biosphere reserve
North America > Mexico > Baja California > Baja California Sur > El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve

El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve is a protected natural area in the northern part of Baja California Sur. It is one of the largest protected biospheres in the world covering an area of more than 96,000 square miles (2,546,790 hectares). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO calls the area the most important key to survival of the gray whale. The reserve includes coastal lagoons and beaches, inland desert, and some mountainous regions.

Gray whale breaching
Landsat Image of El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve. The large lagoon is Ojo de Liebre

Understand edit

Canyon in the Sierra San Francisco

The protected reserve is enormous but will be most successful if people stay away and don't love the endangered species to death. Fortunately, it is an inhospitable environment that is uncomfortable and difficult to travel in. Most of the land area of the reserve is the Vizcaino Desert. While the coastal lagoons are often referred to as the Vizcaino Whale Sanctuary, the inland desert and mountains are also home to a number of endangered species, including the endemic Baja pronghorn.

Archaeology edit

Cave painting in Sierra de San Francisco

Many archaeologists believe that the oldest human settlements in North America were in a mountainous area called Sierra de San Francisco in the eastern part of the Vizcaino desert. Approximately 400 individual sites have been identified with several caves containing pre-historic cave paintings (pinturas rupestres is the keyword you want to know if you're looking for local guide services). The age of these cave paintings is estimated at 11,000 years old.

Anthropologists believe that the ancient cultures that occupied this area may have come overland, across North America, or they have used boats to follow the coastline. At the time of the Spanish conquest, the area was inhabited by the Cochimi people, who foraged for natural resources.

Landscape edit

The landscape varies by location. The Pacific coast is generally rocky and barren, though the lagoons where the whales reproduce has trees and vegetation near the shore. Most of the land mass is barren desert. The mountainous areas have scrub brush at lower elevations and trees at higher elevations where temperatures are cooler.

Flora and fauna edit

The reserve provides critical habitat for marine mammals, especially the gray whale, which mates and gives birth in the Ojo de Liebre and San Ignacio lagoons on the Pacific coast. These lagoons are also wintering homes for a number of aquatic animals. It is also an important habitat for harbor seals, California sea lions, northern elephant-seals, and blue whales. They are also the habitat for four species of sea turtle.

437 species of flora have been identified within the reserve, 37 of which are endemic to the area. In addition to the Baja pronghorn, the reserve is also home for Mexican bighorn sheep, mule deer, puma, coyotes and 64 other mammal species.

The reserve is home for more than 180 bird species including 125 migrant species. Many of the year-round residents are sea birds, including ospreys, cormorants, pelicans, herons, and gulls.

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Travelers driving through the Baja Peninsula pass through the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve when they drive down federal highway MEX 1 and cross the state line between north and south Baja. For the first 160 km in Baja California Sur you will be passing through the biosphere reserve. Tours, hotels, and restaurants are available in the town of Guerrero Negro.

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