In an age when the world’s oceans are facing grave dangers, a group of local fishermen in Cabo Pulmo, Mexico are giving us all a reason to hope.

Today it is one of the healthiest marine reserves in the world, according to a 10-year study conducted by Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego. This study revealed that in Cabo Pulmo, from 1999 to 2009, the biomass of the park, essentially the number of fish in the ecosystem, increased more than 460 percent! For divers and Nature lovers, a visit to Cabo Pulmo means the rare opportunity to witness one of Nature’s most amazing spectacles. Only a few hundred metres from the coast, you can jump in the water and encounter gigantic schools of thousands of jacks.

From commerce to conservation

The abundance of life in these waters has been known since the 19th century, when they began to be fished for an array of commercial species including fish, lobsters, snails and oysters. With the passing of time, the local fisherman started to become aware of the increasing scarcity of the animals, so they decided to change their livelihoods. They stopped fishing commercially and became tour operators. The local community, together with a coalition of scientists from a local university, partnered with the government to create was is today a national marine park, in which fishing has been prohibited since 2000.

Mexico, Baja California, Sea of Cortez. A big school of Jacks found at the protected marine area of Cabo Pulmo.

Mexico, Baja California, Sea of Cortez. A big school of Jacks found at the protected marine area of Cabo Pulmo.

Hooked on the tornado

I will never forget the first time I saw the school. It was in November 2012 and it happened on my very first dive. As soon as I entered the water, I was greeted by the biggest school of jacks I have ever witnessed. I’d heard about these jacks, but nothing prepared me for actually being right there, in their presence.

I was in complete awe; I just could not believe this amazing congregation of life, and it was right in front of me. I stayed near the surface for a while, just enjoying the spectacle with my camera on hand, but without remembering to take a picture. I was hypnotised observing the incredible forms the fish were creating while swimming together, usually in a swirling pattern that gives the illusion of a living tornado.

Suddenly I saw one of my dive buddies near the sandy bottom, some 20 metres deep near the vortex of the twister when I snapped out of this dreamy state that I was in, and started to take my first images. I knew I had only a few seconds to take a shot with the diver at the bottom, which gave the whole scene a sense of scale. After that first experience, I understood I was hooked for life and planned to visit them at least once a year.

Dramatic diversity

This sight alone is well worth the entire trip, but fortunately there are some other very interesting sites here as well. Not far from where the jacks are usually spotted, there is a small shipwreck where other big schools of fishes are commonly seen, and for the past couple of years, increasingly bull sharks are also a common encounter.

Cabo Pulmo is home to the northernmost coral reefs of the Eastern Pacific, hosting a vast variety of other marine animals including over 220 species of fish such as butterflyfish, snappers, big groupers, sweetlips, porcupine fish, eels, as well as various kinds of rays. Humpback whales, dolphins, and whale sharks are frequent visitors, and as if this weren’t enough, the area is also home to a colony of playful sea lions!

México, Baja California, Sea of Cortez, Cabo Pulmo. A stingray swimming near a sandy bottom.

México, Baja California, Sea of Cortez, Cabo Pulmo. A stingray swimming near a sandy bottom.

Dream town

Cabo Pulmo is far off the main tourist drag, surrounded by beautiful mountains filled with cacti and desert shrubs. It is a very small town, with only two dirt roads, three dive shops, some cabañas and small houses, and a few very good simple restaurants, all within walking distance.

Cabo Pulmo is really a town of dreams. For me, it has it all: the vibe, the laid-back and friendly people, the beautiful surroundings, and the best of the Sea of Cortez, plus it’s all a million miles from civilisation and mass tourism. I hope to see you there one day!

This article featured in Scuba Diver OCEAN PLANET (Issue 4/2015)