A Glimmer That Became A Beacon- A Conservation Success Story

aerial photo, Isla Espiritu Santo, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Glimmer Beacon – A Conservation Success Story

A previous article regarded successful businessman Mike McGettigan in the early 2000’s who had dived and fished in the Sea of Cortez since 1972 and had watched the rapid destruction of the fisheries in the Sea in the 1970s and ’80s.

These activities had spurred him to found SeaWatch, an organization to expose the destruction and illegal fishing practices.

Red de Observatorio Ciudadano or ROC, the first citizen-driven vigilance in the Bay of La Paz that SeaWatch and NOS, a local NGO, started and funded in 2009, worked for just under two years cutting illegal fishing by 80% in the Espíritu Santo National Park. Then in 2011, illegal fishing again increased as authorities stopped helping and ignored the illegal fishing. For the next two years, ROC negotiated with the authorities to assist but with limited success.

This is where we left off last year in this on-going story that has evolved into an even greater success in the past twelve months.

Then in 2017, SeaWatch with the help of close friend Miguel Sanchez Navarro, started and funded the “Espíritu Santo es parte de ti” Campaign, (a local, grassroots communication campaign) designed to restore the depleted reefs and reef fish in Espiritu Santo National Park by creating community pride in the park and public advocacy to encourage officials to do their jobs protecting the park, to promote good practices like not buying or eating reef-critical parrotfish and lastly, to eliminate illegal fishing in the park through citizen-driven vigilance.

Espiritu Santo es parte de ti campaign Team


The citizens of La Paz needed to recognize that Espiritu Santo was one of the most beautiful Island groups in the Sea of Cortez populated only a few decades ago by great quantities of marlin, sailfish, hammerhead sharks, tuna and reef fish. The entire tourism and eco-future of La Paz is directly related to the Espiritu Santo National Park recovery.

In 2017 ROC persuaded CONAPESCA that they should help protect the island. That same year, a partnership flourished between ROC, the NAVY, CONAPESCAFisheries, PROFEPAEnvironmental protection and CONANP- National commission for protected areas.

Because of the public pressure for change that now exists in La Paz, CONAPESCA is working closely with ROC and there is daily Intel about illegal fishing from fishermen who also realize that CONAPESCA inspectors on ROC patrol boats are (for the first time in memory) fighting to stop illegal fishing.

The result of that synergy is why there were eleven boats confiscated in 2017.

ROC boats, with PROFEPA authorities aboard, now also patrol daily in the whale shark zone, keeping private boats out and queuing tourist boats so there are never more than 8 snorkelers at a time with a whale shark.

Each boat gets 15 minutes with the shark, while the rest wait in line. Consequently, the number of whale sharks damaged by propellers has fallen from 66% to almost zero and there are as many as 20 whale sharks in the newly protected zone.

In early 2018, ROC with a new 175 hp motor donated by SeaWatch christened a new high-speed 28′ patrol boat designed carry up to 6 people. During the new 75-day breeding period closure at Islotes, the world-famous sea lion colony, both ROC boats with CONANP authorities were on-site for 75 straight days interacting with an average of 55 boats per day and explaining the purpose of the closure to more than 26,000 tourists visiting the area.  LEARN MORE  HERE

In 2017 and 2018 during the same time that ROC patrols were effectively eliminating ALL illegal fishing at Espiritu National Park, the “Espíritu Santo es parte de ti” Campaign was also having tremendous success convincing people to get involved and decide whether they wanted to eat parrotfish or have healthy reefs. They couldn’t have both.

As a result of the campaign’s direct restaurant visits, videos, social media’s reach of over 1.6 million, talks at schools, etc… 49 restaurants have stopped selling parrotfish and 3 of the big 4 supermarkets (Chedraui, Walmart and Arambros) have signed agreements not to sell parrotfish. The people have spoken, reef and reef fish recovery are more important than parrotfish on the table!  LEARN MORE HERE

Most reefs in the in the Sea of Cortez are rocky reefs that were covered by corals hard and soft.

For two decades, commercial fishermen, pistoleros and encerradores using illegal methods, have stripped the reefs of most fish including almost all the parrotfish around Archipelago Espiritu Santo and in the Bay of La Paz. Consequently, the reefs are no longer covered with soft corals but instead with green algae which quickly smothers the corals. This is where the reef grazers play their important part – and none more so than the parrotfish!


The species is an iconic caretaker of the reef with its parrot-like beak and vivid colors that vary between the male, female and juvenile fish. They graze primarily on the algae that grows on the rocks and on the hard corals, their waste makes sand and is also a sticky substrate that promotes greater diversity of organisms in the food chain by allowing them to settle and attach to the sticky substrate and thrive.

“The lessons learned are that ROC and “Espíritu Santo es parte de ti” – work effectively together. They are integrally connected — no ecological problem will ever be solved until it becomes a political problem and it will never become a political problem until public opinion demands it. That’s the lesson learned in the last two years,” McGettigan, observed recently.

IT TAKES A CITY TO SAVE AN ISLAND   https://youtu.be/oUXpD6_ffXQ

As a result of the synergies created in the last two years by the two campaigns working with the public, the tourist purveyors, the restaurants, school children and the authorities, there has been created an unstoppable coalition that has transformed Espiritu Santo National Park and caught the attention of the world. In 2018 the world took notice and…..Glimmer Beacon

In November, Espiritu Santo National Park was named one of the best managed protected areas in the world by the ICUN – (International Union for Conservation of Nature)-the first ever in Mexico and only the second in all Latin America.

ROC very effectively run by Lic. Maria Ugarte, the past director of SeaWatch, also received two awards in November of this year. It won recognition by the Mexican government as one of the most important environmental organizations for nature conservation in marine protected areas and was recognized as a model non-profit conservation organization by the Mexican Senate as well.

Meet the ROC vigilance team:


2019 Goals and plans for ROC and the Espiritu Santo es parte de ti campaign

1. Continue daily patrols in whale shark reserve with day and night patrols in Espiritu Santo National Park. The increase in fish, especially parrotfish, will dramatically increase the illegal fishing pressure on them.

2. Begin protecting the parrotfish by law in coordination with AIDA, UABCS and ECO. AIDA will work on the legal area, UABCS and ECO will work on the scientific part, and SeaWatch and “Espíritu Santo es parte de ti” Campaign will work on the outreach to build support and project funding.

3. Coordinate with interests in Cabo Pulmo, Los Barriles, as well as with owners in Los Suenos and Cerralvo, increase patrols and outreach in the corridor between La Paz and Cabo Pulmo.

4. Continue to convince more schools, restaurants, and supermarkets to join the movement and to stop selling/eating/buying parrotfish and to join the campaign. They will also work with the hundreds of tourist operators to include and involve them as more “eyes on the water.”

Once again, SeaWatch, working with the Espiritu Santo es parte de ti campaign and ROC have set lofty goals for their on-going projects in La Paz for 2019. Based on their performance and accomplishments during the past year, they welcome the new year and we will be watching SeaWatch and their partners as they pursue their 2019 goals, along with their many La Paz residents and visitors and their enthusiastic support for the continued recovery of reefs and reef fish surrounding Espíritu Santo

an encouraging beacon for future conservation projects.

100% of all donations to SeaWatch are passed directly through to Red de Observadores Ciudadanos (ROC) and the Espiritu Santo es parte de ti (Espiritu Santo is part of you) campaign.


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