Boosting Protection of Marine Parks and Reserves
A video showing dolphins, sea lions, and other fascinating marine life in Mexico's Gulf of California.
Wedged between the Baja California Peninsula and the mainland of Mexico is the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez. Called the “world’s aquarium” by Jacques Cousteau, this is one of the most diverse seas on Earth. This stretch of sea is home to species representing one-third of Earth's marine mammals. Unique creatures that exist only here include the vaquita harbor porpoise, the world’s smallest aquatic mammal and the most endangered of all cetaceans.
The Gulf’s 900+ islands provide nesting and stopover habitat for hundreds of species of resident and migratory birds and are breeding grounds for seals and sea lions. Five species of marine turtles nest along the peninsula’s coastlines, and nine whale species—blue, fin, sei, Bryde’s, minke, humpback, and gray—ply the Gulf's waters.
Deep ocean trenches and nutrient-rich shallow seabeds make this one of the most important areas in the world for both commercial and sport fishing. Nearly 900 species of fish, 90 of them endemic, are found here. The Gulf of California provides more than 70% of the total Mexican fish catch by volume.
Unfortunately, this marine world is suffering from overfishing and insufficient freshwater flows. Unregulated tourism development is threatening the fragile coastal habitat and traditional livelihoods of many coastal communities. Another worrisome threat is the effect that climate change will have on marine and coastal ecosystems here.
During the last decade, this area has seen significant advances in conservation and fisheries management, including the decree of 14 coastal and marine parks in the Gulf of California.
Yet existing parks do not protect the full range of plants and animals that occur here, nor do they ensure that fish populations are healthy. Mexico’s National Commission for Biodiversity concluded in a 2006 study that 38 percent of the gulf’s marine and coastal zones should be conserved or better managed, yet right now only about seven percent of the Gulf of California is protected, and less than 0.5% has been declared off-limits to fishing.
The Nature Conservancy and partners are embarking on an initiative to strengthen and expand marine and terrestrial protected areas and mobilize political will and large-scale, sustainable funding for conservation. Together, these actions will protect a mosaic of habitats for the animals, plants and nearly 10 million people whose well-being hinges on a healthy ecosystem.
The Conservancy is working with partners on a 10-year project to establish a network of areas in the region totaling 20 million hectares: employing the full spectrum of conservation actions—everything from new formal protected areas to voluntary agreements with fishermen and landowners—on 15.5 million hectares and improving management of 4.5 million hectares of existing marine and coastal parks.
The project also includes plans to set up a special fund to support this network, increase the federal government’s budget for protected areas and seek new financial arrangements that will ensure the network is financially sustainable in the long term.
In addition, we have joined forces with WWF, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Mexico's park agency (CONANP) in a three-year program to train park managers and others working in marine protected areas in the gulf. Through a series of educational modules, workshops, mentoring and field projects, participants are building skills in conservation and financial planning, community outreach, sustainable fishing and tourism, climate change and other relevant topics.
And the Conservancy is promoting a regional action plan to conserve the Gulf of California—a collaborative effort among municipal, state and federal government agencies; local conservation groups, research institutions and others.March 09, 2012