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May 24, 2016 (Day 9)
I woke well before dawn to the sound of a familiar buzz. Mosquitoes! There were thousands of them all swarming around my head and especially into, on, and around my ears. Greg soon followed suit in waking to the sound and JT was, seemingly, sleeping peacefully with his shirt swaddled around his head, just a small hole around his mouth so he could breath. He, too, was miserable.
We packed faster that I thought would be possible. At the launch ramp, the tide was low, but still suitable for an easy launch. Julio joined us for a tour of the islands and the bay. We headed for Isla Santa Margarita, the farthest island from San Carlos. In 1905, Nelson and Goldman landed on the east side where unsuccessful attempts were made to can sea turtle meat for export. We found the frame of a small house on the beach, the only remaining marker of the cannery. According to Julio, there were still ruins of the old canning facility.
Halfway across the bay, the wind picked up and the conditions began to deteriorate. The decision was collectively made to abandon the attempt to visit Isla Santa Margarita for the closer and more interesting Isla Magdalena. We first landed by an old pier, the site of a phosphorus mining operation that had been overtaken by a seasonal shark fishing camp.
Next we moved up the eastern coast of Isla Magdalena to the village of Magdalena. Here the crew was treated to a quick and informative tour of the village and a short history lesson by one of the town’s elders.
When Nelson and Goldman were here, the orcilla lichen business was in decline. This lichen was gathered, processed, and shipped to Europe for use in the textile business as a dye. It was very expensive and of good quality. The only business being conducted at the time of their visit was the selling of beef to visiting vessels and the shipment of sea turtles to San Francisco. We learned that in the height of the turtle business, they were processing over 100 turtles a day.
We left the village after learning that the fishermen of the island were not fishing today because the weather and water conditions were too rough. So, we ducked into a nearby mangrove lagoon to film.
We ended the day with a three-hour drive to Mulege, a shower, dinner, and bed at the Serinidad Hotel.
May 17, 2016 (Day 3)
An hour and a half, thirty miles of wind, and rough seas was all it took to get to Isla Rasa. The tide was flooding, which meant the access to the only viable landing was underwater. We circled the island hoping to find another option. We had to get creative to get the film crew off the boat, and get all the camera, sound, and filming accessories off without getting them wet. To anyone watching, it must have been a show.
As Greg and JT stepped off the boat, thousands of birds took to flight. At times it was difficult to hear one another over the noise of their calls. On this particular island (about one square mile) three main species of seabirds nest and mate here. In fact, nearly 90% of the world’s Elegant Terns and Heermann’s gulls breed on this island. The third bird species is the Royal Tern. The terns were not breeding. They did not show up this year and there may be a good reason. Climate change and the rise in sea temperatures as well as overfishing may have interrupted their food supply and they were forced to move elsewhere to breed, lay eggs, and raise their chicks.
Though Nelson and Goldman did not visit Bahia de Los Angeles or its outlying islands, we wanted to highlight the importance of this tiny island. It was the first Gulf of California island to become a wildlife preserve. In the late 1950s and 1960s, scientists recognized its importance as a seabird breeding colony and in the early 1970s it was official. Early visitors collected the massive guano deposits and gathered thousands of eggs to feed hungry miners and residents around the gulf. This had a major impact on the bird’s ability to reproduce and sustain its population.
We arrived back safely, but with only one issue: the T-top on the Zodiac cracked partially through one of the four posts. Tomorrow will require a stop in Guerrero Negro for repairs before we can continue.