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Gulf of California

Overview

  • Continent
    North America
  • Species
    Vaquita, Whale, Marine turtle

The Gulf of California stretches over 900 miles and supports an extraordinary diversity of marine life, including many species of reef fish, sharks, whales, marine turtles, and the vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise. The Gulf of California is Mexico’s most important fisheries region with commercial species of shrimp, sardine and giant squid. It is also important for sport fishing of billfishes and tuna. Tourists flock to the Gulf’s beautiful beaches and colorful reefs.

WWF works to ensure that the Gulf remains a healthy and productive marine area that can support local communities as well as the abundant wildlife within and near its waters. We have helped create several protected areas within the Gulf, and have worked to protect areas such as Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park from any future coastal development.

Victory for Mexican Marine Park

An ocean victory was declared on June 15, 2012 when Mexican President Felipe Calderón announced his decision to cancel the development permit for the Cabo Cortes mega tourist development. This development would have threatened the future of Cabo Pulmo Marine Park and the livelihoods of the local community.

Cabo Pulmo

Species

Head of Loggerhead turtle

Loggerhead turtle.

The Gulf of California is home to nearly a third of the world’s marine mammal species, more than 170 types of seabirds and over 700 different fish species, including great white and whale sharks. Five species of marine turtles feed or nest here. The vaquita—the world’s smallest cetacean—lives in the northern part of the Gulf, where WWF works hard to prevent its extinction. Much of our work on species is done through partnerships, such as with Telcel.

People & Communities

Gulf of California Lobster Fishermen

The Gulf of California is home to 8 million people, including indigenous groups who rely on the Gulf for their livelihoods. Fisheries are very important to the local economy. WWF and partners work with the government and fishers to reduce bycatch of species such as the endangered vaquita, while also maintaining or improving the livelihoods of fishers. We have helped develop and test the use of alternative trawl nets that prevent vaquita from being caught while still effectively catching shrimp.

Threats

Gulf of California Baja California

The construction of new resorts and marinas damages the fragile ecosystems along the coast of Baja California, Gulf of California, Mexico.

Bycatch

Bycatch, the accidental capture of marine animals in fishing operations, is a major threat to endangered species such as marine turtles, whales, vaquitas, as well as vulnerable species such as sharks and dolphins. In the case of the critically endangered vaquita, the entire population will be lost if fishing practices are not reformed.

Gulf of California Bycatch

Bycatch thrown overboard. Guitarfish, rays, and other bycatch are tossed from a shrimp boat.

Coastal Development

The Gulf of California draws visitors from all over the world—its beaches, reefs and wildlife attract over a million tourists a year. Such popularity also makes it susceptible to further coastal development. Construction of new resorts and related infrastructure development has the potential to harm nearby coral reefs and disrupt local fisheries.

Gulf of California Overfishing

The global decline in fish catches, combined with rising demand, is leading to a global fisheries crisis that threatens the Gulf of California ecosystem as well as nearly six million people who depend on fish for sustenance and livelihoods. The Gulf is the source of nearly 75 percent of Mexico's total annual fish catch, but overfishing (both industrial and artisanal) is now blamed for dramatic declines in cetaceans, sharks, rays and other fish stocks.

What WWF Is Doing

WWF works in the Gulf of California and in parts of northwest Mexico and the Pacific Ocean that are migratory areas for species such as whales and sharks.

Reducing Bycatch

WWF works hard to prevent bycatch of marine species, such as marine turtles, sharks, and cetaceans, in the Gulf of California. We conduct workshops on how to safely remove animals that become entangled in fishing nets. We helped introduce circle hooks—which reduce bycatch of marine turtles—and have trained fishermen on their use. Bycatch in gillnets continues to be the greatest threat to the critically endangered vaquita. WWF and partners have developed new effective “vaquita safe” fishing gear for shrimp trawlers and we are working to see it adopted. We are also working on similar alternative gear for other fisheries.

Testing Alternative Fishing Gear to Reduce Bycatch.

Testing alternative fishing gear to reduce bycatch.

Research and Monitoring to Protect Whales

WWF supports scientific research on the abundance, reproduction and migration of many different types of whales that visit the Gulf of California: gray, blue, sperm, fin and humpback. Whales are monitored through photo identification, satellite tagging and genetic analysis—which shows relationships between populations. We want to learn more about whale populations and how they use the Gulf to feed and reproduce, and to see how human activities may be impacting them. Such information contributes to the understanding of the biology of whales—such as how sperm whales use teamwork to hunt squid—which is used to create conservation programs and future whale sanctuaries.

Shark Monitoring

Gulf of California

Whale shark monitoring.

WWF supports the study of several shark species (hammerhead, white and whale sharks) to understand their migration patterns and help create plans to reduce fisheries bycatch and impacts from tourism. White sharks are tagged with electronic devices that store information of the sharks’ movements for up to one year and transmit data by satellite. The sharks are tracked as they migrate in the Pacific Ocean between the U.S. and Hawaii and within the Gulf of California.

As whale shark tourism is very popular in the Gulf of California, we educate tourists on codes of conduct for swimming with sharks. We also raise awareness with tour boat operators about the movements of sharks, which has resulted in fewer boat collisions with the animals.

Gulf of california

Tagging green turtles.

WWF helps with the protection and monitoring of leatherback turtle nesting beaches in the Gulf of California. We have supported research on olive ridley turtles, fitting them with transmitters to record their migratory patterns. And WWF supports local turtle conservationists that work with fishermen to change their fishing gear for more turtle-friendly options. Their successful efforts have prevented hundreds of loggerhead turtles a year from becoming victims of bycatch.

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