destination.
PROFEPA (Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente, Mexico's environmental protection agency) and SEMARNAT instituted new guidelines for the use of the Bay of La Paz in 2012 and this summer has begun having the Mexican Navy enforce the new rules. There is some confusion as to the dissemination and implementation of the new rules, and we can hope that these issues will be cleared up before the 2016-2017 cruising season begins. If not, there is no doubt that the new rules will be detrimental to the use and even safety of boaters in the Bay of La Paz.
First came the ban on pets from all the islands of the Sea of Cortez, under national park regulation. Apparently, part of the blanket national park rules it began to be enforced more than a decade ago. Although it applies to all the islands in the Sea it is mainly enforced in the La Paz and Loreto areas. This makes it very difficult for a good percentage of cruisers with pets to legally enjoy the wonders of the local islands. In contacting the local officials as to this issue I was told it was a result of the local (illegal) fish camp occupants leaving their dogs unattended for long periods of time, such that the dogs would harm indigenous wildlife. A better solution could have been much simpler.
Then in 2015 certain portions of Espiritu Santos were deemed 'core conservation areas'. Our research indicates that these areas prohibit fishing, but local enforcement appears to have taken it a step further to prohibit anchoring. Even on request, the local PROFEPA office did not provide written evidence of this being the law.
Included in this excluded area is Bahia San Gabriel at the southwest end of the island. San Gabriel is a beautiful long beach curving deep into the island and provides only suitable protection from north winds during the winter cruising season for more than 15 miles. Punta Bonanza is also in this exclusion zone on the east side of the island, although the exclusion zone does not appear to include the protected anchorage some fishermen find useful. (see map)
This summer enforcement of new exclusion areas has taken place along the shores of the Bay of La Paz. "Core zones" established in 2012 are now being enforced and dramatically limit safe anchorages closer to La Paz and place smaller pleasure vessels in peril. On July 18, 2016 we were told by the Mexican Navy first hand of the Balandra exclusion zone and the closure of all Caleta Lobos.
One of La Paz's most treasured natural wonders is Bahia Balandra, which is a popular day anchorage and a tolerable overnight hook in the right weather conditions. But the new exclusion zone cuts the available anchorage space in half and nearly eliminates the safe anchorage for smaller vessels. The demarcation line was obviously drawn by a non-mariner and wholly unnecessary. The legal anchorage areas would not be what I would consider 'protected' from just about all weather conditions. Fine if you are a 135' floating pleasure palace, but untenable if you are lesser craft.
There is no logical explanation for the anchorage limits, as the bay shallows to less than 2 meters inside of what has been the traditional and best-protected anchorage area of the bay and more than a kilometer from the closest mangroves.
But the most critical and dangerous new rule enforcement is the apparent closure of all anchoring in Caleta Lobos. Located just 7 miles from the entrance to the Ensenada de La Paz the tiny bay in the ONLY secure anchorage in almost any condition. The small two cut bay is sheltered by a small island at its entrance and with the exception of a rare westerly, provides the best and safest anchorage within 32 miles of La Paz. Many cruisers use Lobos as a hold over stop en route to La Paz or as a jumping off point when heading for the mainland. Caleta Lobos provides the best shelter from north winds in the wintertime, the howling Coromuel winds from March until August and from the wakes of discourteous power boaters and jet skis one must endure in Balandra.
Exclusion of this waterway is equally unnecessary as the exclusion of Balandra as the waters shallow up to less than 2 meters more than 400 meters from the mangroves and well away from shore. Caleta Lobos has been a popular anchorage for smaller craft for decades and a great point to 'catch your breath' after or before a long voyage and entering the sometimes difficult ensenada de La Paz. It was my first anchorage when I arrived and has served for literally hundreds of pleasant shorter outings since. Open access to this bay is an essential to the safety and enjoyment of the Bay of La Paz for smaller boaters.
On review of the written laws behind these new limitations there is no mention of limiting access to boaters. It also defies the international maritime law, but San Diego and Newport Beach, California already proved that doesn't matter. We will continue to aggressively pursue this issue as it appears to be a miscommunication somewhere along the line.
There have been some very positive rule changes, such as the limitation of anchoring near Los Islotes, the very popular site for interaction with the local friendly sea lions. Vessels over 28' are not allowed to anchor or use the mooring balls at the site. With the heavy traffic at the site, it is understandable why anchoring needed to be limited.
For the small private boat wishing to swim with the sea lions, it is now a 3-mile open water dingy ride from the nearest suitable anchorage. Having done this in a large inflatable, I would say it is not an advisable jaunt for a small inflatable, as the seas over the distance can blow up rather quickly. This certainly has served to help the business of official tour providers, which are now licensed.
Another positive rule change was the limiting of the traditional winter activity in the Bay of La Paz; observing the whale sharks. To visit the whale sharks in the Bay today you need a special license, to have completed a training class and you must display the banner on the vessel indicating compliance.
On first glance, this was an infringement on cruisers who have enjoyed the adventure of seeing these gentle giant fish from their own boat. But in observation of the local traffic during Semana Santa, there was an obvious need to protect the slow-moving fish from the crowds of vessel jockeying for the best view. But in my last visit to the whale sharks over the Semana Santa week, I found the worst violators of the whale shark guidelines to be commercial operators proudly flying the permission/license banner.
The boating community has grown exponentially since I arrived in La Paz more than 16 years ago and the number of power vessels and mega yachts are the fastest growing segment. More rules for those unobservant of seamanship are inevitable. But those rules need to be created with knowledge of not only the environmental needs but the safety and accessibility of mariners. It is our hope we can engage the marine service community and other boaters in modifying well-intended rules to accommodated responsible boating and keep La Paz from shooting itself in the foot as it continues to claim to be the Gateway to the Sea of Cortez.