Through its academic adventure camps, Red Travel Mexico is focusing its conservation efforts on gray whales. // © 2017 Creative Commons user sbeebe
Feature image (above): The vaquitas, one the most endangered species in the world, need travelers’ help. // © 2017 Creative Commons user semarnat
Recommend that clients take a thoughtful pause when playing with sea lion pups, swimming with whale sharks or diving with hammerheads. In La Paz’s Sea of Cortez, where pale-red cliffs and isles sit in stark contrast against the azure-blue water, it isn’t so much the unforgettable experiences that they take home with them as it is the resulting lessons.
After all, this is a part of the world where marine biologists began to flock to some 20 years ago in large numbers, not only to study its flourishing marine populations but also to learn from them.
“Besides having a great university, renowned professors, several research centers and an environmental, forward-thinking community, we have the best natural laboratory in the world,” said Ciro Calderon, a marine biologist and project associate for Forest Trends, a conservation group.
Indeed, La Paz, which sits on the western shore of the Gulf of California, is more than just one of the best places to interact with wildlife in their natural habitat. It’s also a humble starting point from which we all can understand how big of an impact — good and bad — that humans have on the rest of the natural world. It can inspire a new generation of conscientious travelers looking to get away from the controversial, swimming-with-dolphins-in-enclosures brand of tourism that’s still so popular these days.
Luckily, many activities in town are geared toward ecotourism and conservation, both on land and in the ocean. Here are a few good places to start.
Gray Whale and Sea Turtle Research
Among the nine species of whales that travel annually to the waters of Baja, gray whales — once hunted to near extinction — are one of the most at risk. That’s why Red Travel Mexico, a top nature and adventure tour operator in Baja Sur, hosts immersive and educational multiday trips that focus on gray whale observation.
Students will learn about the whales’ migration patterns and behaviors as well as hone their whale identification techniques. During the trip, students will also participate in sea turtle conservation efforts and help with monitoring and data gathering.
Saving Vaquitas From Extinction
Porpoises are often overshadowed by their more famous cousins: the oceanic dolphins. However, if there’s one marine mammal group we should be aware of now more than ever, it’s these beautiful creatures. In fact, porpoises’ vaquita species, the most endangered cetacean in the world, is currently in need of drastic conservation efforts. There are only 30 of them left in the northern Gulf of California, and organizations such as Viva Vaquita and Vaquita CPR are racing against time to ensure the species’ survival.
Travelers can donate their money or their time. Viva Vaquita accepts volunteers to help them with their projects while Vaquita CPR's parent organization, National Marine Mammal Foundation, offers internship opportunities.
Sea Turtle Camp
If clients want to focus on La Paz’s turtles, they should consider the Sea Turtle Camp by Todos Santos Eco Adventures, a Todos Santos-based tour operator.
At the conservation camp, attendees can help protect the endangered Olive Ridley turtles through beach patrol and egg relocation. They’ll also work with local biologists to move the eggs from vulnerable nests, which can help keep them safe from illegal poachers and predators.
La Paz’s Whale Museum may look modest, but it’s worth carving out some time for. Its dedicated volunteers have managed to fit a comprehensive and partially interactive look at many species in a small space, including whales, dolphins, turtles and other marine animals. Expect models, audiovisual displays and actual fossils and skeletons.
Tip: A tour of the museum isn’t complete unless you secure Omar as a tour guide. The extremely knowledgeable volunteer and a high school student helped reconstruct a whale skeleton when he was 10 and has since continued to be very passionate about saving the environment.