The Gulf of California, between the Baja California Peninsula and the Sonoran desert of Mexico, has an appeal that many life forms find hard to resist. As home to the warm, white-sand beach resorts of Cabo San Lucas, it lures hoards of human visitors from far and wide. Its variety of marine and island ecosystems ranging from temperate to tropical has also drawn an abundance of other creatures, both resident and migratory.
It supports a third of the world’s marine cetacean species (such as whales and dolphins) — including the Endangered blue whale, the largest mammal and possibly the largest animal ever. It is home to 695 vascular plant species — including some of the tallest cacti in the world at more than 25 meters — and hosts 181 species of birds, while 891 species of fish swim its waters. And its marine wealth also attracts virtually all types of fishermen.
Over time, Mexico has taken steps to ensure the vitality of this region for its many beneficiaries, and the Global Conservation Fund (GCF) has been lending a hand. Most recently, GCF provided $2 million to Fondo Mexicano para la Conservación de la Naturaleza (FMCN), a private environmental fund, for its Gulf of California Marine Fund. Half of the funding will go to support the management of the Bahía de los Ángeles, 387,956 hectares of coastal, marine and island ecosystems for which GCF also made a $1 million contribution in 2007. Bahía de los Ángeles also was the beneficiary of prior GCF funding in support of a successful effort by Mexican nonprofit Pronatura Noroeste and Conservation International to get the area designated as a biosphere reserve.
The other half of the funds go to the broader Marine Fund, an endowment founded in 2007 with seed funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to support the long-term management of several protected areas within the Gulf, including Bahía de los Ángeles. The other sites covered by the fund are San Lorenzo Archipelago National Park; Isla San Pedro Mártir Biosphere Reserve; Bahia de Loreto National Park; Espíritu Santo Archipelago Marine Protected Area; and Islas Marietas National Park.
"The Gulf of California is the most productive area in terms of fisheries in Mexico,” said Renee González Montagut of FMCN. “It’s also the one that still holds a lot of its biodiversity. Other areas in Mexico are not as pristine as that area. So there’s high productivity, high biodiversity but there are also a lot of threats, which include a very high rate of coastal development and overfishing.”
In trying to protect the region from those threats, FMCN decided a regional fund would be a better approach than trying to fund each site individually. “In marine ecosystems it makes more sense to work on a regional basis given that the organisms move from one place to another,” she said.
She described GCF’s contributions as catalytic, helping to secure the fund and attract additional donors.
It is now covering the nuts and bolts of maintaining the protected areas as well as projects conducted by local nongovernmental organizations that target innovative mechanisms for inspection and patrolling, effective monitoring schemes and sustainable fishing management.
“Preserving the marine and coastal habitats of the Gulf of California is critically important for the people of Mexico and for maintaining one of the richest and most productive ecosystems on the planet,” said GCF Grant Director Chris Stone. “Conservation efforts have to include provisions for long-term funding to ensure successful management of the Gulf’s marine resources.”
The fund also has provided FMCN with an opportunity to build synergy among the Mexican government and local NGOs. González Montagut said the Mexican government has been increasing its funding in the region, and FMCN has built a strong partnership with the National Commission of Protected Areas. The Mexican fisheries department also recently agreed to participate on the committee that oversees the fund, another partnership FMCN has been eager to establish.
González Montagut is optimistic about the future of the Gulf and the benefits the fund can bring to the area.
“It’s an area of low population density but at the same time it’s an area that has a lot of NGOs and a lot of academic institutions. So you can really make a change there,” González Montagut said. “You can still save all the Gulf of California area that is so important to Mexico. I think that for the Mexican people in general it is a treasure that we want to keep.” * All photos courtesy of Fondo Mexicano para la Conservación de la Naturaleza.