Todos Santos Island, a famed surfing spot near Ensenada, is part of a new marine reserve established by Mexico. (Sachi Cunningham / Los Angeles Times)
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has established a new marine biosphere reserve covering a broad area that includes the Coronado Islands near the U.S. border and Todos Santos Island, site of a famed surfing spot off the coast of Ensenada.
The Pacific Islands Biosphere Reserve, formally established last week and located along the Baja California peninsula, is one of three new marine biosphere reserves decreed as Mexico hosted the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Cancun.
The area provides critical habitat for many species of marine birds, said Alfonso Aguirre Muñoz, director of the Ensenada-based Islands Conservation and Ecology Group, which has worked with local fishing communities to promote the designation
“The decree now legitimizes the hard work done by civil society during so many years, with already tangible and relevant results,” Aguirre said. He was honored this month with the Midori Prize for Biodiversity for his work in protecting the islands.
The reserve, operating under Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas, “is a protected area that is already operating, the [opposite] of a paper park,” Aguirre said. The effort to restore the area’s marine bird habitat has involved private organizations and government agencies in the United States and Mexico, he said, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the Audubon Society.
“Conservationists around the world are very happy,” said Serge Dedina, mayor of the San Diego County border city of Imperial Beach and executive director of the environmental group Wildcoast. “Traditionally, conservationists have focused on the Gulf of California, but what we’re learning is that the Pacific is equally important.”
The Pacific Islands Biosphere Reserve covers more than 2.7 million acres, an area that comprises 21 islands and 97 islets and the surrounding marine areas that serve as a habitat for marine mammals and seabirds, as well as commercially important fish and shellfish.
Biosphere reserves promote sustainable growth and protect ecosystems through the establishment of strongly protected core zones, together with as buffer zones and transition zones.
The Pacific Islands Biosphere Reserve complements protections already in place off the California coast. “Now we have a chain of island conservation that extends from the U.S. all the way to Mexico,” Dedina said.
A separate designation was made for the Pacific Biosphere Reserve, a 143-million-acre area that includes the Revillagigedo Archipelago off the tip of Baja California Sur.