Isla Guadalupe Biosphere Reserve

Isla Guadalupe is a volcanic island dating back more than 8 million years (CONANP – 13). Sitting 241 kilometers off the coast of Baja California in the Pacific Ocean, the island and the surrounding waters were protected as a national park in 2005. Due to the differences in terrain, the island supports great biodiversity. Although the island offers a variety of ecological wonders, the cypress forests and the high number of great white sharks are focal points. The island also has a small fishing community with just over 200 people.

The island was first discovered, uninhabited by people, in 1602. The discovery was made by the Spaniard Sebastián Vizcaíno, while exploring the region on order from the viceroy of New Spain. In the late 18th century, hunters began to arrive, exploiting the marine mammals on the island for their fur coats, mainly the Guadalupe fur seal (arctocephalus townsendi) and the northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) (CONANP – 13). During the 19th century the island became a hub for whalers and the Russian-Aleutian hunters constructed huts, known as corralitos, which are still recognizable today (CONANP – 13). The island became part of Mexico in 1917.

Isla Guadalupe is an important breeding and nesting site for several species of sea bird, including the Townsend’s storm petrel (Oceanodroma socorroensisi) and the Ainley’s storm petrel (Oceanodroma cheimomnestes) (CONANP 14). As the only known breeding ground for the two petrels, the island is essential for their survival. Also a small percentage of Laysan Albatross use the island as a breeding ground. There are several other species of bird that inhabit the island such as the endemic Guadeloupe house finch and the Guadeloupe rock wren. The island offers habitat to marine mammals such as the Guadalupe fur seal and the northern elephant seal, both species are listed as endangered by the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) and the government is taking steps in conservation (CONANP – 14).

Another endangered species is the great white shark. Animals gather in the pristine blue waters off the island’s coast. The island is in the top five places, worldwide, for viewing great whites sharks as water conditions are ample for diving, often with water temperatures ranging between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and visibility reaching 100 feet (CONANP – 15). There are several dive opportunities available for tourists and professionals. The government is taking steps to fund research of the shark and in 2015, CONANP funded an effort for the Biological Monitoring Program. A census was carried out, counting 305 individual great white sharks in the northern part of the biosphere reserve and four sharks were tagged with acoustic monitoring to better-understand how the sharks use the habitat at Guadalupe Island (CONANP – 15).