Have you ever thought back to how things used to be? How things were before mankind took such a heavy toll on the environment? When the tide pools were rich with life under each and every rock? When the shells on the beach were plentiful and in perfect condition? When there could be an estuary, mangrove habitat, mud fat, and reef all in one mile or two of beach?
Yeah, it's hard to imagine how something as beautiful and pristine could even exist in today's world. I had to see it before I could truly believe it. In the middle of the Baja California peninsula within the vast country of Mexico, there is a hidden treasure known as Bahia de las Animas. The Bay of Souls. Three hours of driving on a "dirt road" that isn't even a true road, far from the closest town. Once you arrive, it doesn't take long before you realize why this place is named after souls, as you can feel the rich amount of love in the land. The only footprint on the Earth's soil belongs to some abandoned fishermen huts from long ago, and even these are only made of simple driftwood.
Let me set the scene: a long stretch of beach with the desert mountains covered in cacti and small plants behind you and the Sea of Cortez in the front. The ocean water a mix of blues, with two little islands infested by birds just paddle-boarding distance from the shore. The beach is not pure and clean like you see at resorts. The sand is not fake. It is rich with shells, rough terrain, the occasional desert remnants (if you're unlucky, you may step on something poky), quartz and rhyolite and feldspar rocks can be seen with the trained eye. To the left there is a mouth to the estuary that flows back into the desert and is filled with mangroves, fiddler crabs, and stingrays at high tide. To the left there is an intertidal zone, and to the far right there is a mudflat.
And then there was us. 105 campers consisting of a seniors-only high school marine ecology class from Southern California, some parent drivers, and a few boat drivers. We took over the beach in our sleeping bags, sleeping under the stars for our eight-day camping trip (no tents!). We spent our mornings exploring through labs created by our teacher, and spent the afternoons exploring on our own accord. We played volleyball, swam, snorkeled, painted shells, paddle-boarded, kayaked, fished. We did anything and everything we could.
This bay is filled with life. Every sunset a pod of dolphins would come and jump out of the water to give us a personal show. They live in this bay and come back every year. We saw humpback whales while fishing. While snorkeling, we could see fish and sea stars and gorgonians with every inch of the sea. And, my personal favorite, we swam in a sea lion rookery and played with sea lions for an hour or so. This was incredible and no words can truly capture my feelings in that moment. The sea lions played like puppy dogs around us. They twirled and blew bubbles and were not afraid; they simply wanted a new friend to play with. I am not exaggerating when I say that each and every tide pool rock had organisms to see. We found sea stars, bristle stars, sea hairs, sea cucumbers, flat worms, sea anemones, nudibranchs, shrimp, sponges, and much more. Years before us had seen an octopus, too.
We fished sustainably, putting any fish back in the water under a specific size, only catching specific fish, and under specific quotas. Any fish we put back in the water we used a buoyancy bucked that would put them back into the depths of the ocean at a slow enough speed so that their swim bladder wouldn't burst, preserving their life. It was the best fish I've ever had, fresh from less than an hour before.
Why am I telling you all this? Why explain it?
Places like these show us potential. They prove the damage that runoff, building, and industrialization have on an environment. They show the importance of preserving certain areas, of protecting the ocean because of the beauty it holds, and allowing people to fall in love with true authentic nature so they help protect it for future generations. I cannot explain the love and beauty I saw and felt in this week of camping in words. The best equivalent is John Steinbeck's The Log from the Sea of Cortez. He explains the beauty in a way that I don't think I ever could. I attached some photos below, but they don't give the place justice. Remember places like these, explore places like these, fall in love with places like these. Encourage others to as well. Show people what the other side is like. Education. Preservation. Restoration. Let us hope that Bahia de las Animas never loses its sparkle.