Collaborators in this issue

Baja California
Talli Nauman

Baja California Sur
Miguel Ángel Torres
Eréndira Valle

Agustín del Castillo
Kent Paterson

Miguel Ángel Torres

Núria López Torres
Talli Nauman
Raquel Padilla Ramos
Miguel Ángel Torres
Griselda Franco Piedra

Editorial Board
Talli Nauman (San Ignacio, B.C.S.)
Debra Valov (Mulegé, B.C.S.)
Griselda Franco Piedra (Guaymas, Son.)
Miguel Ángel Torres (Aguascalientes, Ags.)
Hugo A. Rivas Sánchez (Hermosillo, Son.)

Consultants Vol. 8, No. 1
Fernando Bejarano
Dahl McLean
Reina Castro Longoria

Translations Vol. 8, No. 1
Debra Valov
Eleonora Aranda
Talli Nauman
Lis Maria Arévalo Hidalgo
G. Pacifica

National Geographic Society

Debra Valov; Mulegé, B.C.S.

meloncoyote [at]


Melóncoyote is a product of Journalism to Raise Environmental Awareness (abbreviated PECE in Spanish), an independent communications project founded in 1994 with the support of the MacArthur Foundation.

The viewpoints expressed are solely those of the authors. This work may be reproduced in part or whole, with images and illustrations, as long as the publication source and authors are cited.

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Without pressure, the corrupt will kill off the Vaquita, the Totoaba, and how many more?

The Upper Gulf of California has apparently reached a dead end, with the only solution being the most difficult to resolve: the culture of corruption inherited and maintained by consecutive governments since Mexico first gained its independence.

A clear example is the ever increasing danger of extinction for the Vaquita Marina (Phocoena sinus) because of its inadvertent capture in nets used in the illegal fishing of Totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldii); both species are endemic to the region.

In the time between our first issue of Melóncoyote in 2009 and now, we have seen the population of Vaquita decline from 100 to just 30 individuals. We have always advocated the need for real law enforcement, together with a policy that offers a real source of income to fisher families from the Upper Gulf, given the worldwide collapse of the industry due to overfishing.

Today, the world's smallest cetacean is also the rarest, and scientists are frantic, trying to locate and capture live individuals, because projections show that within just a few months they will likely become extinct.

Totoaba fishing, which is carried out using gill nets, has been prohibited since June but nonetheless continues due to the high demand on the Asian black-market for the swim bladder, also known as buche, which brings thousands of dollars apiece. Just like the measures that haven't helped the Vaquita to recover, neither will the proposed legalization of this fishery.

In 2010, right at the beginning of the "buche" boom, the Center for Biological Investigations of the Northwest (CIBNOR) began a study of the Totoaba that had, among other objectives the estimation of the current population, with the idea of gathering scientific data about their abundance and population makeup that would help in the process of reclassifying them for the list of endangered species.

When they presented their conclusions in 2013, they had yet to reach a definitive answer. They said that while it showed signs of a healthy population it also showed signs of a vulnerable population. They recommended extending the study.

Now, without any more data, the government promises to legalize Totoaba fishing for the first months of 2018, giving false hopes to fishing families in trouble because of the economic decline.

But the legal commercialization of the Totoaba's swim bladder is not possible, as a number of conservation organizations have correctly maintained. The sale of the whole fish and any of its parts and products is clearly prohibited worldwide because it is a listed species in Appendix I of the Convention for the International Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES), of which Mexico is a signatory.

Appendix I authorizes commerce only under exceptional circumstances for these species. And no circumstance can be justified while the corruption of those in charge of monitoring continues unchecked.

The Program for Comprehensive Care for the Upper Gulf (El Programa de Atención Integral al Alto Golfo), which applies to waters off both Baja California and Sonora, is a complete failure. This program is run by a team called the Inter-institutional Operational Coordination Group (Coordinación Operativa Interinstitucional), which is made up of the federal Attorney General for the Environment (PROFEPA), the National Fishing Commission (CONAPESCA), the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), the Federal Preventive Police (PFP), the Secretary of the Navy (SEMAR), as well as other agencies. These are the people who agree on inspection and monitoring activities.

It is no secret that the operations are carried out on days when there is no illegal fishing and in places where there are no schools of fish for the poachers to target. At other times, the institutions allege that they can't go monitoring because "there is no gasoline". Could this be true? If they don't have gasoline, why is there a program of this magnitude outfitted with first-class boats and personnel, but no gas?

In 2016, international organizations proposed a program dedicated to collecting what was known as "ghost nets". In other words, they wanted to locate and remove nets that the poachers hide, suspended by floats in the middle of the ocean. The poachers can then carry out their activities in smaller boats leaving from different parts of the shore "without being detected", say authorities. The organizations were able to remove more than 260 nets. About 70% were for Totoaba fishing and were in good condition.

Simply put, if a monitoring program is not established that actually prevents illegal fishing in the upper Gulf , Totoaba fishing, legalized or not, will continue in an irrational manner, and the fish will be yet another species likely to disappear, just like the Vaquita Marina.

We invite you to read and share the details about this and other topics having to do with sustainability and resilience in Northwest Mexico here in Meloncoyote with the knowledge that it is a tool to encourage participation in citizen journalism and decision-making in the land of the Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata) for which this publication takes its name.


Why Melóncoyote?

Our project dates back to 1994, when “Journalism to Raise Environmental Awareness” (abbreviated PECE in Spanish) was formed. In 2004, PECE played a role in the founding of the national professional organization The Mexican Environmental Journalist’s Network. In 2005, when we started the first grassroots journalism project in the Gulf of California, our team chose the name Melóncoyote because it is a species emblematic of the region at the heart of our mission.

The Coyote Melon, known in Spanish as melón coyote or calabacilla (which includes the species Cucurbita palmata, C. cordata, C. digitata and C. foetidissima) is a wild perennial gourd that is resistant, versatile, beautiful, useful and native to the sandy soils that characterize the Gulf of California zone. The coyote melon is found in the region’s seven states: Baja California Sur, Baja California, California, Arizona, Sonora, Sinaloa, and Nayarit. A vine, Coyote Melon has an immense root that guarantees its survival against hard times while its long stems serve to anchor the soil in fragile areas.

The indigenous peoples of the area, bearers of the region’s traditional wisdom, describe the plant and how it is used. As medicine, it is bitter, but effective. As a musical instrument, it makes a beautiful rattle. Its seeds provide oil and a flour which contains a high level of protein. Its shell is ideal as a container for all matter of things. Because of all of these traits, and because it is an integral part of the food chain and one of the principal foods of the coyote, they named it “Coyote Melon”.

Our team of collaborators chose this name because it is a plant found throughout the region, and in doing so, we wanted to stress our intention to create a large-scale communications medium, capable of spreading (on a regional level) the news about efforts being made towards sustainability. With this symbolic name to represent our work, we are sending a clear message about our respect for the land and the sea, as well as for the ancestral cultures and customs of the region. We see the establishment of this medium for education and dissemination as something urgent, given the idiosyncrasies of the region. We have conceived this project as being an integral element of the environment, something positive like the Coyote Melon.

Faced with the challenges of growth in the region—a low population density, its recent political incorporation into the national government, a high degree of natural attraction and its proximity to the strong investment sector of the United States—we understand the implications of the pressures for development. Dealing with these challenges and pressures will require informed citizens who have the chance to participate in the decisions that affect their land, water, air, biodiversity and their future. We invite others to join with us, to participate in building this medium and to fight for a stable future for the region.

All work on behalf of Melóncoyote is voluntary.