The Baja California Peninsula lies in northwestern Mexico, and is comprises by the Mexican states of Baja California and Baja California Sur. The peninsula, covering a total land area of 143,390 square kilometers, extends for a distance of 1,247 kilometers from Mexicali in the north to Cabo San Lucas in the south. The peninsula is bordered by the United States' states of California and Arizona to the north, the Gulf of California in the east, and the Pacific Ocean to its south and west. It has a maximum width of 320 kilometers at its widest point, a coastline of 3,000 kilometers, and encompasses 65 outlying islands within its territorial periphery as well.
The Baja California Peninsula was inhabited as early as 9,000 to 10,000 years ago by humans. When the first Europeans reached the peninsula in the 16th Century, it was occupied by around 70,000 people belonging to some of the most primitive native tribes of North America, whose livelihoods were based on fishing and hunting-gathering activities. The arrival of the Europeans exposed the natives to new diseases which nearly wiped out their entire populations. Following the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, the Baja California peninsula was assigned to be an independent state of Mexico as per the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Currently, the Baja California Peninsula serves as an important trade and manufacturing center for Mexico. The development of the export-oriented assembly plants known as maquiladoras, and the North American Free Trade Agreement implementation in 1994, together greatly enhanced the economic growth of the region, leading to the development of important cities and towns like Mexicali, Tijuana, Tecate, and others. Textiles, electronics, automobiles, paper, and processed foods are some of the industries operating in the Baja California Peninsula. Fishing is also an important economic activity in the region, and so is tourism. Large numbers of tourists visit the peninsula each year, attracted by its beautiful beaches, islands, and many other spots of natural and cultural interest.
Habitat and Biodiversity
The overall climate of the Baja California Peninsula is dry, with less diurnal and seasonal variations in temperature as compared to much of the rest of the country due to the nearness of the peninsular land to the sea. Deserts and xeric shrublands cover large parts of the Baja California Peninsula. However, in the mountains in the northern and southern ends of the region, some coniferous forests are found as well. The relative isolation of the peninsula has encouraged the existence of a large number of endemic species to develop in the region, such as, for example, the Baja California rock squirrel and the San Quintín Kangaroo Rat. Other mammals, like the puma, Mule deer, and Bighorn sheep, also regularly occur in the region. A wide diversity of scorpion, bee, and spider species also occur in the deserts of the peninsula. The avian fauna of the region is also highly diverse, including 200 bird species of birds, wherein many are rare species, such as the Golden eagle, Crested caracara, and Burrowing owl.
Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes
Anthropogenic pressures have managed to threaten the ecosystem of the Baja California Peninsula. Overgrazing of land by livestock has cleared off native vegetation from large tracts of land in the peninsula, while hunting has drastically brought down the population of mammals like pumas. The life cycles of numerous aquatic species like Grey whales in the waters and coastal areas of the peninsula have been adversely affected by the salt extraction activities. To protect the native species of the Baja California Peninsula, the Government of Mexico has established 3 biosphere reserves and 9 national protected areas in the region.