The Sea of Cortez it is a spectacle of nature
Scientists affirm that this sea between the Mexican mainland and the Baja California peninsula is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. It houses more than 900 species of fish, thousands of invertebrates and many marine mammals, the best known being the sea lions, the dolphins and the whales.
Located between Baja California and several states of Central Mexico, it is around five million years old and is considered one of the most recent seas in the world.
The Baja California peninsula was created by the underwater volcanic activity, the San Andrés fault and extremely powerful earthquakes, thus making room for what has today become the Sea of Cortez.
The explorer, Hernán Cortés, listened to fanciful stories about an island ruled by Amazons with golden weapons and crystal-clear waters on pearl beds and ordered several expeditions to explore that territory that, at that time, was believed to be an island. The expeditions, carried out after careful studies, added Baja California to the maps, drawing it as a peninsula connected to the north of the North American continent.
But how can a sea be so abundant that it no longer has the nutrient contribution of freshwater from the Colorado River? The answer lies in its oceanographic history.
The history of the Sea of Cortez
The Pacific plate was once located to the northwest of the western coast of Mexico when the Sea of Cortez did not yet exist. For millions of years, the movement of the plate slowly rotated in a counterclockwise direction and produced great movements in western Mexico. Eventually, the fault line moved eastward and slowly separated Baja California from the rest of the mainland. The peninsula rose along the west side of the newly formed gulf. This ridge can be seen from near the city of Loreto.
The Ocean filled the basin that had formed, creating the youngest Gulf in the world. Now it is quite deep, and its width is more than 80 miles. The tides of the Pacific created a massive movement in the interior of the gulf.
The water mixes at a depth of 1,500 feet and causes a continuous clockwise current around the gulf at 0.57 mph in winter and a counterclockwise current in summer. The far north has a tidal range of 32 feet, the third largest in North America. Wind currents also cause significant water movements in winter. In fact, the wind moves the water at 3% of its speed and transfers up to 40% of its energy to it.
When the wind moves the water away from an island or the coast, it is replaced by colder waters that come from the bottom, in a process called upwelling. This deeper water is not only cooler, but also has more nutrients. With the source of energy coming from sunlight, voilà, the blue water turns into red water because of the amount of phytoplankton it contains.
The Sea of Cortez, in fact, has been called the Red Sea. Phytoplankton nourish invertebrates which, in turn, are eaten by more than 800 types of vertebrates, including fish (which in turn feed on other fish) and whales.
The extraordinary richness of the sea life of this sea led the French explorer Jacques Cousteau to define it as the aquarium of the world.
The current situation
Unfortunately, years of commercial exploitation have put this excellent sea to the test, drastically reducing the number of fish and causing disasters due to pollution. The Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California, has recently made headlines for the serious danger of extinction facing the Vaquita, a rare endemic porpoise species that lives in the southern part of the gulf. It is the most threatened marine mammal in the world and its recent decline is staggering.
In the last decade, the Mexican government has tried to reduce pollution and fishing. Several marine reserves and national parks have been created to protect endangered marine fauna and raise public awareness of the protection of an endangered species.
Poaching continues to be a major problem as a large part of the population depends on fishing for their subsistence.
For now, the dolphins and mantas continue to leap majestically in the sparkling water. Beneath the surface, a kaleidoscope of colorful tropical fish such as rainbows or butterfly fish move around the golden corals.
However, to maintain the Sea of Cortez as a jewel of the North American continent and to conserve its extraordinary marine ecosystem, a greater effort and more control will be required to enforce existing laws and introduce new ones to expand marine protected areas and continue to reduce fishing.