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Mexico has 158 protected areas that together span 22 million hectares or more. That 11% of the total territory of the country. The diversity of Mexico is enormous and the country is listed among the world's 10 most diverse countries in the world. This diversity finds its origin in the great variety of climates and landscapes of the country: In the north one can still find rather cold continental conditions with snowfall in the winter, while in the south, one can find the most northern tropical rainforests of the Americas. High mountain chains harbour beautiful oak and pine forests, while different deserts show a wide variety of very diverse desert species.
Mexico is also a key country for marine life. Small isolated islands both in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Gulf of California shelter breeding colonies of hundreds of thousands of marine birds and thousands of sea lions. The last individuals of a very rare black and white porpoise (dolphin), "Vaquita Marina" live near the estuary of the Colorado river, where it lives off the also rare endemic Totoaba fish species. Just off the coast of Baja California, yearly hundreds of Blue whales give birth to their calves in the month of February.
Over the past fifteen years, Mexico has made great progress in setting aside protected areas and bringing increasingly more under effective protection. However, the ranger deficit still is very significant. Between the government staff of 665 employed by the Federal Protected Areas Authority, CONANP, and 600 financed by the Protected Areas Fund, FANP, we estimate that about 800 functions involve rangers or ranger-like staff (Mexico does not use the term rangers). WICE has calculated that the number of rangers needed for the protected areas system is about 2,400, leaving a ranger deficiency of 1,800 rangers.
Let's list some of the highlights of the nature reserves of Mexico.
Biosphere Reserve Sian Ka'an
In the Maya language, this means "where the Sky is born" and anyone who goes there immediately understands where. It is a karstic (chalk rich) wetland, where the chalk content in the water causes a azur-blue color of the countless lagoons and creeks. It is one of the few places along the Gulf of Mexico where the beaches are protected, it is a paradise for birdswatchers and sportfishers, while coral reefs off the coast are included in the area. Countless Mayan remnants are scattered across the area.
Flora and Fauna Reserve Cuatro cienegas
Enclosed between 3 mountain ranges, Cuatro Cienegas has a completely isolated watershed, in which hundreds of pools and creeks rise to the surface in this otherwise semi-desert valley. In these crystal clear deep blue pools, 8 beautiful endemic fish species have developed, as well as a number of tortoises. The landscape is absolutely fabulous, particularly in the gypsum sand dunes, a rare geological phenomenon only found a less than a hand full of other areas in the world.
Biosphere Reserve Montes Azules
This breathtakingly beautiful nature reserve is probably the most species rich of Mexico, giving shelter to some 4500 species of plants and spectacular birds like the Scarlet Macaw, Harpy Eagle, King vulture, etc.. It is located in the North of Chiapas and its climate conditions vary from the tropical rain forests at about 300 m to cool evergreen pine-oak forests at its higher elevations that reach to 1,700 m. Several lakes in this karstic region are of surrealistic shades of blue.
Flora and Fauna Reserve Islas del Golfo
This reserve consists of a series of islands and coastal areas all along the Gulf of California, and is spread over about 800km. It harbours many colonies of marine birds, like brown and masked boobies, pelicans, etc., as well as of the California Sea Lion. Many of the sites can only be observed from a safe distance from boats, in order not to disturb the animals. In collaboration with local communities, no-fishing zones are enforced to protect delicate marine ecosystems.
Reserva de la Biosfera el Vizcaino
This reserve traverses the entire state of Baja California and with 2.5 million ha, it is the largest protected area of Mexico. The land part of the reserve has a desert climate with in the dryest parts an annual rainfall of 20 mm. At higher elevations the moister is a bit higher which can be recognized from the more abundant desert vegetation. This is one of the last places in Mexico where the Pronghorn Antelope survives. A very interesting phenomenon is that the Grey Whale enters a large coastal lagoon to give birth. The world population of the Grey Whale, once down to about 1,000 individuals is now up to an estimated 20,000 individuals, many of which are born in the Vizcaino reserve. In addition to the Blue and Grey whales, 3 other baleen whales come close to the coast of the reserve for feeding and resting. Some 10 islands belonging to the reserve harbour bird and seal colonies, while the ecosystem of the rocky coast shows a marine life that is similar to the wealth of coralline ecosystems without the hard coral.
We are in the process, of describing several other reserves in the Mexican protected areas system, like Tutuaca-PapaGochi, Sierra Gorda, Sierra de Manantlan, Kalakmul, etc.