El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve

The largest protected area in Mexico, El Vizcaíno covers the northern part of Baja California Sur and was first established in 1988. To the north is the The Protected area of Flora and Fauna at Valle de los Cirios in the southern portion of Baja California. Together, the protected zones create an area larger than the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. Like many parks in Baja, El Vizcaíno overlaps with smaller protected areas on land and in the waters, including the protected grey whale (Eschrichtius robustus) sanctuaries at Ojo de Liebre (Scammon’s Lagoon), Guerrero Negro, and San Ignacio (CONANP – 20). The area is protected by international organizations including UNESCO, Ramsar, and Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN). The area is not only important to plant and animal life, but more than 300 ancient rock painting sites have been discovered throughout the reserve (CONANP – 20).

The Vizcaíno Reserve stretches from the Gulf of California to the Pacific Ocean and covers more than 2.5 million hectares (CONANP – 20). That area supports diverse landscape, including mountain terrain, desert plains, and miles of coastline. The coastlines form vital lagoons and wetlands as well as sandy beaches. Additionally, several towns call the area home. Towns like Santa Rosalía and Guerrero Negro grew from mining operations while San Ignacio in the center of the peninsula was founded in the 18th century by the Jesuits. However, the true wonders in the reserve come from the variety of plant and animal life concentrated in the region.

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Galloping Cactus

The Vizcaíno desert marks the shift from the southwestern deserts of the United States and the sub-tropic deserts on the southern end of Baja. The greatest concentration of plant life on the Baja Peninsula is found in the Vizcaíno Reserve (CONANP -21). Of the over 450 species of plant, 37 are endemic to the area (CONANP – 21). Climate variables, including the coastal fogs during the winter months, boost the flora diversity in the region (CONANP – 21).

The coastal areas and lagoons of the reserve provide an important wintering area for several migratory birds such as the brant goose (Branta bernicla), the lesser scaup (Aythya affinis), the red-breasted merganser (Mergus serrator), and the northern pintail (Anas acuta) (CONANP – 21). The lagoons and coastal areas also provide a habitat for migratory marine mammals and locals, such as the California Sea Lion. The Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California offer different habitats and conditions, and so marine animals differ. Other areas of the reserve welcome birds of prey such as the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), peregrine falcon (falco peregrinus), and the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) (CONANP – 21). The desert is also home to several species of mammal such as the American pronghorn, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and major predators like the puma, the bobcat, and the coyote (CONANP – 21).