Eco-tourism

Preserve the beauty of the Mexican sites while allowing sustainable economic development:

The Ministry of Tourism and its Tourism Promotion Board signed in 2006 an agreement with the Alliance for World Heritage Sites with one single goal: to preserve the beauty of the Mexican sites while allowing sustainable economic development of communities living nearby. Another notable project is the Foundation of the haciendas of the world making tourism become a strategic development direction of the Mayan communities in the Yucatan Peninsula. The old haciendas worthy of a film set are gradually converted into splendid small hotels. The eco-chic is in fact growing in Mexico for several years, especially in the southeast, following the creation of green hotels offering high quality services while respecting the authenticity of the site (exuberant flora, characteristic fauna of the marine paradise, of the forest and tropical regions).
There are not very many French tour operators to be truly experts in Mexican nature (except maybe for Mexcapade Tour Operator, a French operator specialized in Baja California) and the documentation in the language of Molière is scarce (maps or organized paths).
The Vizcaino Desert is the largest natural reserve of the country, located in the center of the Baja California peninsula, between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. It is in this region that the gray whales come to mate and give birth to their calves. Each year they perform a great migration from the Bering Sea to the Gulf of California. Ecotourism lovers are many to watch the spectacular show of whales.
If desert areas are predominant in the Vizcaino, however, the region offers a wide variety of landscapes. That's where we are trying to successfully reintroduce the Antilocapra americana or the American antelope, the only representative of the Antilocapridae family, a animal midway between the African antelope and goat, whose race can reach 86 km / h.
In the Vizcaino, 8.3% of the plants are endemic and among them there is a wide variety of cactus, very symbolic of the country. Along the coast one will marvel overlooking the cliffs that plunge, and will discover the wonderful landscape of lagoons, swamps, beaches and the largest salt mines in the world. Faced with Vizcaino, in the Gulf of California there are more than 900 islands that await those who love the sea and nature, some of them as Tiburón, San Esteban and San Lorenzo being real ecological laboratories.

The Observatory of the Seas will bear the name of Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau:

The Cousteau Team has the honor to announce the creation of an Observatory of the Seas, which bear the name of Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau at the prestigious Center for Scientific Research of Northeast Mexico (CIBNOR) of La Paz (Mexico ). Six Mexican and French laboratories will be involved in the activity of this Institute. The Jacques Yves Cousteau Observatory of the Seas will "aim to collect all scientific data on the impact of human activities and climate change on the Mexican coast».

Francine Cousteau, President of the Cousteau Team and Tarik Chekchak, Program Manager, will inaugurate the prestigious Institution and will participate in the first seminar. Beyond the great honor Mexico and France will do to Captain Cousteau and the Cousteau Team, Francine Cousteau will ensure a sustainable presence and collaboration. The activities of the associations created by Captain Cousteau will also contribute to the Mexican effort to an integrated and sustainable management of seas and coasts, in the management training of this systemic approach and in the environmental education for children and the wider public. The Cousteau Team also contributes by its vessels Calypso and Alcyone, as soon as she will sail again in the service of the Institute's research.

"There is nothing comparable so far to the creation of this Observatory", welcomed the French ambassador to Mexico, Daniel Parfait, saying it would serve as "a model in other areas", in a press conference in Mexico City. "The observatory will have no specific headquarters, it will be the virtual repository of all information, all the research", said Sergio Hernandez, Director General of CIBNOR.

"Mexico is home to marine ecosystems that are unique in the world and the Cousteau Observatory of CIBNOR will significantly contribute to their scientific monitoring. Such an effort is crucial to inform politics decisions and sustainably ensure the innumerable services these ecosystems provide to mankind", said Tarik Chekchak, Manager of the Cousteau Programs.
 
Along with the creation of the JY Cousteau Marine Observatory, the President of Mexico announced that an island of the Sea of Cortez will carry the name of Jacques Yves Cousteau. He said on that occasion: "Mexicans will recognize the role played by one of the most outstanding defenders of nature, ecology, sea ... and who has dedicated part of his life exploring our marine biodiversity."
Captain Cousteau and his team have explored Mexico and its waters on five occasions between 1968 and 1992, particularly in the Sea of Cortes and the Bay of Yucatan. They left on the trail of whales during their migration from the Bearing Sea to the peninsula of Baja California, studied seabirds of Isabela Island for nearly a year and tried to unravel the mystery of the sleeping sharks of Yucatan. Their adventures were recorded in 6 films and numerous scientific reports.
 
"This first base with the name of the Captain is a great encouragement to all the scientists who devote their lives to research and whose insatiable curiosity allows us to better understand and protect our water planet", concluded Francine Cousteau. 
Contact Media : communication@cousteau.org 

CIBNOR : www.cibnor.mx

One of the highest diversities in the world :

There are 36 species of mammals in the Sea of Cortes, and one of the highest diversities in the world. The most rare Vaquita or the Gulf of California Porpoise (Phocoena sinus), lives only in the North and is considered by the IUCN as a species in critical danger of extinction (with an estimated population of 567 individuals in 1999).

The last 10 years have experienced episodes of toxic algae explosion leading to mass mortalities of marine mammals (1995, 1997 and 1999). Data collected for more than 22 years at Mazatlan Bay indicate that the frequency and duration of these blooms are increasing and agricultural fertilizers brought by runoff may play a role. Some authors estimate that 22% of the variation of chlorophyll in the Gulf of California is due to the farming nitrogen from the Yaqui Valley. It is clear from this example that everything is interconnected in a highly complex system that includes natural and social components. 
 
At least 26 species of seabirds breed in the Sea of Cortes and their populations are very sensitive to changes in oceanographic but also atmospheric conditions, and they were used as reliable indicators of environmental and fish populations change. 
There are 7 species of sea turtles in the world and 5 are found in the Sea of Cortes. For the Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), it was estimated in the late 80s that the Mexican population housed 60% of global population. These populations of turtles protected by the Mexican Government are currently a source of income by the observation in the context of ecotourism.
 
The 922 islands of the Gulf of California harbor 90 species of endemic plants and animals, of which 60 species of reptiles. There are 77 endemic fish species, which is a remarkable 10% of species encountered, of which 52 species of reef fish. The most emblematic is the Totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi) which has been over-exploited for many years and has seen its population decline drastically. It is indeed listed by the IUCN as critically endangered species from extinction since 1996.

A significant proportion of the global population of some seabirds breed in the Gulf of California, including storm-petrels (Oceanodroma Melania, 70%, O. microsoma, 90%), Heermann's gulls (Larus heermmanni, 90-95 %) and yellow-footed gull (Larus Livens, 100%), etc…

On the Atlantic coast, more than 2,000 marine species and nearly 300 terrestrial species were recorded in the coral reefs and islands in the Southern Gulf of Mexico. The Yucatan Peninsula is frequently hit by storms and hurricanes causing extensive damage to coral reefs due to waves and suspended sediments. The increase in this type of catastrophic events for coral reefs is one of the anticipated impacts of climate change. Coral reefs have suffered from intense fishing activity since the 1960s and increased pressure from tourism since the 70s. Some reefs in the northern tip of the Peninsula do not count that less than 2% of live corals. Pressures are high on the reefs near the Mexican coast, like those off the port of Veracruz, because of farming and industry waste brought made by the major rivers.
 
From a socio-economic point of view, population densities in the Gulf of California is relatively low but increases rapidly with a growth rate almost double than the Mexican average with a level that is expected to reach 10.4 million individuals by 2010. This causes problems of flows management, capacity of ecosystems to receive and connected pollution.
Nothing but the tourism in Baja California attracts more than 4.8 million visitors annually, generating revenues of over $ 2 billion and there are also ambitious port development projects but not without environmental risks (27 ports in a long range, including 14 new ones). 
 
Fishing in its industrial form and aquaculture are important activities, primarily the Pacific sardine (Sardinops caeruleus), herring (Opisthonema libertate, 40% of total national catch some years), anchovies (Engraulis modax), shrimp (40% of national fish production in 2001, with revenues of $ 132 million and 30,000 jobs), squid (Dosidicus gigas) and tuna (Thunnus albocares and Katsowonus pelamis).
Some fishing techniques, especially for shrimp, are destructive to marine habitats and increase the turbidity of the water column by suspending marine sediments. Artisanal fishing is a socially important sector (56 174 fishermen in 2001) but also angling related tourism (53 million dollars in direct revenues in 1996 and more than double in indirect revenues). Over-fishing is one of oceanographic phenomena such as El Niño and El Niña that generate considerably variation of the abundance of certain species of fish. 
 
The Gulf of California is home to 90% of farms producing mainly for shrimp contributed 40% of the quantities in just 15 years. 
 
One of the activities having altered the most the ecosystem of the Sea of Cortez is the construction of dams along the Colorado River (more than 20 dams since the 30s). The dam has reduced the supply of freshwater nearly to zero thereby depriving wetlands ecosystems of nutrients and sediments that were very important for reproduction and feeding of birds, fish and shellfish, reducing
availability of critical habitats for many species
 
All these factors illustrate the complexity of socio-economic activities and the need to carefully monitor their development. To this end, the CIBNOR and its Cousteau Observatory are best placed to play this role. Links could also be created with the Observatoire du Littoral in France who has real expertise in the monitoring of coastal indicators. 

Main scientific sources:

S.E. Lluch-Cota et al.The Gulf of California : Review of ecosystem stutus and sustainability challenges. Progress in Oceanography 73 (2007) 1-26.

Wilkinson, C., Souter, D. (eds) , 2008 , Status of Caribbean Coral Reefs After Bleaching and Hurricanes in 2005 . Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, and Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, Townsville, 152 p.

John Wesley Tunnell, Ernesto A. Chávez, Kim Withers, Sylvia (FRW) Earle : Coral Reefs of the Southern Gulf of Mexico, Texas A & M University Press, 2007.

Biodiversity of the region:

Mr. Exequiel Ezcurra is known for his expertise in the fields of ecology and conservation of arid areas as well as in the management of natural resources in areas traditionally used by indigenous people. His current research at the Center for Biodiversity Research of the Californias aims to protect the environment of the region Baja-California/South California. In his presentation, Mr. Ezcurra has presented the dynamics of the unique ecosystem of this region and some of the difficult tradeoffs that it faces in sustainable development.

The peninsula of Baja California contains a high biodiversity of species and ecosystems, and a large number of endemic species, which are only found in this region. The unique composition of ecosystems and species results from the confluence of three forces of nature: tectonic activity, ocean currents and cycles of El Niño. During the Tertiary, the movement of the tectonic plates caused the shock of the peninsula of Baja California (as known today) with the mainland. This collision created the San Andreas Fault and the Sea of Cortes, the narrow mass of water that separates the peninsula of Baja California from the mainland of Mexico. Species that inhabited the peninsula during the Tertiary have found themselves isolated from the mainland. They were able to evolve and adapt to their new environment, which has generated new endemic species. The unique climate of the peninsula has contributed to the process of speciation.
 
 
Because of its north-south position, the region is strongly influenced by the California Current in the Pacific Ocean. As this current moves toward the equator, it is pushed westward by the equatorial trade winds. Offshore, the movement of this large body of water causes upwelling in the southern portion of the peninsula, that is to say that the deep ocean water, colder, rises to the surface. The Sea of Cortez is also experiencing a rise caused by high tides. Both upwelling zones provide very favorable growing conditions for chlorophyll, which explains the vast ocean productivity in the region. In fact, these two upwelling zones provide 56% of total fish landings in Mexico.
The California Current is occasionally disrupted by El Niño events (every 3-7 years) or the slow of the equatorial trade winds. Hot water then accumulates along the Pacific coast of the peninsula, stopping the escalation process and significantly reducing ocean productivity. Many coastal species suffer the negative effects of reduced ocean productivity that accompanies an El Niño episode. For example, an analysis of 20 years on the Heermann's Gull, which lays its eggs on an island in the Sea of Cortez, shows that 90% to 100% of chicks die during El Niño years, because of the reduced food availability.
On the contrary, the years when El Niño causes a collapse of ocean productivity, high rates of evaporation lead to increased rainfall, which favors the proliferation of life and productivity in the inland deserts. In one thousand-year time, plants and desert animals have adapted to these forms of sporadic rainfall. Today, El Niño events provide periods of rain for the survival of desert species.
The combination of these physical forces (tectonic activity, ocean currents and El Niño cycles) resulted in a great diversity of ecosystems and species, for such a small area. In fact, the peninsula of Baja California alone contains six different ecosystems. Thirteen thousand marine species have been described in the region of the Sea of Cortez, and it is estimated that more than 3000 other species have not yet been discovered. The levels of endemism, as measured by the percentage of species that are found nowhere else in the world, are extremely high - 80% of reptile species are endemic to the region, as are 41% species of mammals, 29% of bird species and 20% of plant species.
This region contains many protected areas, including two large biosphere reserves. Many endemic species are not adequately protected, however, because they are scattered across the peninsula, and the creation of additional protected areas does not necessarily provide adequate protection. It is urgent to deploy more innovative protective mechanisms.

Area Development:

The considerable productivity and biodiversity of the region led to the development of aquaculture and tourism industries. The increased production of aquaculture, especially shrimp farming, has increased from 9% to 23% the percentage that aquaculture in fish landings. The growth of these industries has attracted many people from other parts of Mexico, which has pushed the region's population of 4.8 million in 1980 to 7.8 million in 2000, although the birth rate has remained almost replacement rate. The tourism industry continues to grow at a rate of 10% per year in the region of Los Cabos, and the population should double over the next 8 years.
 
The recent nautical scale project of the Government of Mexico is an ambitious initiative aiming to promote tourism, especially ecotourism in the region. It involves building a highway to transport about 60 000 boats from one side to another of the central part of the peninsula, from the Pacific Ocean to the Sea of Cortes, and to establish a number of new marinas in the region.

Fearing that such a development may have a negative impact on the unprotected biodiversity of the peninsula and of the region of the Sea of Cortes, the National Institute of Ecology conducted a study of environmental planning including an analysis of vulnerability. It identified a vulnerability index for the various areas of the region, from a pressure index and an index of fragility. The pressure index is based on the projected population over a period of 5 years and corresponding changes in land use and resources. The fragility index is based on the level of biodiversity in each region, the number of protected areas and endemism.
The analysis revealed that the most vulnerable areas are the least populated and most pristine ones. Therefore, it was recommended to the Ministry of Tourism to grant protected status to the most  vulnerable areas. The least  vulnerable will continue to be used, with the aim of increasing the sustainability of resources use.
The nautical scale project, with its goal to increase tourism in local communities of the peninsula of Baja California, containing a large number of unique species and ecosystems, is an excellent example of the challenge represented by the balance between the need to create opportunities for community development at local level and the need to preserve a healthy and fruitful natural environment.