September 27, 2005

Whale-rich Mexican sea named World Heritage site

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Hundreds of islands in Mexico's Sea
of Cortez, a major whale breeding ground, have been declared
protected areas by the United Nations, the government said on

The 244 islands, along with miles of mainland beaches in
Mexico's Baja California, Sonora and Nayarit states, were
declared World Heritage sites by the United Nations Educational
Scientific and Cultural Organization, a presidential spokesman
told reporters.

The declaration does not impose new environmental
restrictions in the region, but should make it easier for
Mexico to seek funding for the islands, whose protection is now
seen as an international responsibility.

Around 40 percent of sea mammal species can be found in the
warm and deep sea around the islands in Northwestern Mexico,
also known as the Gulf of California.

The arid islands themselves house numerous species of
cactus along with birds and animals, including the endangered
Bighorn sheep.

The legendary French diver Jacques Cousteau reputedly
described the Sea of Cortez as the "world's aquarium," but
despite previous protection projects its abundant sea-life has
for decades been threatened by overfishing.

The World Heritage designation was created in 1972 to
protect cultural sites and natural areas considered to be of
outstanding value to humanity. The UNESCO list now includes
more than 800 sites. Twenty-five are in Mexico.