Why We're Here

Buildings and boats on Laguna San Ignacio

Laguna San Ignacio is the center of a unique marine ecosystem surrounded by and part of the “Vizcanio Biosphere Reserve”, and included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site: “Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcanio.”  The lagoon is best known for gray whales that congregate there each winter to breed and calve. However, it is also home to dolphin, sea turtles, sea lions, commercially important fish and shellfish, multitudes of migratory waterfowl and shore birds, and supports some of the world’s most productive red and white mangrove and coastal wetland ecosystems within its shores. Read more about the location and region of Laguna San Ignacio.

World-wide attention was focused on Laguna San Ignacio in the late 1990s when it was targeted as the site for an industrial scale solar salt production facility; a project that would have significantly altered the lagoon ecosystem, perhaps irreversibly. Since the defeat of the salt facility proposal, local residents, fishing co-operatives, and local entrepreneurs have developed sustainable eco-tourism focusing on the winter-time abundance of gray whales, and more recently marine birds. Annually these companies host thousands of whale-watchers and eco-tourists from many countries, which provide the economic basis for maintaining this marine wilderness reserve, and supporting the livelihoods of the lagoon residents. Economic and social development is progressing at Laguna San Ignacio. Previously a 60-km dirt road provided the only access from the town of  San Ignacio to the lagoon and the community of Ejido Luis Echeverria Alvarez. By 2015 three quarters of the road has been paved facilitating vehicle traffic for the residents, and for visitors. There are now plans to bring electrical service and water from the town of San Ignacio within the next two years, which will further facilitate human development at the lagoon.

The Ejido and local community are preparing for eventual growth by implementing a community development plan and encouraging sustainable growth and environmentally responsible resource use practices. Through education, information sharing, and responsible management, they are striving to become stewards of this “ecosystem.” Ecosystem research and monitoring are welcomed by the local community, who appreciates the availability of science based information and education programs that strengthen their community’s awareness of the need to balance development and the conservation of Laguna San Ignacio and its living marine resources for the future.

Our Goals & Objectives: The goal of the Laguna San Ignacio Ecosystem Science Program (LSIESP) is to provide relevant scientific support for the conservation of the Laguna San Ignacio Wetlands Complex by:  (1) conducting research to monitor and evaluate the biological status of the lagoon and key “indicator” components of its wildlife; (2) providing training opportunities for university students pursuing careers in marine conservation science; (3) providing science based information to evaluate options for future development (e.g., expansion of eco-tourism, increased human habitation) and to evaluate the outcome of previously implemented management actions (e.g., the efficacy of existing regulations for whale-watching and commercial fishing in the lagoon); (4) involving local residents, schools and eco-tourism operators in conservation activities by providing public workshops and symposia to discuss and comment on relevant science issues; and (5) provide a teaching resource for local schools to foster an awareness of the unique nature of Laguna San Ignacio, and build a foundation among local students for its future conservation.

The LSIESP is based on fundamental principles of long-term environmental monitoring of a core suite of key physical and biological parameters or “ecological indicators” that are measurable, and that are indicative of the status of the ecosystem (e.g., gray whales, bottlenose dolphin, sealions, marine birds and waterfowl, sea turtles, underwater noise, economically important fish and shellfish, sea grass meadows, benthic invertebrates, etc.). Over time, these indicators provide relevant information for the detection of trends and to evaluate the long-term stability of this wetlands ecosystem as a viable habitat for the marine species, and its ability to support sustained eco-tourism, fishing, and local habitation. These data are analyzed in the context of larger scale environmental changes (e.g. climate change and global warming), to evaluate the influences of natural external forces and human activities within the lagoon ecosystem. Monitoring builds on existing historical baseline information and, where none exists, establishes research programs for key species and species groups to develop baseline information for future comparative analysis.

To accomplish its goals, the LSIESP enlists and provides support to graduate students from universities in Mexico and elsewhere that are pursuing careers in marine wildlife science. These student-researchers participate in applied wildlife conservation research at Laguna San Ignacio. There they learn research methods and develop skills under the guidance of university professors and subject experts that will serve them in their careers as wildlife conservation scientists. Learn more about our researchers and students.

As appropriate, the program forms partnerships and collaborates with other groups investigating various aspects of the Laguna San Ignacio ecosystem and that are active in local community development (e.g., Vizcanio Biosphere Reserve, Pronatura-Noroeste, Philanthropiece, Ecology Project International, and UABCS). LSIESP provides presentations on the natural history and ecology of Laguna San Ignacio and its marine wildlife to local schools (e.g., Ejido Luis Escheverria Alvarez at the lagoon) and in the towns of San Ignacio and Punta Abreojos, to naturalists, and eco-tourists that visit the lagoon. LSIESP hosts field trips to the lagoon for local schools and university students that involve “hands-on” exercises, field projects, and “min-courses” on marine science. Annual community workshops (“Reunions”) review scientific findings and conclusions, and provide a public forum for the exchange of information on the lagoon and human activities that affect it. The workshop participants include subject experts, representatives of government regulatory agencies (e.g., the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve), eco-tourism operators, local residents, non-government environmental organizations, students and instructors from local schools, and interested public. Information generated by the LSIESP is distributed via the program’s website, peer reviewed scientific publications, the local media, at professional scientific meetings, and in local publications. Read our community outreach blog.