Puerto Vallarta's Eco Wave at Estero el Salado Environmentally Protected Area
A new crop of environmentally conscious locals are showing visitors a greener view of this Mexican resort town.
Of all the reasons travellers flock to Puerto Vallarta, its swampland generally isn't one of them. Boating down a mangrove-lined canal in El Salado estuary as spiked croc tails splash in the murky waters, I feel like I'm in an episode of The Crocodile Hunter rather than in a popular resort town.
Puerto Vallarta emerged as a tourist destination back in the 1960s, when Hollywood descended on the hidden paradise to film The Night of the Iguana. Stars Ava Gardner and Richard Burton, along with Burton's then-lover Elizabeth Taylor, lounged beachside by day and attended lavish parties by night. It wasn't long before the world followed suit.
"The tourism industry took off; restaurants, clubs and hotels sprouted up along Puerto Vallarta's shores," explains Isabel Cárdenas Oteisa, El Salado's resident marine scientist. "Then, in the '90s, we decided to take a step toward protecting our greenery. The people, authorities, scientists and government never agree on anything, but for once, they did. It was practically a miracle: We all wanted to build this estuary."
Along the sides of the canal, I spot bright orange crabs clambering over the tree roots. A laughing gull, whose call sounds just like a monkey's laugh, swoops in to perch among dewy mangrove leaves.
Supported solely by events held at the International Convention Center on the park's grounds, the estuary is like a Noah's ark of Puerto Vallartan wildlife. Over 100 exotic species of colourful birds, crab, iguana and fish are shacked up within its 169 acres. There's even a raccoon living on the grounds, as I discover when he scurries over and tries to pry my bag open.
"Rufo was dropped off at the estuary's gate after he was found in a nearby dance club," says Oteisa, laughing at my furry pickpocket. Luckily, Rufo is especially taken with one of the estuary's young volunteers and leaves me to climb up onto the volunteer's shoulders.
"El Salado is a haven for our species, but it's also a way to get our younger people involved in preserving Puerto Vallarta's animals and vegetation," Oteisa explains. Students from nearby universities help with everything from groundskeeping to guiding public tours, which are offered during the week.
I take in a sweeping view of the estuary from its observation tower before leaving to participate in another eco-initiative. On the shores of the nearby CasaMagna Marriott, I join a group of elementary school students to release newly hatched sea turtles into the ocean. Admittedly, it's not how I expected to spend my time at the beach.
The sanctuary’s biologist, Oscar Aranda, explains how he gathers freshly laid sea turtle eggs at night and allows them to incubate for 45 days by burying them in what he describes as a "sandbox nursery." Without the special care, the eggs would be either collected by poachers and eaten – they're still sold on the black market for making soup – or attacked by large birds before they'd have the chance to hatch. Turtles are released at sunset several times a week from June to September, almost always with the help of young locals.
As the kids send the last turtles off to sea, one thing is clear: If more visitors are getting acquainted with the greener side of Puerto Vallarta, it's thanks to this new generation that's helping to turn the tide.
The Fideicomiso Estero el Salado established the adventure into our protected areas as a project designed to raise awareness and ensure that participants recognize the conservation works that benefit the entire population of the Bay of Banderas.
The two hour Adventurer excursions depart from Gate Number 4 in front of the Navy Hospital Monday through Friday with four tours per day: 9:00 am, 11:00, 1:00 and 3:00 pm.
Donations are 50 pesos for children, senior citizens and students that live in Banderas Bay, 100 pesos for teenagers and adults that live in Banderas Bay, or 300 pesos for visitors to Puerto Vallarta.
For more information or reservations, contact Estero el Salado by telephone at (322) 226-2878, cellular is 044-322-175- 7539 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Photos by Frank McCann)
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