Project

Baja California's Pacific and the Sea of Cortez

Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy

Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy: Baja California's Pacific and the Sea of Cortez

The nutrient-rich waters of the Pacific Ocean off Baja California and the Sea of Cortez in Mexico attract marine life and people to an epicenter of biodiversity.

To protect and strengthen this marine treasure, the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project and Beta Diversidad, a Mexican conservation group, are working with local communities, fishermen groups, nongovernmental organizations, and scientists to advocate for establishment of a marine protected area (MPA) spanning across the Sea of Cortez and into the Pacific.

Industrial fishing has driven declines in fish populations in this part of Mexico. It also has led to the depletion of shark populations and the collapse of the sardine industry. Such threats to these waters imperil the vibrant ecosystem of this region and the communities along the Sea of Cortez and the Southern Baja Peninsula, where livelihoods depend on small-scale fishing.

The proposed MPA would be fully protected and circle the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula in northwestern Mexico. Without the pressure of industrial fishing, fish populations could grow within this area and spill over beyond its boundaries. Bordering the MPA would be zones where industrial fishing is prohibited, but artisanal and recreational fishing, diving, and wildlife observation would be allowed.

Protecting these regions would safeguard rich marine life and sustain the resources that have long supported local economies.

Baja California’s Pacific

This region is a hotspot for top ocean predators, including great white sharks. Other threatened shark species, such as scalloped hammerheads, whale sharks, thresher sharks, and silky sharks, also have been observed in these waters. These populations have helped support a healthy recreational dive industry. Every year gray whales migrate more than 10,000 miles between their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic to breeding and nursing grounds in three coastal lagoons of the southern Baja peninsula. The region is also a feeding ground for five of the world’s seven sea turtle species, which are also threatened by illegal fishing and often killed as bycatch.

The Sea of Cortez

Famously called “the world’s aquarium” by oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, the Sea of Cortez is one of the most biologically diverse bodies of water on Earth. The full protection proposed would safeguard an ocean habitat that supports massive aggregations of marine life, including superpods of more than 1,000 dolphins, schools of jumping mobula rays, and colonies of sea lions along the coastline. Nearly 900 species of fish, with 77 found nowhere else on the planet, and 43 species of marine mammals call this place home. At least 26 species of seabirds breed on the islands. The Sea of Cortez also serves as a major feeding and breeding zone for large marine mammals, including blue, humpback, gray, sperm, pilot, Baird’s beaked, and Bryde’s whales.

An MPA also would safeguard dwindling stocks of Pacific sardines, which are essential to sustain the migratory species that rely on the area, including marine mammals, sharks, tunas, billfish, and sea turtles. 

Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project

The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Bertarelli Foundation joined forces in 2017 to create the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project, with the shared goal of establishing the first generation of ecologically significant and effective marine protected areas around the world. This effort builds on a decade of work by both organizations to protect the ocean. Between them, they have helped to obtain designations to safeguard over 8 million square kilometers (3 million square miles) of ocean by working with philanthropic partners, indigenous groups, community leaders, government officials, and scientists. Since 2010, the Bertarelli Foundation has sought to protect the ocean for future generations through marine conservation and collaborative marine science research.