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Cacaluta, and endangered paradise

A vital ecosystem for the coast of Oaxaca, deforestation and wild dogs are a threat to these amazing wetlands in Oaxaca
Cacaluta, and endangered paradise
Cacaluta - Photo: Mario Arturo Martínez/EL UNIVERSAL
Juan Carlos Zavala
Santa María Huatulco, Oaxaca
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If you were told that abandoning a dog could endanger an ecosystem no doubt you'll refuse to believe it but, in fact, stray dogs – after several generations – can become a threat to native species. This is precisely the case of Cacaluta, one of the most emblematic wetlands along the coast of Oaxaca.

Cacaluta, a symbol of the region, is comprised of a low jungle, a coastal lagoon area, and vegetation that changes the closer you are to the ocean. It's also the home of the eponymous black bird, the Cacaluta, and a place where hundreds of migratory birds arrive from Alaska, Canada, and the United States.

Despite this is a vital ecosystem for many species, the wetland is endangered today by deforestation, tourist development, human activities, and the introduction of wild dogs, according to Mexico's Commission of Protected Natural Areas.

Yet despite all these threats, Cacaluta isn't part of the protected area of the Huatulco National Park.

(Photo: Mario Arturo Martínez/EL UNIVERSAL)

Feathers, tails, and paws

Vegetation isn't the only thing you can find in Cacaluta. Due to the merger of several ecosystems, over 300 species of native and migratory birds can be found in the branches of the trees. Moreover, this is also the habitat of dolphins, whales, and endangered species such as ocelots, anteaters, and several amphibians and reptiles – in addition to the over 10,000 varieties of plants  –  according to Omar Gordillo, director of the Huatulco National Park.

This abundance of life is no mere chance. Pursuant to the coordination of the Huatulco National Park, life in Cacaluta has learned to adapt: a wetland with fresh water which alternates between floods and droughts, as “it's lake is connected, physically, ecologically, and hydrologically to the Cacaluta river and the sea,” says the Coordination.

Due to this natural wealth, Cacaluta is one of the 142 places in Mexico which have been protected under the International Ramsar Convention. Four of them are in Oaxaca alone and are part of an international wetland network.

(Photo: Mario Arturo Martínez/EL UNIVERSAL)

A withering paradise

One of the biggest threats Cacaluta faces, according to Omar Gordillo, is the sedimentation caused by deforestation which is eroding the land. With the rains, soil particles are dragged to the waterbodies until they are filled with sand and then they dry out.

According to the last analysis of the Commission of Protected Natural Areas, in 2005, Cacaluta has lost close to 3, 476 hectares of woods to make way for agricultural activities and cattle industry.

“The sharp creation of touristic development projects (like golf fields, the Punta Maguey Project, and the Corridor Huatulco) are endangering the continuity and viability of the jungle and wetland ecosystems,” states the Commission.

Wild dogs

In addition to erosion, the introduction of exotic species, such as the tilapia fish, is also crippling the region.

“They are introduced in a natural area where they had never been before and they finish off the biodiversity,” claims Gordillo.

Another issue is the wild dogs coming from urban areas. They have become predators of the natural wildlife after their ancestors were abandoned by humans.

“These are no common stray dogs, these are dogs that have already reproduced in wild areas and kill entire populations of native animals because there's no one to look after them, to feed them; they're wild dogs,” says Gordillo.

(Photo: Mario Arturo Martínez/EL UNIVERSAL)

The dog invasion has led authorities to enforce neutering or spaying procedures in urban areas, and even resort to drastic measures to diminish the number of wild dogs roaming the wetlands.

Even though killing dogs seems excessive to protect the ecosystem, Gordillo is firm when saying the wetlands are important as they reduce the risk of storms and hurricanes making landfall in the coast.

A changing landscape

Walking across Cacaluta is being the witness of a contradiction: vegetation changes with each step. You can first see trees over 5-meters high, then you step into a jungle with very short trees. Then, once you have finally reached the coast, your feet are resting on sand and agave shrubs. On the shore, the beach is hit by the powerful force of the ocean.


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