By: Peggy J. Turk Boyer, Founder/Executive Director Emeritus, CEDO Intercultural

This past April 2, 2021, news broke of the inauguration of a full-scale desalinization plant at Puerto Peñasco that would augment a diminishing water supply in this extremely dry desert region[1]. The following day, April 3rd, we learned of the sad passing of Carl N. Hodges[2], a Puerto Peñasco icon, scientist, engineer, and innovator, who in 1963 was the first to introduce solar desalinization to this seaside community and to the world[3][4}. It was the first of many innovative pilot projects that Hodges would bring to Puerto Peñasco in the 60s, 70s, and 80s – CEDO being one of them.

In 1959, shortly after graduating in Mathematics from the University of Arizona (UA), Hodges joined the UAs Institute of Atmospheric Physics and became supervisor of the Solar Energy Research Lab[2]. With the environmental movement gaining momentum, concern was growing over air and water pollution, overall environmental degradation, and the need for renewable resources, including energy.  Carl obtained funding from the US Department of the Interior Saline Water Office to study a new solar process for desalting seawater.  Most desalting operations in the US and around the world at the time were using expensive fossil fuels for energy.  Just five hours south of Tucson, in the sleepy fishing village of Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, a local pioneer, Agustin Cortés, helped Carl forge a partnership with the University of Sonora and obtain the land for building the Unidad Experimental Peñasco to launch the project. At the time the town was trucking its water in from brackish wells 18 miles to the north and storing it in open barrels. The plant produced an average of 2400 gallons of freshwater per day at the start which was distributed to local schools and hospitals[3] . The U.S. State Department produced a documentary about the project that can be seen at YouTube.

The experimental desalinization project operated until 1973, but in 1966 with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation it began to employ diesel generators.

The energy generated by these engines was used to inflate controlled environment greenhouses that would use the desalinated seawater for vegetable production. Productivity in these greenhouses was far higher and quality and uniformity far superior to crops grown in open fields in the USA[5].

The project received a lot of attention and was replicated in desert regions of California, Arizona, Iran, Morocco, and Abu Dhabi (1967-68).

The technology was highlighted as a demonstration project at Disney World’s Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, EPCOT Center Land Pavilion, where Carl was the lead science advisor[6].

Meanwhile in Puerto Peñasco, the project took another turn, and in 1972 gave focus to finding productive uses for seawater, rather than expending the energy to desalinate it [5]. Coca-Cola (1975), F.H. Prince & Company (1976), Resorts International and others made investments in the physical infrastructure at the Unidad Experimental to convert the greenhouse raceways to controlled environment aquaculture tanks for cultivating the local blue shrimp in an intensive land-based system. Sponsors also supported the research of numerous scientists and technicians who for 14 years worked under the guidance of Carl N. Hodges, who was founder (1963) and director of the University of Arizona’s Environmental Research Lab (ERL), and Lic. Xicoténcatl Murrieta, director of the University of Sonora’s, Centro de Investigaciones Científicas y Tecnológicas (CICTUS).  The project was successful in addressing nutrition, pathology, and other needs for raising the local blue shrimp, and most importantly in closing the reproductive cycle and for the first time producing a second generation of shrimp in captivity.  In 1977, the cultivation of halophytes (salt tolerant land plants with nutritional value) was integrated into the system, to utilize the nutrient rich seawater waste released from the shrimp ponds. Halophytes would also prove to be a solution to the growing problem of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere and rising sea level. Hodges explains the benefits here:

On June 2, 1978, the world’s first commercial prototype of controlled environment aquaculture of marine shrimp was inaugurated at Puerto Peñasco by the Director of Mexico’s Fisheries Department, Lic. Fernando Rafful[5].

Celebration of this important milestone was short-lived, however, complicated by laws restricting shrimp commercialization to fishing cooperatives, a dispute between the partners, and a virus impacting shrimp populations throughout the Gulf.

Hodges understood that learning as much as possible about the deserts and oceans would facilitate their wise use.  Influenced by other University of Arizona and University of Sonora researchers engaged in basic marine science at the Unidad Experimental Peñasco, Hodges’ embraced the idea of developing a cooperative Mexican American research and educational center that would function as an information clearinghouse.

The US not for profit Desert Development Foundation was established in 1977 to provide the necessary institutional framework in the US for realizing this vision, with Blake Brophy named as the first director[7] . A new facility was acquired to house this operation.  Built originally by Arquitect John McChesney as a recreation center for the Las Conchas housing community, the Greek monastic style edifice known locally as “el Castillo” was donated and then repurposed to operate as a field station. This work was overseen by UA marine science graduate Dr. Nicholas Patrick Yensen, who became the center’s first director. In January 1980, when Yensen was awarded a grant to collect halophytes from around the world, he hired Peggy Turk, a marine science graduate student at the University of Arizona, as the first resident director of what was to be called the Institute for Deserts and Oceans (IDO).  Though it was lacking many of the basic amenities, such as electricity and reliable water, Peggy began hosting classes and researchers from the University of Arizona and other institutions at this facility, named in honor of Agustin Cortés, a promoter of international research collaborations. Funding for the operation of this new institute would theoretically come from the commercial operation of the intensive shrimp aquaculture project.

In the spring of 1980, however, the politics of the commercial shrimp project changed dramatically. The partnership between the University of Sonora and UA researchers began to unravel and unable to commercialize shrimp outside the fishing cooperative system, the sponsors of the commercial shrimp project moved the operation to Hawaii. The UA research team moved out of Puerto Peñasco in June 1980, while Peggy stayed on alone at the new facility, with an unsure future.

During this period of uncertainty, while Hodges’ UA and DDF teams puzzled over their next steps, Peggy moved forward to realize the dream of a truly bicultural center for the study of deserts and oceans. With the blessing and help of Carl Hodges and ERL’s business manager Jim Fountain, in December 1986 Peggy, Rick Boyer, and Nick Yensen incorporated the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans, CEDO, Inc., in the US, and in Mexico in March 1987 CEDO, A.C., el Centro Intercultural de Estudios de Desiertos y Océanos, was founded by Peggy and Rick and Puerto Peñasco community leaders Fausto Soto, Guillermo Munro, José Salcedo, Carlos Flores, Rogelio Gonzales, Minerva Núñez de Piquero and Lili Chersin.

Today the mission of this model binational organization, CEDO Intercultural, is to foster vibrant communities and resilient ecosystems in the Northern Gulf of California and other ecoregions by integrating people, knowledge, and solutions. While the growth and evolution of CEDO as an award-winning institution is a story to be told another day, in CEDO much of the original vision proposed by Carl and DDF has been realized, enhanced, and sustained for 40 years. As a model for true intercultural collaboration, the CEDO binational team works to engage and empower local communities to actively participate in conservation and management of their natural resources, in support of sustainable livelihoods.  Through persistence and the hard work of a multi-national team led for 40 years by founders, Executive Director Peggy Turk, and Co-Director Rick Boyer, CEDO is one of the most enduring of Carl Hodges’ legacies. Today this legacy is in the hands of a new director, Dr. Nélida Barajas Acosta.

Integrated agricultural systems that employ innovative technology became a hallmark of Hodges work all over the globe, with the goal of making desert coastlines more productive, while providing jobs and food security for the communities that support these systems.  In the 90s under the auspices of Seaphire International, founded by Hodges in 1985, Carl started the world’s first seawater farm in Eritrea, on the west coast of the Red Sea, generating over 700 jobs [8][9]. Political unrest eventually made the project untenable, however.  In recent years Carl’s team began planning for an integrated seawater farm back in Mexico at San Ignacio, Baja California, a project that continues to move forward through the auspices of Regenerative Resources Co.

Carl’s energy has been felt around the world. He was tremendously driven, always in motion, extremely smart, and charming. Those same traits enabled him to sell his projects or ideas to almost anyone.  His super-active and creative mind had him onto the next idea before you could fully embrace or discuss the current one.  My interactions with him seemed like a whirr. He would appear in Peñasco to show off his projects and disappear in the same breath, leaving you in awe and inspired by the man.

Howard Weiss, founder and communications director for Regenerative Resources, reminds us of the deep impact Carl had on the lives of the many people involved in his projects, “He enriched my life tremendously and gave it much more meaning than it would have had otherwise”, commented Howard, who chronicles Carl’s life in this 2020 video.

Dr. Xico Murrieta, director of CICTUS, University of Sonora from 1974-1982, recently expressed what a rewarding experience it was to collaborate with Carl Hodges at the Puerto Peñasco Unidad Experimental. He reflected, “These were formative years for my team, where they learned how to manage research projects, how science and technology evolves. In basic research you can fail but you generate knowledge, but when you manage a pilot project and try to take it to scale, and it fails, you lose money and then contracts.  It is not easy to migrate from the laboratory to market. “Nonetheless through the technology transfer learned at the Unidad Experimental, Xico has helped build capacity among scientists and technicians and facilitated development of over 20,000 hectares of shrimp farms in Mexico [10] .

Likewise, Carl had a similar impact on my life. In our earliest interactions Carl recognized in me a strong interest in and a capacity for promoting good intercultural relations and communications; he encouraged and believed in me, and ultimately trusted me to carry forward this vision for an intercultural research and education center.

In 1992 Carl was a consultant for the Biosphere 2 project in Oracle, AZ, which created a livable, secure, independent ecosphere for scientific study of seven major ecosystems[2].  As that project was unfolding in the 80s, he invited Rick Boyer, initially a CEDO volunteer and UA halophyte research assistant, and I to a conference on Synergy on the grounds of the future Biosphere.  So inspired was Rick, that during a break at the conference he brought me over to a canyon overlooking the Catalina Mountains and proposed a permanent synergy with me, in the form of marriage.  Carl approached us moments later and was the first to learn of this union, which eventually took place on Nov. 30th, 1985 at the Biosphere 2. Carl was an extraordinary force for synergy the world over.

Turk Boyer, Peggy J. April 2021. In Remembrance of Carl N. Hodges at Puerto Peñasco, Sonora  “At the Edge of the Sea of Cortes”, Electronic Newsletter, CEDO Intercultural.

REFERENCES CITED

  1. ​​​“Groundbreaking on Puerto Peñasco Desalination Plant”. Rocky Point 360: Around & About Puerto Peñasco. Retrieved 2021-04-13 from: https://rockypoint360.com/groundbreaking-on-puerto-penasco-desalination-plant/
  2. Carl Hodges, accomplished Arizona climate scientist, dies at 84 after Alzheimer’s diagnosis.” Retrieved 2021-04-06 from: https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-breaking/2021/04/06/carl-hodges-accomplished-arizona-climate-scientist-dies-84/7079936002/.
  3. “Solar Powered Desalination Plant for Puerto Peñasco Designed by University of Arizona’s Solar Laboratory at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, pdf”, scanned articles archived by Arizona Geological Survey, Geothermal Data Repository. Retrieved 2021-04-12 from: http://repository.stategeothermaldata.org/repository/resource/6653d470c471cd6f30088b38701409c9/.
  4. Hodges, Carl N., T. Lewis Thompson, John E. Groh and William D. Sellers, 1964. The utilization of Solar Energy in a Multiple-Effect Desalinization System. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology. Oct. 1964. Vol. 3: 505-511.
  5. “A Short History for Visitors to The Experimental Unit & Commercial Shrimp Prototype at Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico. Ca. 1980. Principal Project Sponsors: The Coca-Cola Company & F.H. Prince and Company; Research and Development by: Centro de Investigaciones Científicas y Tecnológicas of the University of Sonora & The Environmental Research Laboratory of the University of Arizona. Printed handout 3 pp.
  6. “Get the Buzz on Epcot’s Legacy of Innovation”. D23. 2017-10-03. Retrieved 2021-04-20: https://d23.com/get-the-buzz-on-epcot-innovation
  7. Desert Development Foundation In Puerto Peñasco, Blake Brophy, Director. Sonora, Mexico, Brochure. March, 1981.
  8. Hodges, Carl. Retrieved 2021-04-20 from: https://www.encyclopedia.com/journals/culture-magazines/hodges-carl
  9. Spangler, Adam. “The Future’s Farmer – Dr. Carl Hodges brings oceans inland to nourish salt-tolerant plants, transforming dry earth into much-needed arable land”. 2017-05-28.Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2021-04-20 from: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2007/04/hodges200704.
  10. X. Murrieta, personal communication, December 17, 2020.

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