BAJA CONSERVATION CHALLENGES AND COMBATIVE EFFORTS
Baja California hosts many diverse ecosystems, and many of them are susceptible to oil drilling, industrial and economic development, fisheries, and tourism. Many consider Baja to be a nearby Galápagos, and many conservationists hope to maintain that status by preserving all of the unique flora, fauna, and habitats Baja has to offer. In some ways Baja is lucky in that much of it went unexplored and, therefore, unexploited for so long. The peninsula not only boasts of animal and plant species found nowhere else on earth, but its coastlines play vital roles as nesting habitats for migrating species. Although Baja California is becoming an increasingly more intriguing attraction for outdoor adventurists, many are aware that Baja must embrace its ecotourist future rather than a continuation of commercialization that has led to developments such as The Los Cabos Corridor.
While many first think of whales and the whale preserve in El Vizcaíno when thinking of Baja conservation, sea turtle conservation is also a primary interest of conservation groups such as Grupo Tortuguero. Grupo Tortugero came to the region in 1998, and it has since developed from its grassroots origins focused on preserving individual turtle populations to working with other larger organizations such as SEE Turtles and Tortugueros Las Playitas. Sea turtles remain a vital part of Baja’s incredible yet fragile marine ecosystem, and efforts to protect the endangered populations as well as their nesting habitats are in full swing.
Some conservations had grave concerns over Mexico’s potential plan to increase nautical tourism by creating the Escalera Nautica, or Nautical Ladder. The Nautical Ladder would have involved the construction of over twenty marinas along the Pacific Coast of Baja California and into the Sea of Cortez, but the project met fierce disapproval and was declared a failure in 2009.
UNESCO BIOSPHERE RESERVES
Mexico currently has over 40 biosphere reserves, four of which can be found on the Baja California peninsula: El Vizcaíno, Sierra La Laguna, Alto Golfo de California, and Islas del Golfo de California.
The El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve is Mexico’s largest wildlife refuge. Located in the Mulegé Municipality, the El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve is over 9,624 square miles and incorporates Laguna Ojo de Liebre and Laguna San Ignacio as well as Desierto de Vizcaino, Bahia Sebastian Vizcaino, Guerro Negro, and other various coastal lakes. Although Laguna Ojo de Liebre and Laguna San Ignacio were established as marine refuge zones for whales in the 1970’s, the area was not declared a national biosphere reserve until 1988. In 1993, the El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve was recognized internationally as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
The area is incredibly biologically diverse. The El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve hosts 308 marine and terrestrial vertebrates—an impressive number that does not include fish. There are 469 flora species, 39 of which are endemic, that can be found in the protected land. The reserve protects more than its ecosystems. Over 200 caves can also be found on the reserve that hold rupestrian petroglyphs and paintings.
Some of the greatest threats to the region are oil drilling and other industrial and economic development. Cargo ships and power boats used by tourists can also disturb the coastal waters and marine life.
Sierra La Laguna
The Sierra La Laguna Biosphere Reserve can be found in the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula in Baja California Sur, about 85 miles south of La Paz. The Sierra La Laguna Biosphere Reserve covers a granite mountain range with a uniquely fragile ecosystem. As the peninsula’s southern tip was once an island, distinctly endemic flora and fauna evolved. To protect the contrasting ecosystems of arid zones, low deciduous forests, and matorrales, UNESCO declared the area a global reserve in 1994.
Alto Golfo de California
The Alto Golfo de California biosphere reserve lies on the Gulf of California’s border in the Sonora State and comprises the Gran Desierto del Altar, Bahía of Adair, and Pinacate regions. This biosphere reserve is known for its geologic volcanic formations including craters as well as its dunes and coasts. Designated as a UNESCO site in 1993, the biosphere reserve plays an important role in terms of transborder conservation
Islas del Golfo de California
The Islas del Golfo de California Biosphere Reserve is an archipelago comprised of over 240 islands. The region is located between the Baja California peninsula, the Sinaloan mangroves, and the Sonoran Desert. In terms of location, the archipelago holds great import for its role as a corridor for migrating species and as birds’ reproduction refuges. The islands included are arid, with cactus and other succulents being the predominate flora. There are about 115 species of reptiles that can be found on the islands, representing 10% of Mexico’s herptetological population. Although many land and sea birds also visit the islands’ various shorts, over half of the species of birds are migratory.