Ocean's oasis

26 March 2010 | Fact sheet

Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California., Mexico - a true haven for many rare and endangered marine mammal species.

The Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California in Mexico comprise 244 islands and coastal areas where nature is rarely disturbed. Due to the variety of climatic conditions and broad range of terrestrial and marine ecological processes occurring in this area, the area has become an oasis for marine mammals and birds. Its marine life is one of the most diverse in the world and the region has been described by Jacques Cousteau as an ‘ocean’s aquarium’. It is not only a haven for many rare and endangered species but also an incredible laboratory for studying marine dynamics and life.

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Background

The Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California constitute a serial World Heritage property of 244 islands, islets and coastal areas located in the Gulf of California, North-Eastern Mexico. A serial World Heritage property is a group of protected areas that together make one larger World Heritage property.

The Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California include nine protected areas all managed by CONANP, the Mexican government agency. This complex of protected areas was established in 2000 and was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2005 following a recommendation by IUCN. IUCN is the advisory body for natural and mixed heritage properties to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

Size: close to13,400 km2, 5% of the total area of the Gulf of California.

Flora and fauna

With habitats that range from temperate to tropical, the islands and coastal areas are representative of the Sonoran Desert, one of the most outstanding desert regions of the world. Its high cliffs, deserts and sandy beaches with cactuses over 25 m high, ferns, clubmosses, flowering plants, conifers and other species, surrounded by turquoise, transparent water form an area of exceptional scenic and natural beauty. Living in this area are 181 species of birds, including 90% of the world’s population of Heermanns gulls, the world’s fourth largest population of blue-footed booby and 70% of the world’s population of black storm petrel. There are 31 species of marine mammals, 40% of the world’s total including the vaquita or gulf porpoise, one of the rarest marine mammals in the world; 34 species of cetaceans, a third of the world’s total; 891 species of fish and five of the world’s eight sea turtle species.

Threats

The beauty of the site and its incredible biodiversity comes from the fact that the islands are inaccessible, leaving nature in a pristine state. The tourism industry is interested in making it a diver's paradise and implanting sports ports and marinas, Even though this would help the local people, the Mexican government is setting up a system to control tourism in the site so that it maintains pristine.

Why should we protect the area?

The diversity of terrestrial and marine life in the area is extraordinary and constitutes a unique eco region of high priority for biodiversity conservation. With appropriate protective measures, the Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California, will continue to be the ocean’s oasis.

The designation of geographical entities in this fact sheet, and the presentation of the material, do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of IUCN concerning the legal status of any country, territory, or area, or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.