El Vizcaíno Whale Sanctuary and Biosphere Reserve (Mexico)

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El Vizcaíno Whale Sanctuary and Biosphere Reserve (Mexico)

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The Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino, a World Heritage site, is located on the Pacific Coast of the central part of the Baja California Peninsula and is embedded in the much larger El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve, encompassing desert, mountain, coastal, and marine ecosystems.

Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaíno

The Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaíno comprises two coastal lagoons, Laguna Ojo de Liebre and Laguna San Ignacio, and their surroundings. This World Heritage Site encompasses a complex mosaic of wetlands, marshes, halophytes, dunes and desert habitats, and mangroves in the transition areas.

The animals and plants of this territory have adapted themselves to the region's extreme desert conditions with little rainfall, intense winds and an ecosystem that has produced thousands of endemic species of plants and animal life found nowhere else in the world.

The Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino contains the most important breeding grounds of the Eastern subpopulation of the North Pacific Grey Whale. Its protection is intricately linked with saving the species from extinction and recovery after near-collapse due to excessive commercial whaling.

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The lagoons are home to numerous other marine mammals, such as Bottlenose Dolphins, California Sea Lion and Harbor Seal. Four marine turtle species occur in the shallow waters, a critical habitat and nursery for many fish, crustaceans, and other life forms.

Countless breeding and migratory bird species, including, for example, a significant resident osprey population and more than half of Mexico's wintering population of Brant Goose, depend on the lagoons and adjacent habitats.

This exceptional sanctuary conserves both marine and terrestrial ecosystems and their delicate interface. The surrounding desert, biogeographically part of the Sonoran Desert, boasts highly diverse flora and fauna.

Despite the protection status, the property is susceptible to the potential impacts of economic activities near the lagoons, particularly benthic and pelagic fisheries, large-scale salt extraction and tourism.

El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve

The El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve is located in the central part of the Baja California peninsula in the Sebastian Volcano region, between the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean.

With a landmass of over 24,930 square km (9,625 sq mi), the El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve is the largest wildlife refuge in Mexico. It borders the northern edge of the Valle de Los Cirios Protected Area of Flora and Fauna.

El Vizcaíno includes an abundance and great species variety of wild fauna and flora, including numerous endemics to the Mesoamerican region and species in danger of extinction elsewhere.

El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve, via NASA

El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve: via NASA

Site protection is justified by the exceptional value of the desert, mountain and coastal/marine ecosystems, which link the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of California.

The Reserve is also important for its fossil beds and numerous marine birds, including some under threat of extinction. Grey whale (Eschrichtius robustus) frequents the bay.

The Rock Paintings of the Sierra de San Francisco World Heritage Site is located within the Reserve. There are more than 400 prehistoric sites of importance on the peninsula, as well as petroglyphs, wall paintings and ancient ruined structures.

The Biosphere Reserve contains three subdivisions of the Sonoran Desert:

  • The sub-province "Vizcaíno Desert" is the best represented, covering almost 95% of the area of the Reserve.

  • The sub-province "Gulf Coast" occupies a narrow strip along the sierras' eastern borders to the Reserve's east.

  • The "Magdalena Region" covers just one percent.

The Reserve's lagoon complex is the Grey Whale's calving and mating site, containing the most important breeding grounds of the Eastern subpopulation of the North Pacific Grey Whale.

The lagoon complex also harbors healthy populations of Desert Bighorn Sheep, Mule Deer, Puma, Coyote, and 64 other species of mammals. It is also a refuge for 125 species of migratory birds in the transition zone between tropical and temperate climates.

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The diversity of physical and climatic environments has led to the development of vibrant wildlife, both in form and in its adaptation to this arid region, typical of what is known as the Sonoran Desert, one of North America's four deserts.

Four hundred and sixty-three species of flora have been found in the terrestrial part of the Reserve, and 37 are known to be endemic to the geographical area.

The most significant number of plant associations in the peninsula is concentrated in this region. Approximately 8.3% of the flora is known to be endemic to the geographical area of the El Vizcaíno Desert.