Report by Shark Info
The Revillagigedo Island Marine Reserve is the only national underwater park of its
kind in Mexico. Founded six years ago, it comprises the entire Revillagigedo
Archipelago with its four islands, the most well-known being San Benedicto. The
archipelago is located approximately 400 km south-southeast of Cabo San Lucas (Baja
California) in the Pacific and can only be reached by ship from the mainland. The
park was famous for its abundant shark populations and has been frequented by the
largest mantas in the world (with weights up to 2 tons). Besides its reputation as
being a playground for numerous sharks and mantas, the islands are also a refuge for
various threatened species of birds, and the archipelago's biosphere is often called
"Mexico's Mini-Galapagos". Scuba divers from around the world are attracted to the
park like a magnet and the income stemming from diving tourism is estimated to reach
at least USD 2 million annually.
February 14, 1994, marked a sad event in the history of the archipelago as fishing
vessels appeared off the coast of San Benedicto and began to slaughter manta rays and
sharks. This incident became known as the Valentine's Day Massacre and not only
triggered the foundation of the Revillagigedo Park, but also resulted in mantas being
placed on the list of endangered species in Mexico. Today the catching or killing of
a manta is fined with up to USD 10,000.
A silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)
in a poacher's net.
Recently, on May 2, 2000, another massacre occurred in the Revillagigedo Archipelago
- but this time in the protected underwater park and on a gigantic scale.
witnessed and documented by divers on two boats who drew attention to the massacre.
Coming from Cabo San Lucas, the people on board the Ambar III and Solmar V noticed
seven fishing boats put out drift nets in the waters around the islands, despite a
law which prohibits fishing within the 12-mile zone around the islands and even
requires scuba divers to obtain a special permit to dive within this zone.
One of the
captains of the two submersibles, Mike McGettigan, is founder of SEAWATCH, a private
organization stationed in Oregon, USA, whose objective is to protect the Sea of
Cortez between Baja California and the Mexican mainland. SEAWATCH distributes
information in Mexico, the U.S. and the remaining world in order to prevent the
destruction of the Sea of Cortez. McGettigan immediately called in officials and
documented everything that happened on video.
The Macapule III.
The seven fishing vessels, with a total
water displacement of approximately 70 to 90 tons and each equipped with more than
3 km of drift nets, were recorded and filmed. Later interrogations of the crews
revealed that the boats had fished within the park boundaries for 4 to 5 days, sometimes
only 400 m offshore! Divers could identify five of the seven boats, including the
Victor M. Calzas, the Macapule III, the Mazatleco, the Tiburon Maco and the Nino and
even managed to film the massacre both above and underwater.
A Manta (Manta birostris)
in a poacher's net.
Based on this video
documentation approximately 2,000 to 4,000 sharks were pulled on board the boats and
finned. Sea turtles and other sea animals were also captured. The Nino was filmed as
it pulled in its nets over Bolder Rock, a high underwater pinnacle which reaches down
to great depths and rises practically to the water's surface. Bolder Rock lies only
approximately 400 m off the coast and is a gathering point for the world's largest
mantas such as those filmed in the nets of the Nino.
The massacre was extensive and
destroyed a unique underwater world. Divers on the scene reported seeing no living
sharks in the area afterwards.
Although the video reports on the May 2nd massacre were submitted to the Mexican
Government, no charges have as yet been brought against the poachers.
Julia Carabias Lillo, Mexico's Environmental Minister, gave an interview conceding
the fact that illegal fishing takes place in the region, but questioning the supposed
number of slaughtered sharks. The matter is being investigated and efforts are under
way to improve observation of the region. An inquiry report is expected to be
published in June.
Protecting the archipelago is not an easy undertaking for Mexican
authorities. The islands are located 400 km from the mainland and insufficient
resources are available to adequately control the region which is uninhabited except
for an outer post maintained by the Mexican navy in Socorro, the largest of the four
islands located approximately 60 km from San Benedicto.
The most effective protection
is thus still provided by divers and American yachts which frequent this park on a
Considering the slow reproduction rate of sharks, the Revillgigedo Islands have
probably lost their large and diverse shark populations and hence their uniqueness
for a very long time to come. And even if shark populations should one day recover
from this decimation, they will need protection instead of only vague declarations of
intent or excuses from the responsible ministries who with their lax attitude
directly encourage poaching by unscrupulous fishers.
May be published only by indicating the source: Shark Info