EL PINACATE AND GRAN DESIERTO DE ALTAR
El Pinacate and Gran Desierto De Altar is a Sonoran wilderness unique in North America: half a golden plain of moving sands, half a dark plain studded with low volcanic forms: over 400 cinder cones, ten immense circular maar craters and jagged lava flows, both plains broken by sharp island ridges of granite. El Pinacate itself is a shield volcano; the sand sea is the only active example in North America, and most of the craters were formed by phreatomagmatism, the explosive contact of volcanic magma with subterranean water. Despite the desert conditions, the reserve's biodiversity is high, as is the degree of adaptation of its life forms to the harsh environment.
El Pinacate y Gran Desierto De Altar Biosphere Reserve
NATURAL WORLD HERITAGE SITE
2013: Inscribed on the World Heritage List under natural criteria (vii), (viii) and (x).
STATEMENT OF OUTSTANDING UNIVERSAL VALUE
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee adopted the following provisional Statement of Outstanding Universal Value at the time of inscription:
El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve (EPGDABR) is located in the Sonoran Desert. The Sonoran Desert is one of four great North American deserts along with the Chihuahuan Desert, the Great Basin Desert and the Mojave Desert. EPGDABR has a surface of 714,566 hectares with 354,871 hectares of buffer zone. It is a large and relatively undisturbed protected area which comprises two very distinct broad landscape types. To the East, there is a dormant volcanic area of around 200,000 ha, comprised of the Pinacate Shield with extensive black and red lava flows and desert pavement. The volcanic shield boasts a wide array of volcanic phenomena and geological formations, including a small shield-type volcano. The most visually striking feature is the concentration of a total of 10 enormous, deep and almost perfectly circular maar (steam blast) craters.
In the West towards the Colorado River Delta and towards the Gulf of California, is the Gran Altar Desert, North America's largest field of active sand dunes and only active Erg dunes. The dunes can reach 200 meters in height and contain a variety of dune types. The dunes originate from sediments from the nearby Colorado Delta and local sources. In addition, there are several arid granite massifs emerging like islands from the sandy desert flats, ranging between 300 and 810m.a.s.l., which represent another remarkable landscape feature harbouring distinct plant and wildlife communities.
The variety of landscapes results in extraordinary habitat diversity. The diversity of life forms across many different taxa is notable with many species endemic to the Sonoran Desert or more locally restricted to parts of the property. All feature sophisticated physiological and behavioural adaptations to the extreme environmental conditions. The subtropical desert ecosystem reportedly hosts more than 540 species of vascular plants, 44 mammals, more than 200 birds, over 40 reptiles, as well as several amphibians and even two endemic species of freshwater fish.
Superlative natural phenomena or natural beauty and aesthetic importance: The property presents a dramatic combination of desert landforms, comprising both volcanic and dune systems as dominant features. The volcanic shield in the property boasts a wide array of volcanic phenomena and geological formations, including a small shield-type volcano. The most visually striking feature is the concentration of a total of 10 enormous, deep and almost perfectly circular Maar (steam blast) craters, believed to originate from a combination of eruptions and collapses. The property is visually outstanding through the stark contrast of a dark-coloured area comprised of a volcanic shield and spectacular craters and lava flows within an immense sea of dunes. The dunes can reach 200 meters in height and contain linear dunes, star dunes and dome dunes, displaying enormous and constantly changing contrasts in terms of form and color. In addition to these predominant features there are several arid granite massifs emerging like islands from the sandy desert flats, ranging between 300 and 650m high. The combination of all these features results in a highly diverse and visually stunning desert landscape.
Earth’s history and geological features: The property’s desert and volcanic landforms provide an exceptional combination of features of great scientific interest. The vast sea of sand dunes that surrounds the volcanic shield is considered the largest and most active dune system in North America. It includes a diverse range of dunes that are nearly undisturbed, and include spectacular and very large star-shaped dunes that occur both singly and in long ridges up to 48km in length. The volcanic exposures provide important complementary geological values, and the desert environment assures a dramatic display of a series of impressive large craters and more than 400 cinder cones, lava flows, and lava tubes. Taken together the combination of earth science features is an impressive laboratory for geological and geomorphological studies.
Biodiversity and threatened species: The highly diverse mosaic of habitats is home to complex communities and surprisingly high species diversity across many taxonomic groups of flora and fauna. More than 540 species of vascular plants, 44 mammals, more than 200 birds and over 40 reptiles inhabit the seemingly inhospitable desert. Insect diversity is high despite not being fully documented. Several endemic species of plants and animals exist, including two freshwater fish species. One local endemic plant is restricted to a small part of the volcanic shield within the area. Large maternity caves of the migratory Lesser Long-Nosed Bat, which is an important pollinator and seed dispersal vector are found within the property. Noteworthy species include the Sonoran Pronghorn, an endemic subspecies restricted to the south western Arizona and north western Sonora and threatened by extinction.
El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve is relatively undisturbed and has an outstandingly high level of physical integrity to a great extent related to its harsh environment. Whilst there are a limited number of private land ownership (ejidos) areas, the entire property is under the authority of the Federal Agency for Protected Areas (CONANP).
Protection and Management Requirements
The property counts on an effectively enforced adequate legal framework and its management is well supported in terms of human and financial resources. Management of the property is guided by a long-term management plan supported by annual operational plans and implementation is supported by local governments, NGOs and indigenous peoples. Future revisions of the existing management plan should consider ways and means to maintain and enhance the Outstanding Universal Values and conditions of integrity of the property. It should also propose new options and mechanism to ensure the financial sustainability required for the effective long term management of the property. In addition the management plan should establish enhanced mechanisms to effectively involve indigenous peoples in the planning and management of the property.
Special attention should be given to avoid the indirect impacts of nearby tourism development including from increased traffic, which creates ecological disturbance, littering and wildlife road kills. More importantly, tourism can create pressure to extend existing road infrastructure which could facilitate entry points for alien invasive species. Increasing impact from off-road vehicles has been observed, requiring monitoring and effective law enforcement in EPGDABR. However the most critical long term management issue is to address potential problems derived from tourism related water consumption.
Long term protection and management of the property also includes the need to minimize and/or mitigate impacts derived from existing or proposed roads; to ensure effective implementation of measures to avoid further depletion of scarce water resources; to maintain and enhance ecological connectivity so as to buffer against climate change impacts and to effectively control and eradicate alien invasive species. Transboundary cooperation to maintain and enhance the management of the property is essential and therefore the formal establishment of a Transboundary Protected Area with adjoining protected areas in the United States is highly recommended.
1993: El Pinacate y Gran Desierto De Altar designated a Biosphere Reserve under the UNESCO Man & Biosphere Programme (714,566 ha);
1995: Extended as the Alto Golfo de California Biosphere Reserve including the Humedales de Bahia de Adair (1,649,312 ha);
2008: Agua Dulce on the Sonoyta River designated a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention (39 ha).
IUCN MANAGEMENT CATEGORY
VI: Managed Resource Protected Area
The site is in the state of Sonora in a strip of land between the far north eastern coast of the Gulf of California and the Arizona boundary of the U.S.A. between the towns of Puerto Peñasco and Yuma. It lies between 32°10’04.73 N to 31°32’26.93 S by 113°00’01.23 E to 114°18’51.00 W. Its surrounding buffer area lies between 32°22’08.30 N and 31°32’2.47.62 S by 113°00’05.09 E to 114°23’56.63 W.
DATES AND HISTORY OF ESTABLISHMENT
1979: Declared a Protected Forest Zone & Wildlife Refuge (26,860ha); 1982: an Ecological Reserve;
1993: The National Biosphere Reserve declared by Presidential decree and confirmed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve; 1995: Extended as the Upper Gulf of California Biosphere Reserve with the adjacent Humedales de Bahia de Adair (1,649,312 ha);
2008: Agua Dulce on the Sonoyta River designated a Ramsar Wetland;
2013: Inscribed on the World Heritage List.
The state under the Federal Agency for Protected Areas (Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas, CONANP) owns 22% of the core plus buffer areas. A number of privately owned ejidos nominally own 78% of the rest. The reserve adjoins four other Sonoran desert protected areas: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, the Arizona Desert Museum and the Goldwater Range, a military reserve, all in Arizona. Contiguous with these are the Sonoran Desert National Monument and the Tohono O'odham Nation, a tribal reserve. The marine Upper Gulf of California and Colorado River Delta Biosphere Reserve in Baja California adjoins the Biosphere Reserve on the west.
Reserve: 714,566.5 ha; Buffer zone 354,871 ha.
200m–1,206m (El Pinacate).
The Reserve is part of a more than 3 million hectare combination of reserves in Baya California and Sonora provinces and Arizona and south California states created to protect the Sonoran desert ecosystem, 40% of which is covered by the site and its buffer zones. It occupies most of a coastal plain between the U.S. border and the Gulf of California averaging 145 km long by 70 km wide. It comprises a sand sea, part of the lower Colorado River valley, and a rugged plain on the edge of the Arizona plateau, studded with volcanic formations, a result of past plate tectonic movement in the area. Owing to its moving sands, rugged fields of lava, and granitic ridges, 62%, 32% and 6% respectively of its surface, it has remained largely inaccessible and undisturbed (Nomination document, 2013).
The Pinacate Shield, culminating in the Sierra del Pinacate, first erupted 15-12 million years ago and again 10-1.5mya. Lava last flowed 13,000 years ago but the present shield volcano is dormant. It rises gently from a pavement of Tertiary and Quaternary sediments and was formed by the gradual extrusion of fluid basalt lavas from fissures in the rock, the lava running up to 20 km from the source and covering some 228,000 ha with thick flows of black and red alkaline vesicular basaltic lava. This disintegrated into fields of jagged blocks, sometimes flowing in a stream which created a lava tube as the flow's outer surface cooled. The rolling sandy plain is punctuated by many small volcanic eruptive forms: over 400 cinder and ash cones, the result of lesser explosions of gas and pyroclastic debris, domed mounds of ejecta, cindery debris and by ten huge quite circular maar craters formed by the explosion of steam from underground water superheated by rising magma, with ensuing implosion of the core. These are the most notable features of the site. They are typically wide, shallow, almost perfect circles ringed by a rim of tuff formed of light material ejected as the centre collapsed. The floors are mostly flat, often with a grove of dryland trees growing on the dry lake bed (playa) in the centre. They range from 350m wide by 11m deep (Badillo) to 1,609m wide by 244m deep (El Elegante).
There is a great variety of other rocks: granites, schists, gneiss and sedimentary, clearly exposed in both halves of the site in a number of isolated Sawtooth granite ridges 300-810m high which run parallel to the Gulf of California. In the west, Sierra Santa Rosario forms a 610m granite inselberg. The various soils are loess or volcanic in origin but are too dry to be fertile except for a brilliant flush mainly of annuals in spring and in alluvial streambeds. Although hyperarid, the area has some 23 semi-permanent rain-fed waterholes (tinajas) in the lava and rocks, often lasting year-round due to the bi-seasonal rainfall. In the northeast, a short length of the River Sonoyta, the Agua Dulce, is also permanent. Both sources are invaluable to wildlife and were also essential to man in the past. In the south, there are artesian wells drawing on underground runoff from the lava sheet.
The 550,000 ha sand sea is the largest and most active erg in North America, and consists on a large scale of a wide and complex variety of dunes: linear, dome, crescent and long lines of star dunes (to 48 km long), driven by the winds prevailing from the west, as are the sands, from the neighbouring delta of the Colorado river. On the margin of the sand sea, where the wind direction is seasonally more variable, large star dunes form, one being 200m high. Isolated grey granitic ridges between 300m and 650m high rise above the sands. The scenery of each area has an austere grandeur and contrasting dramatic beauty, the greater for being almost undisturbed.
The subtropical climate is very hot: June and July maximum temperatures average 49°C and can reach 56.7°C in June. In the winter, night temperatures can fall to -8.3°C, though very rarely. The average annual temperature range is 18°C to 22°C. Solar radiation is intense, evaporation high and relative humidity low. The highlands of El Pinacate have somewhat lower temperatures and are slightly more humid. The average annual precipitation is less than 200 mm, most falling in winter. Rainfall decreases from the northeast where 164mm is recorded, to 61mm in Puerto Peñasco in the south, and 52 mm in San Luis Rio Colorado in the west, where Sierra El Rosario has experienced 34 months without rainfall, making this desert the driest part of the Sonoran desert and one of the driest places in the world.
The wide range of physical conditions in the two deserts harbours an unexpected diversity of life: 560 species of vascular plants in 315 genera and 85 families, with several Sonoran endemics and one endemic to the site on El Pinacate. The dominant vegetation is xerophytic scrub with small areas of chaparral and mesquite. The families with the most species are the composites, grasses, legumes, euphorbias, chenopods and cacti. In spring, the arid plain briefly becomes a dazzling field of flowers.
The nomination lists ten plant communities: El Pinacate highlands, El Pinacate slopes, the Sonoyta region, the maar craters, the granite mountains, Sierra El Rosario in the west, the dunes, the desert plains, the coastal plain and wetlands. The El Pinacate shield has a flora of 314 species, one on the mountain Senecio pinacatensis being endemic. Within the core areas are open forests of cholla cactus Opuntia cholla and Opuntia spp., several of which are edible to animals and man, as well aso saguaro Carnegia gigantea, elephant cactus Pachycereus pringlei and ocatillo Fouquieria splendens. The desert ironwood Olneya tesota is a keystone tree species in the desert ecosystem: its seeds and leaves are important food sources for countless insects, rodents and birds and it forms a nurse tree for small cactus species. The granite ridges have 173 species. Mesquite Prosopis spp. grows on the sandy playas in the volcanic cones where the soil and water level are shallow. Sierra del Rosario, an isolated granite mountain in the west, has in its 7,800 hectares 111 species including exotics not found elsewhere in the Reserve. On streambed alluvium and water-retaining playas, richer vegetation can flourish. In the dunes, 85 species are recorded, several being Sonoran endemics. 65% of these species are short-lived, 20% endemic (20%) and 15% in the process of speciation. There are also small tracts of coastal halophytic scrub, Larrea tridentata with Atriplex spp., surviving largely on the condensation as dew of humid air from the Gulf.
Most of the plants have developed adaptations to the extreme conditions, including extremely long seed dormancy, a perennial habit which adapts to arid conditions where rainfall is usually uncertain, and small leaves to prevent water loss through evaporation; others retain their energy-producing chlorophyll in bark or leaves, which develop only when conditions are optimal. Four plants in the site have special federal protection: Acuña cactus Echinomastus erectocentrus acunensis (nationally endangered), barrel cactus Ferocactus cylindraceus, desert ironwood and night blooming cereus Peniocereus greggii. 97 non-native species are recorded in the site. Three have been aggressively invasive: salt cedarTamarix ramosissima, buffelgrass Pennisetum ciliaris and Sahara mustard Brassica tournefortii.
The very varied environments of the reserve provide a wide range of differing habitats which explains the unexpectedly rich biodiversity. There are 44 mammals, 44 reptiles, several amphibians, 225 birds and two endemic species of freshwater fish. Five mammals, 19 birds and 22 reptiles found in the property are federally protected, an indication of their rarity.
The largest mammals include some of the last endemic Sonoran pronghorn sheep Antilocapra americana sonorensis (53-103 individuals in 2009), which can feed on thorny cactus, and bighorn sheep Ovis canadensis, cougar Puma concolor and bobcat Lynx rufus, badger Taxidea taxus and kit fox Vulpes velox macrotis. Other notable species are the southern long-nosed bat Leptonycteris curasoae (VU), the migratory lesser long-nosed bat Leptonycteris yerbabuenae (VU) which live in very large (170,00-300,000) maternity roosts in lava caves, the fish-eating bat Myotis vivesi (VU) and six other species of bat. Their role as pollinators and seed dispersers is important in this harsh environment. There are also large populations of rodents. Also notable are the two endemic freshwater fish desert pupfish Cyprinodon macularius (EN) and Gila longfin dace Agosia chrysogaster.
Sonoran desert sidewinder Crotalus cerastes cercobombus is endemic to the Sonoran desert, the Gila monster Heloderma suspectum and the desert tortoise Gopherus agassizii (VU) are all nationally protected; there are also chameleon Phrynosoma mcalli, Sonora mud turtle Kinosternon sonorense longifemorale and Sonoran green toad Bufo retiformis. The insect fauna is large but little documented. Among the birds there are seven species of raptor, including golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos and four owls. 19 species are nationally endangered or threatened.
The site is part of the Greater Sonoran Desert Protected Ecosystem, the largest contiguous protected area complex in North America. It covers the driest half of the Sonoran desert in two contrasting ecosystems, sandy and volcanic. Both are relatively undisturbed, have unexpectedly high biodiversity and, visually, are in their different ways majestic. The mountain is sacred to the local tribe. The site lies in one of the WWF Global 200 ecoregions, is part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and contains a Ramsar wetland.
The first inhabitants, the hunter-gatherer San Dieguito people, lived on the mountain from before 20,000 to 9,000 years ago, sourcing their water from tinajas. They were succeeded by the Pinacateño band of the Hia C'ed O'odham (Papago) indians who camped near the tinajas, leaving pathways, sleeping circles, stone and obsidian tools from a local source, pottery and some petroglyphs. In 1698, Father Eusebio Kino, explorer-missionary and founder of the Mission San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, Arizona, visited the site several times, climbing El Pinacate and naming it Santa Clara Volcano. The Tohono (sand) Hia C-ed O'odham people believe they originated on the mountain and their religious ceremonies are still performed there, though the last resident left in 1912, about the time the first scientists began to study the country.
LOCAL HUMAN POPULATION
In the late 1960s, the government granted communal land tenure rights (ejidos) in the region to establish farms, but these failed when irrigation proved too costly and salinised the soil. As late as the 1990s thousands still lived on the site. Most of the rights still formally exist and the lands are still revisited, but they are too uneconomic to exploit and do not obstruct conservation. However, a complex pattern of land ownership remains. No-one now lives on the site, but 55 staff and service personnel live in the buffer areas. A growing population across the border is drawn to the Gulf coast, where there is increasing development for tourism along the coastal road.
VISITORS AND VISITOR FACILITIES
The area remained intact and little visited before 1956 when Route 2 along the northern edge was built, and 1993 when it became a Biosphere Reserve, since when public interest has increased. There were in 1997, 3,177 visitors. By 2010, the number had increased to 17,504, 85% Mexican and 15% foreigners, mainly from the U.S.A. Designation is certain to increase that figure. Across the border, the population has burgeoned, increasing the call for recreational visits, though these are dampened by security tensions. In fact, visitor numbers are limited both by policy and by the inhospitable nature of the land, but there is a new Visitors' Centre (called Schuk Toak, the native name for El Pinacate) in the south of the site, used by over half the visitors, which provides education and raises conservation awareness. There is also an entry-point interpretive centre and a main 69 km ecotourist trail, two other trails with viewpoints and a shorter interpretive trail, two camp sites and four parking areas.
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND FACILITIES
Owing to its rare largely intact condition, the area serves as a baseline reference for the study of desert ecology and other fields, and as a laboratory for geological and geomorphological studies. The first scientific examination of the area was by the MacDougal-Hornaday-Sykes expedition of 1907 which explored the western part of the mountain for its geology, flora and fauna. Before the 1958 archaeological survey, only three other scientists had studied the area, but in 1965 NASA used the El Verdugo crater to test moon vehicles. Studies, especially of the volcanism and unique series of maars, have continued ever since in several national and international scientific projects. A biological station has been built. The National Institute of Archaeology and History researches the area's anthropology, archaeology, palaeontology and history. Twelve Mexican and American universities or institutes have developed research projects in the reserve, mostly on animals.
The site’s large size, remoteness, harsh climate and rugged terrain give it high natural protection, augmented by vehicle barriers (in principle permeable for wildlife), extensive buffer zones and several large contiguous protected areas. The property also has an effective and enforced legal framework with a management well supported by staff and funding. This is enabled by the General Law on the Ecological Equilibrium and Environmental Protection of 1988 through the Regional Directorate of the Federal Commission for Protected Natural Areas (CONANP) under the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT). This law applies to both core and buffer zones, regardless of ownership. In buffer areas, only activities which existed at the time of the establishment and which are supportive of conservation and sustainable use are allowed to local communities. The Federal Environmental Protection Agency enforces environmental laws.
The boundaries of the property coincide with the boundaries of the National Biosphere Reserve which facilitates its conservation and management as they are guided by its existing management plan. This long-term plan has sub-programs for tourism, research and monitoring, supported by annual operational plans. These are implemented by the state government and local municipalities with the aid of a committed community of indigenous people, researchers and non-governmental conservationist organizations. The present management plan dates from 1995 and is being updated through a participatory Advisory Council, which is establishing ways to improve the involvement of indigenous peoples in the planning and management of the property. This regular involvement of local stakeholders increases the broad acceptance of management and helps to deal with possible conflicts. Representatives of the Tohono O'odham strongly supported the conservation of the property on condition they were consulted about decision-making, especially on practical concerns such as social and religious ceremonies, their traditional journey to the sea for salt, tourist and scientific access to archaeological sites, and protocols of management.
Monitoring of a large number of indicators is carried out by staff in cooperation with several institutions of the state government and many academic partners. There is monitoring of water, tourists and fencing (continuous); roads (monthly); land use, invasive species, fish and bats (annual) as indicators of ecological conditions; and pronghorns and their habitat (bi-annually). There is a long history of cooperation with governmental and academic partner institutions in the U.S.A., not only for monitoring but for research, species recovery and management. A transboundary protected area with adjoining protected areas in the U.S.A. to maintain and enhance management of the property could be created in future.
There is a need to minimize and mitigate the impacts of roads. Route 2, formerly a country road, is becoming a wide fenced highway paralleled by electricity transmission lines. Construction requires extraction of aggregate material and water, access and deviation tracks, noise, dust and pollution. CONANP is consulted in its design and location. The impacts of tourism development on the coast increase traffic, ecological disturbance, littering, wildlife road kills and off-road driving. Increased tourism could lead to further road entry points for invasive alien species, such as the two exotic species of fish and three plants already well established, and will require monitoring and effective law enforcement.
Extraction of water for tourism is probably the most critical long term management issue. The Sonoyta River, a unique resource, is under pressure from pollution and overuse. Waste and sewage disposal in the border town of Sonoyta require adequate management and treatment facilities. There is also groundwater withdrawal in the watershed on both sides of the border. Other major sources of surface water are the rain-fed tinajas and the artesian wells in the south of the property. Domestic livestock may compete for this water and pose disease risks as wildlife collects near the waterholes. There is also concern in this driest of regions that droughts and climate change may increase water scarcity, already under pressure from human use in the region, which would have severe consequences for vegetation and wildlife.
Originally the border was no obstacle, but drug trafficking and illegal immigration have increased in remote areas along the international border. Tight border security began to dominate government planning and physical barriers were erected. The new physical infrastructure - a high wall along the border - and the security activities on the U.S.A. side have introduced new barriers to wildlife movement. A high metal fence also prevents migration across the Goldwater military range. The fencing on both sides of major roads is a legal requirement in principle permeable by wildlife. The recent construction of the scenic coastal route has opened a new access and increased the risk of disturbance from the south, although as a scenic route there are limits on its size, infrastructure and fencing. It is part of the development of Puerto Peñasco as a resort.
Uncontrolled extraction of natural resources started in the 1940s and 1950s: mining of volcanic rock and pyroclastic material from the cinder cones for construction and gardens was abandoned after the declaration of the national Biosphere Reserve. Extraction of ironwood and other woody species such as mesquite and ocotillo for fuel, charcoal production and carved handicrafts were both important subsistence and commercial activities but ended due to the depletion of the resource, legal protection and control efforts. Some illegal woodcutting persists. Regeneration is visible, but probably occurs at a slow pace in the harsh environmental conditions. Poaching for trophy, food and predator control was widespread before the Biosphere Reserve was established, but seems mostly under control today though some is still reported to occur as is some looting of archaeological sites despite clear regulation and effective enforcement.
COMPARISON WITH SIMILAR SITES
World Heritage sites or tentative sites closely comparable with the property are very few because of its unique combination of two unusual biomes: a hyperarid sand sea with a great diversity of dune forms, adjoining a field of shield vulcanism with several phreatomagmatic craters, plus granite inselbergs. The resulting habitats possess a rich biodiversity and strongly dramatic scenery. The Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve across the Gulf of California is Sonoran, coastal, and marine, but, typical of many desert sites, has no volcanic forms. Nearly all volcanic sites are mountainous or rocky and have no extensive sands. So the closest World Heritage parallel is probably the very different Air et Ténéré site in Niger, which has also has high and mobile dunes, volcanic peaks, high biodiversity including a notable ungulate population and a tradition of tribal occupation. The as yet undesignated Wadi Howar in western Sudan, a former Nile tributary riverbed, has a cratered volcanic landscape surrounded by sands, among them active barchans. The World Heritage sites Hawaiian Volcanoes and Jeju Island are also shield volcanoes with many volcanic forms such as lava flows and tubes, but are mountains in scale with little sand. Death Valley though markedly different, juxtaposes mountains and hyperarid sandy plains and has a large implosion crater with surrounding cones and small maars (Ubehebe) but no volcanism. The recently designated dunes of Namibia, and the as yet undesignated western deserts of Egypt, although rich in dune forms, again lack volcanism. This site therefore seems unique in combining the two biomes at such a scale and so dramatically.
There is a resident Director with 18 staff including 6 rangers. Researchers and NGO staff form a supportive pool of volunteers.
In 2012, there was a total budget of US\$1,857,000. Federal and state governments provided an annual sum of US\$810,000 and the GEF gave US\$100,000. National programs and international NGOs supplied the remainder with US\$30,000 from entry fees.
Director in charge of Areas with International Designations, CONANP
Director, El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve, CONANP
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