Laguna San Ignacio

Laguna San Ignacio

Located on the Pacific Coast of the Baja Peninsula, the Laguna San Ignacio complex forms the southern boundary of the Vizcaino desert, within the El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, and includes 248 miles of coastline. The lagoon is a United Nations World Heritage Site, listed under an international wetlands conservation treaty, and provides the primary gray whale breeding and calving habitat in Mexico.

Laguna San Ignacio also provides habitat for sea turtles, peregrine falcons, ospreys, and hundreds of thousands of migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. Around the lagoon, fishing cooperatives, fishermen, tourist outfitters, and guides work together sustainably to make a living from the region’s pristine natural resources.

Despite the acknowledged value of their natural and economic resources, however, the coastal and marine habitats of Laguna San Ignacio have been threatened twice since the turn of the 21st century by attempts to develop salt mines in the area. The first, undertaken by the Mitsubishi corporation in 2000, was turned back by the Laguna San Ignacio Conservation Alliance, a coalition of nonprofit groups comprising WildCoast, Pronatura Noroeste, Natural Resources Defense Council, and International Community Foundation.

In 2009, when Resources Legacy Fund and the Alliance were developing strategic conservation plans for the region, they learned that Mitsubishi and the Mexican government had quietly entered into a formal partnership for another attempt to establish a salt mine that would severely impact the lagoon and surrounding area’s natural habitats. The proposed mine would devote a massive portion of the lagoon to salt extraction ponds, and a shipping pier would be located there as well. In addition, infrastructure to support mining operations—such as roads, power lines, and a desalination plant—would be built, along with housing and other facilities for workers. It was clear that the environmental impacts of the project and related human activities would be widespread and severe.

RLF worked closely with the Alliance to craft a strategy for ensuring not only that the salt mine would not be developed, but that such a threat would be impossible in the future.

sea turtle

In response to the resurrected threat, RLF worked closely with the Alliance to craft a strategy for ensuring not only that the salt mine would not be developed, but that such a threat would be impossible in the future. To achieve the long-term goal, the Alliance—with support from RLF—worked with the Mexican government to secure conservation status for 200,000 acres of federal lands at the lagoon, along with 159 miles of lagoon coastline, all crucial to the success of any potential mining operation. With that status secured, RLF grantee and Alliance member Pronatura Noroeste entered into a long-term agreement with the government to manage the federal lands for conservation purposes. Finally, RLF established a reserve fund to make sure Pronatura and its Alliance partners would have ready resources for the ongoing care of the protected lands at the lagoon.

Grasping the nature and significance of the threat to Laguna San Ignacio, enabling locally engaged organizations, and providing strategic guidance and resources for a long-term solution, RLF helped ensure the perpetual protection of this region of unspoiled resources and vital habitats.

Laguna San Ignacio stands as an important example of RLF’s approach across northwest Mexico: engaging collaboratively with local communities, select conservation organizations, and private landowners, while combining capacity building, policy, and acquisition projects to protect nearly 640,000 acres (80,000 via acquisition and almost 560,000 through government designation) and create lasting conservation in the region.

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