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Parks and reserves
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
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Putting in place ecotourism, allowed organizing protected zones, natural parks, sea parks and biosphere reserves but it is not enough.
National Parks are spaces characterized by the presence of one or several ecosystems, important because of the beauty of the landscape, of their scientific, educational and recreational value, of the presence of flora and fauna, of their disposition to the tourist development or for other reasons of general interest.
national park of San Pedro Martir (source : inaoep)

The biosphere reserves are spaces characterized by the presence of one or several ecosystems never spoiled by man or needing protection and restoration. They are inhabited by species representative of the national biodiversity, among them several endemic species, threatened or endangered.

Mexico is one of the few countries having included the concept of biosphere in its environmental law. The initiatives for creating new reserves come from academic groups, OGN or the government itself through the National Commission of the Natural Protected Surfaces (CONANP).

Mexico counts today 41 biosphere reserves, among them, 8 are included in the World Network of the Biosphere Reserves of UNESCO.

Left picture : national park of San Pedro Martir (source : inaoep)

"MAB" programme

The Unesco Man and the Biosphere Programme (called MAB) initiated work in some Project areas covering different ecosystem types from mountains to the sea, from rural to urban system.
There are 66 National Parks and 41 Biosphere reserves. They shelter economic activities and strive to protect global ecosystems offering a biodiversity worth of this name .

Biosphere reserves

The three main ones are : the Sian Ka’an reserve on the Caribbean coast (agricultural yield rose because of irrigation and mixed farming; deforestation avoided), the El Vizcaino reserve in Baja California, sanctuary of breeding for the grey whales and Mariposa Monarca reserve (Mic) since July 2008.

In October 2006 : Huatulco (Oax)/La Primavera (Jal)/La Encrucijada (Chi)/La Sepultura (Chi)/Los Tuxtlas (Ver)/Selva El Ocote (Chi)/ Sierra de Huautla (Mor)/Volcan Tacana (Chi)/Barranca de Metztilan (Hid)/Calakmul (Cam).
In 2007, la Sierra de Alamos - Río Cuchujaqui, et
In 2008, Isla Marietas in front of Punta Mita,
In 2009, Lagunas de Montebello
In 2010, Naha-Metzabok ( lacandone communauty : www.utselva.edu.mx)
Los Volcanes (The Volcanoes of Mexico), Maria’s Island (far in the Pacific in front of Nayarit state)

and in 2012 :

Tehuacán-Cuicatlán (Mexico)

Tehuacán-Cuicatlán, Mexico, is located on an arid mountain and high lands system and has one of Mexico’s highest rates of biodiversity and endemic species (states of Puebla & Oaxaca). It is the most emblematic of the old landscapes of Mesoamerica and is host to eight different ethnic groups. It includes the original domestication sites for maize, cucumber, avocado and beans. The most relevant ecosystem is a densely wooded expanse of arborescent cactus species (bosque de cactáceas columnares) and the tropical dry forest (selva baja caducifolia) :
Extract of Unesco doc : www.unesco.org.

Sanctuary of whales in El Vizcaino

SANCTUARY of whales in El Vizcaino : located in the central part of Baja California, this site contains ecosystems of exceptional value. The coastal lagoons, de Ojo de Liebre and San Ignacio, constitute excellent breeding grounds and wintering for the grey whales and the sea lions of California, the seals of the North and the blue whales. The lagoons shelter also four species of endangered sea-turtles. The sanctuary is considered as a nice success. In 1999, the world heritage community campaigned against a project of the extension of a salt production factory in Laguna San Ignacio, in El Vizcaino Bay; the Bay being the last unpolluted lagoon and breeding place for the grey whales of the Pacific. The world heritage committee warned the government that the establishment of a salt factory inside the sanctuary could threaten the marine and terrestrial ecology, the grey whales and the integrity of the site. In March 2000, the Mexican government decided that the salt-works at the reserve of El Vizcaino would not proceed.

reserve of Sian ka'anSian Ka’an

In the language of the Maya Indians who once populated the area, Sian Ka’an means “origin of the sky”. Located on the East Coast of Yucatán, this Biosphere reserve contains tropical forests, mangroves and marshes as well as a vast marine zone intersected by a barrier reef. It shelters an especially rich flora and a fauna comprising more than 300 species of birds, as well as a large number of the region’s characteristic terrestrial vertebrates, which cohabit in the diverse environment formed by its complex hydrological system.

     Right picture : reserve of Sian ka'an

Biosphere Reserve Mariposa Monarca

It is located in the State of Michoacán and occupies 152 461 acres close to the province of Mil Cumbres and is comprised of a group of mountains and hills. The highest points culminate around 3600 m of altitude. The soils are made of light volcanic ashes whose water retention capacity is very high. The conifer species “Abies religiosa” holds a very high humidity level and is able to resist low temperatures, which is the preferred habitation for the Monarch butterflies. This phenomenon of migration of the Monarch butterflies intrigued the entomologists and biologists : Why thousands and thousands of orange and black Monarch butterflies migrate from Canada and North of the United States (Rocky Mountains) to Mexico and back. monarch butterfly Consult the website of Unesco about it.

A lot of butterflies died because of the natural elements like cold and snow falls as well as the deforestation and pesticides spreading. The government of President V. Fox became aware of the importance of the protection of theses butterflies and decided to establish more reserves.

The preservation of the sanctuaries was also one of the priorities of the government of Calderón (2006-2012).

Left picture : monarch butterfly

See special chapter in clicking : michoacan_monarch_butterflies.php



You could see then flying in huge clusters and always reaching the same isolated parts of Michoacán. They take flight in September/October for breeding during the dry season. When they reach the neo-volcanic axis, they establish themselves in hibernation colonies, using branches from the oyamel (Mexican conifer tree) in the Southwestern sides of the forests, where they stay for 5 months from when they arrive in October until they leave the end of March. After a mating period of one month, the butterflies that survived the wintering go back from where they came.
The confirmation of this migration was confirmed only in 1975. The Odyssey lasts one month. They fly 129 km a day. They use the atmospheric currents that allow them to plan for about 3900 km. From the studies, the Monarch butterfly lives about 9 months, while other butterflies live only a few weeks, or even a few days. The scientists haven’t figured out yet the mystery of orientation to go from one point to the other !


Monarch butterflies emerging - A Monarch butterfly emerges from its chrysalis (cocoon) and unfolds its wings in preparation to fly.

Other SITES grey whale of Pacific (sources Conanp)

Mexico has 31 sites on the Unesco World Heritage list (included are archeological zones, historic centers, etc….) including 4 Natural sites and 34 on the tentative list, among them, (added in 2005) the Islands and Protected Area of the Gulf of California – This site comprises 244 islands, islets and coastal zones located in the Gulf of California, in Northeastern Mexico. The Sea of Cortez and its islands are considered as a natural laboratory for the investigation of speciation. And, almost all major oceanographic processes of the planet are present on the site, giving it huge importance for study. The site is of remarkable beauty and offers a spectacular landscape of islands with high cliffs and sand beaches, which contrast with the desert reflecting in it and the surrounding turquoise waters. The site shelters 695 species of vascular plants, more than in any other marine and insular site on the World Heritage List. It is also exceptional regarding the number of fish species : 891, 90 of them endemic. And, the site contains 39% of the world’s number of marine mammal species and a third of the world’s number of marine cetacean species.

     Left picture : grey whale of Pacific

2006 : A new property has been classified on the Unesco World Heritage List on July, 13 2006 : Agave landscape and Ancient Industrial Facilities of Tequila (first property inscribed in the “natural site” section). This property lists Mexico at the 7th world place judging by the number of properties on the Unesco List. This zone includes blue agaves landscapes, haciendas, distilleries and fabrics, cities and archaeological vestiges from the Teuchitlán civilization.

2008 : See special chapter about the Mariposa Monarca reserve

Four other reserves of biosphere are on the Unesco tentative list

blue agave Biosphere reserve Banco Chinchorro
It is located at 30.8km in the Caribbean Sea, East of the coastal city : Mahahual, which is the closest continental point. There is a 1000m deep canal between the reserve and the coast. It sprawls on 391 acres, among them only 0.4% on dry land. Because of its localization in the Caribbean Sea, it is part of the reef Mesoamerican system. Located on the high seas, it emerges like a reef lagoon that, because of the shallow and reef barrier, causes heaves, movements and processes of sedimentation. The barrier protects the littoral from tropical storms and hurricanes assaults. The ecosystems related to the process of reproduction, farming and propagation of economical and ecological valuable species and salutary to the zone is comprised of coral reefs, sea grass beds, sand bars, rocky islets, low lands covered by shrubs and sandy beaches.

     Right picture : blue agave

The searches in the reserve allowed making a list of 778 species : 58% belong to the marine fauna, 14% to the terrestrial fauna, 18% to the marine flora and 10% to the terrestrial flora. The marine fauna comprises 95 coral species. These corals greatly contribute to the generation of a heterogenic environmental condition. Fishing, which is the most important economical activity, is submitted to a strict regulation. You could find pink sea snails (strombus gigas) and lobsters (panulirus argus). This reserve is also a big boat cemetery in which the natural and cultural elements are indivisible. There are 44 wreckages and 33 of them, sunk between the sixteenth and the twentieth century, are indicated on a map drawn from librarian sources.

Biosphere reserve El Pinacate and the Big Altar Desert : This reserve lies at the very end of the Northwestern coastal plain of the California Gulf, in the vast province of the Sonora Desert. It is a volcanic group consisting of craters, ashes cones and lava flows, consolidated and mobile sand dunes, river beds and alluvium, vast beaches and rocky mountains made of basalt and granite. It is a very arid region, with few precipitations and very high temperatures (up to 56° C in summer). More than 560 vascular plants species can live here because of the climatic and physic conditions of the region. They constitute one of the main biological values of the reserve. Despite the inhospitable conditions of the region, 41 mammals species, 237 birds diversities, 42 reptiles diversities , 4 amphibians species and 4 fresh water fish species call this home.

Biosphere reserve Selva El Ocote : located in the North of Chiapas, this zone is part of the hydrological basin belonging to the fluvial net of Grijalva, one of the most important rivers in Mexico. The confluence of several rivers, which bears the river La Venta, constitutes for the Selva El Ocote the fresh water reservoir for the whole territory. Given its geographic situation, and the huge presence of precipitous terrains, ten types of vegetation are represented in the Selva El Ocote. The main ones include : tropical forest of evergreens, high, middle and low jungles, fog jungles, pine, mangrove and oak forests. Even if the whole flora hasn’t been on record, 705 species, 452 kinds and 121 families, coexisting all along the canyon of the river La Venta, have been located until now. The number of 705 species is not definitive, because the exploration of the mountain is not finished. The number could rise up to 2,000. Concerning the fauna, the Selva El Ocote is considered one of the most important biological diversity centers, because it is located in a transition zone between two neo-tropical provinces; the provinces of Pacific and Tehuantepec, a zone that comprises 646 terrestrial vertebrate species. Among the invertebrates, there are 3,000 coleopteran species and 500 moth species; however, if all the other invertebrates were added, the number would be up to 20, 000 species. There are also many archeological vestiges corresponding to the culture zoque, as well as caves that were inhabited by pre-Hispanic civilizations.

El Berrendo mammal in a Biosphere reserve
Site of protection of flora and fauna Cuatrociénegas
The ecological reserve Cuatro Ciénegas, located in the desert of Coahuila, is also a highly protected zone; about 200 fresh water pools comprise an exceptional fauna and flora. It consists of hundreds of cactus, fish and reptiles. This valley is part of the desert belt of the northern hemisphere in Central Baja California. There are precipitous hills belonging to the Sierra San Borja and vast valleys like the valley of Montevideo. The territory of this reserve lies mainly on the low and flat part of the valley of Cuatrociénegas, at an elevation of 740 meters above sea level. It could reach 2, 100 meters in the Sierra de Madera located in the northwestern part of the reserve. This valley comprises canyons, salt saturated alluvial plains, some low hills and an important zone of gypsum, unique in Mexico. The hydrologic complex existing in this zone is interconnected mainly underground, but also with rivers and artificial canals on the surface. There are about 500 sources making ponds, marshes, rivers and streams, swamps and lagoons of various dimensions and depths. The site resembles to an aquarium in the Mexican desert. It is also the place for basic and applied research studies, and educational activities on every level. The valley hasn’t been affected with change for more than 12, 000 years. The geographic isolation provoked by the surrounding mountains favored the evolution of various groups of organisms. This site is one of the most important marshy lands of the country, because it has a very high endemism. There are also many interactions between the endemic species.

     Above picture : El Berrendo mammal in a Biosphere reserve

Barrel cactusThis zone holds groups of endemic fauna linked together : reptiles, amphibians, fish, crustaceans, scorpions, mollusks and other invertebrates as well as a huge quantity of species placed under a status of conservation. The endemic species of the region are divided into nine reptiles, one amphibian, ten fish, eight crustaceans, seven scorpions, thirteen mollusks, four insects and twenty five vascular plants. The prevailing vegetation on the ground of the basin is the halophilic herb land and aquatic vegetation. The gypsum dunes shelter endemic species of gypsophila plants; the ground is also covered with xerophile matorral and mountainous matorral in the highest parts. The marsh also offers the following values: it guarantees the operation of the ecosystem; it conserves the underground and surface fresh water stocks for using them in agriculture, recreation, farming and education of the environment. The zones where the water stores up are made of arid and gypsum soils or lacustrine or alluvial soils, very alkaline, like solontchak.

     Right picture : Barrel cactus

What does the Unesco Tentative List mean ? Log on

view on los Tuxtlas reserveOther interesting reserves exist and if you have the opportunity, don’t hesitate to visit them : El Cielo (State of Tamaulipas), Manantlán (State of Jalisco), Mapimí (State of Durango), Montes Azules (State of Chiapas), El Triunfo (State of Chiapas), Calakmul (close to the Guatemala border), Ria Celestún (Yucatán) and Ria Lagartos (Yucatán).

For a very efficient way to ecological tourism, use the much experimented Mexican tours to organize your visit. The natural sites are wonderful places for observing the nature and hiking. They are numerous and diversified and every one can find his happiness.

Consult a web site in english for national parks and reserves :

     Left picture : view on los Tuxtlas reserve

Log on to the site : www.planeta.com for more information about the flora, fauna and environment.
You could also consult this site about national parks and reserves :


biosphere reserve of the Sierra Gorda


      Right picture : biosphere reserve of the Sierra Gorda





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