Ivis de Jesus Ojeda used to spend 48 weeks of the year at sea with no other prospect but to work in the same tuna boat, since age 17, in exchange for barely enough to survive and a scant chance to support a family. While Ojeda still makes his living from the sea, today he has renewed hope thanks to the largest regional tourism effort ever undertaken in Mexico by the National Trust Fund for Tourism Development (FONATUR).
Through its development of 28 inter-connected ports of call, FONATUR is creating jobs, improving quality of life and designing nautical passages in Mexico’s Northwestern coast, one of the most impoverished and isolated areas, yet one of the world’s most richly-diverse marine environments.
“Now, I have a chance at a normal life inland,” Ojeda, 26, said, referring to his new job as maintenance coordinator at the newly constructed marina of La Paz in Baja California Sur.
Ojeda, like others in this vast region, which legendary marine biologist Jacques Cousteau described as “The Aquarium of the World,” is among the beneficiaries of the Mar de Cortes project whose marinas are located some 300 miles south of California and Arizona. Three have opened in Loreto, La Paz and Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point), with four more on the way within the next few weeks. They will provide yachters with fuel, supplies, medical care, laundry facilities, groceries and even wireless internet ... all welcome amenities for vacationers in less-than-40-foot boats with smaller fuel tanks.
“This regional project was crafted to preserve in order to develop with the goal of helping the villagers in the Mar de Cortes region have the means to earn a living, but also conserve the delicate bio-diversity of the region. We want socio-economic development, yes. But, we want it eco-friendly, too,” said John McCarthy, CEO of FONATUR, the Mexican entity entrusted with overseeing the project.
With marina space tightening in other parts of the U.S. and more yachts heading to warmer waters, FONATUR officials believe they will receive up to 10,000 boats per year. Yet, McCarthy was emphatic that FONATUR will not allow the region’s development to reach proportions that could threaten the natural magic of its surroundings. It will lure a special kind of traveler who appreciates close contact with marine life such as migrating grey and blue whales, dolphins, whale sharks, marlin and sailfish as well as 18th and 19th- century architecture of Spanish missions and old government palaces.
“This is a socio-environmental approach,” said McCarthy. “We didn’t just want to bring tourism to the area. We wanted to preserve and improve the quality of what exists so that everyone can enjoy this wonderful region.”
For Ojeda and his friends, all this means a source of a stable income in the years ahead and a brighter future for their children. URL: www.regionmardecortes.com