If for some reason you were looking for me during the late 1980s and early 1990s, there’s a pretty good chance you would have found me hanging out on the seawall at Tamarack Beach in Carlsbad, California (see Figure 1). That is, of course, unless I wasn’t in the water. For me and my friends, that seawall was our home base. We camped there all day long, watching the waves, hanging out with friends. We were on that seawall all day in the summers and all afternoon during the school year. I never thought about it back then, but our lives revolved not only around the beach and surfing but also the constantly changing shoreline and the engineered structures that were meant to keep it all somewhat stable. In that sense, we lived very structured lives, even if we imagined ourselves as independent souls of the sea.
I go back to Carlsbad and North San Diego County any chance I get. I still consider it home even though, for the majority of the past two decades, I have lived elsewhere. It’s interesting how the whole idea of “home” works. You might wonder what pulled me away from this place. Here’s the answer: anthropology. For the past fifteen or so years, I have made my way through a BA, MA, and finally a Ph.D. in anthropology. This journey took me from Santa Cruz (UCSC) to San Diego (SDSU), all the way to Lexington, Kentucky (University of Kentucky). My studies and research in anthropology have taken me to various places in Mexico, from Oaxaca City to Quintana Roo to Baja California Sur. For the past ten years, most of my work has focused on the political ecology of coastal conservation and development in and around the small community of Cabo Pulmo, located on the “East Cape” of Baja California Sur, Mexico. But a turn of events has shifted my work…and brought me, unexpectedly, back home to study the long California coast that shaped my youth.
This new research direction all started with a storm and a few photographs. In early September of 2012, while I was doing my doctoral field-work in Cabo Pulmo, a large storm hit the coast. I walked outside with my camera to take a few photographs. I stepped up on a seawall, faced south, and took a series of photographs as the wind and waves bashed the shore. In the foreground of the image, there was a large, curved, concrete seawall that was holding up but showing severe signs of stress. The storm was impressive, and I knew it would bring damage. When I returned the following year in 2013, that seawall was gone. It was around this time that I started paying closer attention to the effects of coastal erosion and sea level rise. As it turns out, Cabo Pulmo is, like many places around the world, dealing with the slow, incessant effects of climate change, sea level rise, and coastal erosion. What this means, for the residents of Cabo Pulmo, is that they are losing small chunks of territory each year. Bits and pieces of home. Some have lost houses; others have lost businesses. These losses continue today. The residents of Cabo Pulmo are resilient—along with many other coastal communities around the world—but when it comes to sea level rise and coastal erosion, there are only so many options.
Continue reading in Volume 41, Issue 3 of Practicing Anthropology.