'Birthplace of Mexican Surfing' Declared Baja's First State Park

Tony Butt

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Updated 361d ago

Surfers are an indicator species. I’ve been thinking about that phrase ever since I first heard it in 2005 when it was coined by Puerto Rican surf activist Ricky de Soto. It refers to the concept of surfers being on the ‘front line’, where environmental degradation often affects us before it affects other members of society.

You could also say that surf spots themselves are a kind of indicator species within all the natural elements that make up a coastal ecosystem. If the surf spot is affected by some kind of human intervention, such as pollution, sand dredging, concrete structures, there is a good chance that the same intervention will also affect other parts of the surrounding environment at the same time.

Therefore, if we protect surf spots, the natural surrounding elements they depend on will automatically be protected. And those natural elements will continue to provide a whole range of non-surfing functions, such as water quality, biodiversity and coastal stability. This is especially true in the case of extra-sensitive spots like rivermouths, beachbreaks and cobblestone pointbreaks, where the spot depends on a delicate balance of sediment supply, riverflow, rainfall and incoming swell.

One place where you can see this concept in action, is San Miguel in Baja California, Mexico. San Miguel is a quality righthand cobblestone pointbreak. It depends on just the right supply of sediment reaching the base of the watershed, which, in turn, depends on a healthy and uninterrupted river system. Anything that affects the biodiversity of the riverine system and the health of the river will also affect the wave – and will be noticed by the people who surf there – probably before the rest of the population.

That in itself is reason enough to protect it. But San Miguel is also really important for cultural reasons; it is the birthplace of Mexican surfing. So it would be a tragedy if anything happened to it.

Luckily, it has recently been declared a protected area.

© 2023 - Nacho Felix

The surfbreak at San Miguel, along with 67 hectares of green space and six kilometres of riverine ecosystem, has recently been declared the first State Park in Baja California. The project, which took several years to come to fruition, was spearheaded by Save the Waves along with local NGO Pronatura Noroeste.

Save the Waves has recently been focusing on protecting what are termed surf ecosystems. Surf ecosystems are not just the surf spots themselves; they include surrounding areas containing the physical systems that maintain the quality of the wave, and, importantly, safeguard the biodiversity and natural environment that the local population depends on.

The area upstream of the San Miguel surf spot – the Arroyo San Miguel – is important not only because the cobblestone pointbreak is highly sensitive to the riverflow and sediment deposition, but also because the creek is a riparian ecosystem that contains species unique to riverine areas. This helps to keep the river healthy, and helps to ensure clean drinking water for the local population.

The timeline of the project goes back to 2008, when it was decided that the best way to protect San Miguel would be to create a State Park. Later, Save the Waves and Pronatura Noroeste joined forces after Bahía de Todos Santos – which includes the surfbreak at San Miguel – was made into a World Surfing Reserve in 2014 (here). A campaign to gather public support was launched, including an online petition which got over 10,000 signatures and a huge number of letters of support to the Governor of Baja California. Finally, on 20th September 2021, the area was officially declared a State Park.

Hopefully the State Park will give San Miguel everlasting protection against human intervention. Which is great news, of course. Proper laws to stop humans destroying their own resource base are always good news. But I think we still have a long way to go. Ideally, every part of the coastline and every part of the natural world should be interfered with as little as possible. It should be left to get on with what it was evolved to do, without any help from us.

That should be the default condition. Then, if people want to build things like cities, airports and harbours, or want to remove huge areas of natural forest to plant genetically-modified monocrops, they should only be given permission to do so if it can be proven that the effects will be negligible. I know, that sounds a bit of a fantasy. But what is the alternative? Continue to destroy Nature until it is all gone?