The Gulf of California was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 2005, with modifications added in 2007 and 2011. Considering it’s beauty and bounty, it is easy to see why this area received recognition. A brief description from their website gives an overview of why this wondrous area is protected:
Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California
The site comprises 244 islands, islets and coastal areas that are located in the Gulf of California in north-eastern Mexico. The Sea of Cortez and its islands have been called a natural laboratory for the investigation of speciation. Moreover, almost all major oceanographic processes occurring in the planet’s oceans are present in the property, giving it extraordinary importance for study. The site is one of striking natural beauty in a dramatic setting formed by rugged islands with high cliffs and sandy beaches, which contrast with the brilliant reflection from the desert and the surrounding turquoise waters. It is home to 695 vascular plant species, more than in any marine and insular property on the World Heritage List. Equally exceptional is the number of fish species: 891, 90 of them endemic. The site, moreover, contains 39% of the world’s total number of species of marine mammals and a third of the world’s marine cetacean species.
Loreto Bay National Marine Park is one of the areas included in the World Heritage designation. Efforts of local and government organizations focus on maintaining the seas bounty and wild beauty, and are supported by increasing awareness by organizations such as Eco-Alianza de Loreto.
For additional descriptions of the criteria for inclusion as a World Heritage Site – as well as expanded details on the areas themselves, here is alink to the site: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1182
Even when I’m not in Baja, I dream of her. The starkness and beauty of her deserts. The rugged cliffs of her mountain ranges. The two faces of her seas – the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. Blessed with a 2 hour reach of either side, I can trade surfboard for SUP board – cold fish for warm fish – crashing waves for serene waters.
Last evening, I paddled the Sea of Cortez and was rewarded with leaping fish and soaring birds. Here’s a small sampling:
Lured by their incessant chatter, I followed the tern-song south on my SUP to find “Tern Island.” Congregated on a sand spit created by the last storm at the mouth of the river and estuary, they gathered in a ‘clump’ all to themselves – surrounded by cormorants, pelicans and blue-footed boobies. A virtual chatter feast of avian calling filled the morning air as all beaks raised to join the chorus. Enchanting, really …. and worth the extra miles of paddle.
The crow of the first rooster.
The rattle of my car on dusty rutted roads.
The wafting scent of baking bread mixed with the salty sea air.
The cry of the osprey, the tern, the small brown hawk.
The swoop of pelican.
The splash of flying fish.
The glow of reds/pinks/oranges/golds as the sun climbs from behind Isla Carmen.
My own coffee sipped slowly as I honor the dawn.
Morning comes round again ……
The northern terminus of the Sea of Cortez is an arrid and parched land where once the Colorado flowed into the sea. It was an area teaming with abundant life and provided vital nutrients to sustain marine life.
Naturalist and writer, Aldo Leopold, traveled the Delta with his brother in a canoe in 1922. His ensuing essay, “The Green Lagoon,” provided lulling description of the Colorado River Delta at the time:
Dawn on the Delta was whistled in by Gambel quail, which roosted
in the mesquites overhanging camp. When the sun peeped over the
Sierra Madre, it slanted across a hundred miles of lovely desolation, a
vast flat bowl of wilderness rimmed by jagged peaks. On the map the
Delta was bisected by the river, but in fact the river was nowhere and
everywhere, for he could not decide which of a hundred green lagoons
offered the most pleasant and least speedy path to the gulf.
The still waters were of a deep emerald hue, colored by algae, I
suppose, but no less green for all that. At each bend we saw egrets
standing in the pools ahead, each white statue matched by its white
The place that Leopold described no longer exists. Like too many precious and vital places on the planet, the Colorado Delta long ago gave way to dusty sand and desicated land – the victim of water practices in the Western United States that divert water to hydroelectric plants and the thirsty communities of Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
It could easily be argued, that without the water, the expansive growth of these communities would have stalled or been curtailed decades ago.
Today, the Colorado supports about 30 million people and 1 million acres of irrigated farmland. It pours its flow out to Los Angeles and San Diego, Phoenix and Tucson, Las Vegas, Denver and Mexicali. Its waters make the desert burst with tomatoes, melons, alfalfa and cotton. But with no water reserved for the river itself, the Colorado dries up long before it reaches the sea, and much of its delta is at death’s door.– Sandra Postel, LA TIMES
The resulting paucity in nutrients reaching the Sea of Cortez has manifested in loss of marine life in the area. Without the cascading effect of constant replenishment provided by the river, fish no longer spawn in the waters, and basically, that area of the sea has entered a period of deep decline.
Caught between humans jockeying for control of the resource, the river itself holds little sway. It falls on the shoulders of a small number of activists who recognize an earth-based need to create a voice and speak for the river.
“A Changing Delta,” narrated by Alexandra Cousteau and sponsored by The Ocean Foundation and Marine Ventures Foundation premiered at the Wild And Scenic Film Festival on January 12th. The film explores the history of the Colorado Delta from its original vibrancy to the present day restoration efforts by groups such as BlueCloud Spatial and Pronatura. Says Ocean Foundation President, Mark Spalding, “I cannot imagine a better way to document the story of how we have changed the Colorado Delta over time.”
It is only through the ceaseless desire to make the Delta right again, that change slowly has begun to take place. One of the complications with the Delta property is that it exists entirely within the Mexican borders, but is fed – or was fed – by a river that has its origins in the United States. When the Glenn Canyon dam was built in the 90s, water reaching the Sea of Cortez vanished. Mexican outrage was ignored.
And so it was history in the making, when on November 20, 2012, Mexico and the United States turned a new page in their relationship to the Colorado River. The two countries united to sign a 5-year bilateral Colorado River agreement. Minute 319 is probably the most important water treaty since 1944.
The term of the agreement is short, and the Delta is but one provision of a large number of terms, but it establishes a framework for cooperation and recognizes the river needs on both sides of the border. With continued efforts, maybe the rich riparian Delta that Leopold and his brother canoed in 1922 will once again flourish.
yes .. there were gulls … and blue-footed boobies, arctic terns, curlews, herons, fluffy egrets, Magnificent frigate birds, cormorants, sandpipers, yellow-legs, and an osprey ……
there were big fish, little fish, jumping fish and flying fish ..
and there was the quiet stroke of my paddle in the early morning waters…
the water ruffled from breezes that clocked from north to west to south …
such an honoring way to begin a day …….
How can I ever forget the beauty of Loreto? After a four week sojourn, I sit again, next to the sea and her fragrance hypnotises me. Gentle breezes caress the surface and small wavelets kiss the shoreline, turning beach stones over and over as if in a dance.
A blue monarch butterfly, and then a gold, flit among the flowers and the fat limes ripening on the trees that have exploded with growth. A hummingbird whizzes past my face toward the ruby colored stamens in the planter.
Recent rains have turned the dry lanky peninsula into a carpet of green, so verdant that from the sky, one could be fooled into thinking this was an oversized island of the Hawaiian chain. The sand in my yard has become a palm nursery. Hundreds of sprouted seedlings reach their first and second leaves toward the sunlight.
All it takes is water to change everything in the desert.
Sultry morning. Long slow paddle in mirror-like seas.
Undulating jellyfish lazily propel themselves along the surface of still water. “Common” Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita), these are the most familiar of the species. Four gonad rings – usually purplish/pink – are visible through the translucent body. In the blue-green sea this morning, they appear more golden in color. Short numerous tentacles hang from the margin of the bell. The large quantity makes me reconsider an early swim. While the sting from these is considered mild, a sting is a sting is a sting ….
Besides the undulating jellyfish, artic terns, blue-footed boobies, Elegant frigate birds, and long-necked cormorants populate the morning count. I find myself in such awe of my surroundings that I cannot lift my camera. Rather, when a group of pelicans approaches, their wingtips mere inches from the surface of the sea, I simply hold my breath, listening to squished sound of the air between the water and their bodies.
Farther up the coast, three sea turtles lift their heads in curiosity. My board and paddle are stealth-like compared to the noisy engines of the pangas. The largest of the three lingers on the surface watching me, and I paddle toward him. I find that turtles are relatively shy, and this one is no different. As I approach, he lowers his head and dives beneath the surface. I see his broad green body as he glides underneath the shadow cast by my board. His tips his head once, and our turtle-human eye contact is complete.
I paddle farther, thinking of the turtle and the conservation efforts across the globe by groups like Grupo Torugero, or in Loreto, Eco Alianza, whose missions are to protect the natural world and those species that have become endangered or nearly extinct. Funny, this role of mankind on the planet. We seem to constantly push ourselves – and this planet that we love – to the brink – one way or another, before we can become conscious enough of our actions to change and alter our course.