Conservation value and special characteristics
The Espíritu Santo complex of islands is one of the 182 protected areas administered by the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP. Its surrounding waters are the most biologically diverse in the south of the Gulf of California and the over 48,000 hectare area has a considerable number of marine species, including a colony of sea lions, as well as perfectly preserved rocky reefs, which serve as food and shelter for various marine fauna organisms living in the Peninsula of Baja California. It is a stopover with international relevance for hammerhead sharks and four species of turtles on their migratory route. This area is part of a Marine Priority Region recognized by the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity – CONABIO and named by the Coalition for Sustainability of the Gulf of California (2004) as one of the most important marine areas in Mexico. Espíritu Santo is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is on the IUCN Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas.
Espíritu Santo’s abundant marine biodiversity can be threatened by fishing and tourism activities. For example, abandoned fishing gear from illegal fishing is a risk for the colony of sea lions; they are occasionally trapped and entangled in fishing nets. Currently the protected area staff manage these activities through restrictions on numbers of tourists, zoning and monitoring, but insufficient financial resources poses a constant challenge.
Espíritu Santo has a high potential for tourism; it received 100,000 visitors in 2018. Aquatic sports such as snorkelling and diving can be practiced in the park as well as other touristic activities such as trekking, camping, and kayaking. However, tourism does not provide a direct source of revenue for park management, as entrance fees are centralized by the Ministry of Finance. CONANP is now working, in collaboration with other partners, to develop a strategy to recover directly the tourist’s fees for each protected area, such as Espíritu Santo. Fisheries provide an important source of income in the areas adjacent to Espíritu Santo and throughout the Gulf of California. There is a growing market for sustainably caught fish that meet international certification standards; such fish can command a premium price in the market. Community-based fisheries governance models can be used to ensure sustainability while improving livelihoods and serving the needs of local communities. Such sustainable fisheries projects can provide a return to investors as well as a conservation dividend to support operation of the protected area.
INC is working with the CONANP, the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature (FMCN) and Mirova/Althelia to develop a funding mechanism around sustainable community-based fisheries in Espíritu Santo.
The mechanism centres on an investment fund which will channel funding to sustainable fisheries projects in Baja California. Part of the incomes from the sustainable fisheries will return to the fisheries fund and will be redistributed to the fund’s investors and to the FMCN which will provide support to Espíritu Santo National Park.