Laguna San Ignacio & Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve
The Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the largest of its kind in Latin America. El Vizcaìno is home to numerous endemic species including sea lions, dolphins, sea turtles, pumas, desert foxes, horn sheep, an extremely rare species of antelope, Mexican hawks, white pelicans and ospreys. The area around San Ignacio is a world-class bird habitat. 72 of the animal species are under protection – six of them are threatened with extinction. El Vizcaíno is home to more plant species than any other region of Baja California. The lagoons of Ojo de Liebre and San Ignacio on the west coast are rare ecosystems in which, among other marine mammals, thousands of grey whales hibernate and calve every year.
A huge salt mining project by the Mexican government and the Mitsubishi Corporation, which posed an existential threat to the protected area, was stopped by the Mexican government in March 2000 after many years of protests by an international coalition of conservationists, scientists and politicians. The then Mexican President Zedillo declared:
“We Mexicans are creating a new culture of appreciation, respect and protection of our people’s natural resources.”
This surprising decision prevented a horror scenario. The water of the lagoon of San Ignacio has a higher concentration of salt than the water in the open sea. This high concentration of salt provides the necessary buoyancy to help the still awkward whale calves learn to swim. The withdrawal of water from the lagoon by the pumps of the new salt works would have resulted in a daily flow of 1.7 billion litres of water with a lower concentration of salt into the lagoon. The upbringing of the whale calves would have been made more difficult.
The building of salt concentration and crystallization areas would have meant the clearing of mangrove forests, migration routes of wild animals would have been cut off, and the water run off would have been changed. A 2 km long pier would have been built for the cargo ships to remove the salt. The route of the ships would have crossed the whale trails – clashes with the animals would have been inevitable.
During the winter months, the fishing cooperatives of San Ignacio organize, if the weather permits, tours to the lagoon, where you can observe the whales with their calves at close range – an unforgettable experience.