San Pedro Mártir Island

Apr 19, 2017 - National Geographic Sea Bird

Our second day in the Midriff Islands region was an extraordinary one; we woke up at sea heading towards one of the crown jewels of the Sea of Cortez, the island of San Pedro Mártir. But before we arrived there, we enjoyed the privilege once again of watching sunrise at sea. What a wonderful time of the day, when the eastern sky changes colors and eventually explodes as the fiery star that makes life on earth possible comes up above the horizon! The initially subtle purples and magentas turned into intense oranges and reds and painted us with similar tones. We anchored off the southern shore of the island shortly afterwards and got ready to explore on our expedition landing craft.

San Pedro Mártir is truly a spectacular place; located pretty much in the middle between the states of Sonora in the mainland, and Baja California in the peninsula, the island is also surrounded by the three main upwelling areas in the Gulf. As a result, life flourishes there and during our entire time around it we were constantly watching all kinds of marine creatures. The most striking characteristic of San Pedro Mártir is it looks white, thanks to the countless sea birds that make it home and deposit guano there. We observed huge numbers of both brown and blue-footed boobies on the rocks and flying overhead, together with Herrmann’s and yellow-footed gulls, eared grebes, magnificent frigatebirds, brown pelicans and red-billed tropicbirds. Some of us found a couple of tropicbirds in the water, engaged in a ferocious fight with each one holding the other by the beak.

But it was a group of young California sea lions that were the stars of the day; they followed us for a long time all over the island, jumping out of the water and playing with each other while constantly eyeing us with obvious curiosity. As much as we loved watching them, I believe that they were even more intrigued and curious about us!

San Pedro Mártir is such a dramatic place and full of life that it was declared a Biosphere Reserve by the Mexican government. We reluctantly sailed away from San Pedro Mártir and during the mid-afternoon encountered a small group of long-finned pilot whales in the deep, offshore waters south of the island, an unusual sighting of a very special species. What a wonderful day in the beautiful Sea of Cortez!

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About the Author

Carlos Navarro

Undersea Specialist

Carlos J. Navarro is a biochemist specializing in marine biology, a M. Sc. in Environmental Management and a freelance wildlife photographer/author. Carlos has spent most of the last 30 years living along the shores of the Sea of Cortez and participating in numerous scientific, conservation and environmental education projects on the vaquita, marine invertebrates, sea birds, great white sharks, baleen whales, jaguars and crocodiles. Carlos’ six years of jaguar research provided the basis of ONCA MAYA, a non-profit organization dedicated to jaguar conservation based in Cancun, of which he is a founding member and still serves as a scientific advisor. He loves being underwater, either free-diving or using SCUBA gear and have had the chance to explore the underwater realms of Alaska, Mexico, Svalbard, the trans-Atlantic ridge islands, the Caribbean and both coasts of South America from Panama to Chile and Brazil to Argentina. 

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