Gulf of California

Gulf of California

[kal-uh-fawrn-yuh, -fawr-nee-uh]
California, Gulf of, or Sea of Cortés, arm of the Pacific Ocean, c.700 mi (1,130 km) long and 50 to 130 mi (80-209 km) wide, NW Mexico; separates Baja California from the Mexican mainland. The gulf is part of a depression in the earth's surface that extends inland to the Coachella Valley, S Calif. The Imperial Valley and the Salton Sea, once part of the gulf, have been cut off from it by the growth of the Colorado River delta. The gulf deepens from north to south; its greatest depth is c.8,500 ft (2,590 m). The coastline is irregular, with numerous islands; Tiburon, inhabited by aboriginal tribes, is the largest. Storms and tidal currents hinder navigation in the gulf. Once a rich commercial and sport fishing ground, the gulf now suffers from overfishing. The region is a developing tourist center; La Paz, Guaymas, and Mazatlán are major cities. The area was first explored in 1538 by the Spaniard Francisco de Ulloa.

"Sea of Cortez" redirects here. For the book by John Steinbeck, see The Log from the Sea of Cortez.''

The Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortez or Sea of Cortés; locally known in the Spanish language as Mar de Cortés or Mar Bermejo or Golfo de California) is a body of water that separates the Baja California Peninsula from the Mexican mainland. It is bordered by the states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora, and Sinaloa. The name "Gulf of California" predominates on most maps in English today. The name "Sea of Cortés" is the one preferred by most local residents. The Gulf opened up 5.3 million years ago, redirecting the flow of the Colorado River. Other rivers which also flow into the Gulf of California include the Fuerte, Mayo, Sinaloa, Sonora, and the Yaqui. Its surface area is about 160,000 km² (62,000 square miles).


The Gulf of California came into being as tectonic forces rifted the Baja California Peninsula off of the North American Plate. As part of this process, the East Pacific Rise propagated up the middle of the Gulf along the seabottom. The Gulf would extend as far as Indio, California except for the tremendous delta created by the Colorado River. This delta blocks the sea from flooding the Mexicali and Imperial Valleys. Volcanism dominates the East Pacific Rise. The island of Isla Tortuga is one example of this ongoing volcanic activity.


The narrow sea is home to a unique and rich ecosystem. In addition to a wide range of endemic creatures, it hosts many migratory species, such as the Humpback Whale, California Gray Whale, Killer Whale, Manta Ray and Leatherback Sea Turtle, and the world's largest animal, the Blue Whale. There are unusual resident population of Fin Whales and Sperm Whales that do not migrate annually. This region has historically been a magnet for world class sport fishing activities, with a rich history of sporting world records.

The region also has a rich history as a commercial fishery. Some authors have reported witnessing tuna schools more than 160 km (100 miles) long in this region. Some argue that this region is one of the few in the world that still has potential to open new commercial fisheries, because statistics show that the fishing resources are stable.(Incorrect, see link provided But the data varies wildly according to the species being studied, and the Gulf's ability to recuperate after years of over fishing remains uncertain. Moreover, changes in terrestrial ecology, such as the vast reduction in flow from the Colorado River into the Gulf, have negatively affected fisheries, particularly in the northern region.

The Gulf of California sustains a large number of marine mammals, many of which are rare, endangered, and pretty. Its more than 900 islands are important nesting sites for thousands of seabirds and its waters are a primary breeding, feeding, and nursing grounds for a myriad of migratory and resident fish species. For decades, the gulf has been a primary source of two of Mexico's leading marine resources, sardines and anchovies. Water pollution is a problem in the Gulf of California, but the more immediate concerns are overfishing and bottom trawling, which destroys eelgrass beds and shellfish.

Efforts by the Mexican government to create conservation zones have been hampered by lack of enforcement resources as well as a lack of a political consensus on this issue of conservation of the Gulf. The thousands of kilometers of coastline are remote and difficult to police, and the politically powerful commercial fishing industry has been slow to embrace even economically viable conservation measures, much less stricter measures of conservation. Conservation of the Gulf's fisheries and coastlines is also complicated by a long history of over-capitalization in the sector, and the direct, often negative impacts that conservation measures have on the livelihoods of Mexico's coastal inhabitants. At present, the Mexican government and business interests have promoted a macro-level, tourist development vision for the Gulf, whose impacts on ecology and society there are uncertain.

Coastal communities that are highly reliant on the sport fishing industry include San Felipe, San Carlos, Sonora, Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Loreto, Guaymas, and Mulegé. Mazatlán, on the Mexican mainland's Pacific coast, depends on the sagging commercial fishery.


The Gulf of California contains two large islands, the Isla Ángel de la Guarda and Tiburón Island, as well as several smaller ones, including Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida which is joined to it by a narrow isthmus. The beach at Ensenada Grande, on Isla Partida, was named the most beautiful beach in Mexico and one of the most beautiful in the world by British publication, The Travel Magazine.


Depth soundings in the gulf have ranged from fording depth at the estuary near Yuma, Arizona to in excess of 3000 m in the deepest parts.


External links

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