Current threats to La Estrella

 Mesquite logging

The inhabitants of the fishing ejido (communal village) of Dorados de Villa, located roughly 10km south of La Estrella, use mesquite wood as fuel to cook, and to heat their homes. They are aware of the reserve status of La Estrella, and local wood harvesting practices pose very little immediate threat to the extensive mesquite (Prosopis sp.) growths at La Estrella.

Mexican law forbids the harvesting of live trees for any purpose, yet the ejidatarios from Dorados de Villa circumvent the law by burning the leaves of the tree. The result is the death of the tree within a couple of months, which makes the logging of the tree legal, and easier. Large stumps are all that remain of mesquite trees in the vicinity (walking distance) of Dorados de Villa.

 Recreational use

Very few people visit La Estrella, and the only “footsteps” seen on the sand of the dunes and beach, are those made by the native fauna, such as the distinct tracts of the abundant sidewinder rattlesnake (Crotalus cerastes).

The exception is during the week of Easter, when a score of families from Caborca visit La Estrella for a few days of camping on the beach. The majority of the Mexican population is Catholic, and consequently the week of Easter is an important religious holiday. Throughout the state of Sonora it is traditionally celebrated by visiting the beach. The camping itself is an activity of minimal impact for the dunes and beach, which experience a significant degree of natural disturbance (i.e. sand movement).

The problem lies in the use of ATV’s and off-road pickup trucks these families bring along as “toys”. Any vehicular traffic is devastating to both the beach, and the adjacent sand dunes. A trail that was blazed across the sand dunes four years ago by such off-road vehicles is still clearly visible, even though the native dune vegetation is gradually reclaiming the disturbed areas. The Gulf grunion (Leuresthes sardina) spawns on certain beaches of the northern Gulf of California during the spring (Thomson 1976), including the beaches of La Estrella. The use of off-road vehicles on the beaches of La Estrella during the critical spawning period could severely impact the spawning sites of the Gulf grunion. Vehicular traffic is presently impacting spawning sites at El Golfo de Santa Clara, in the vicinity of the Colorado River delta.

Another significant impact these Easter week visitations have on La Estrella is in the amount of trash left behind. A considerable portion of the trash is discarded bottles and cans, which does not biodegrade or disintegrate, and will not “disappear” unless removed. Fortunately, this impact is largely localized to their campsites.

 Proposed coastal highway

A Mexican federal highway is to be built along the entire Sonoran coast of the Gulf of California. This paved, two lane highway, will run from the town of Puerto Libertad, to the town of El Golfo de Santa Clara (despite the fact that El Golfo de Santa Clara is well within the Reserva de la Biosfera del Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Rio Colorado). Construction on the highway is proposed to last 7 years. Very little can be done to deter the government from completing such projects, which are seen as critical to the development and progress of the state of Sonora.
In actuality, the highway will provide access to the most remote coastal areas of the northern Gulf of California, and will “pave the road” for the development of a massive tourist industry. The impacts of a commercially based tourist industry, along with an increased coastal population, are profound and long term. This development will resemble yet another Riviera, and result in the “Mediterraneanization” of the currently remote and largely intact coastal environments of the northern Gulf of California.
The proposed inter-coastal highway illustrates the pressure the state of Sonora is experiencing to develop its remote coastline in the name of “progress”. Whether the construction of the highway is completed, or not, the pressure to develop the coastline will certainly increase. Most importantly, the proposed highway illustrates the current urgency to establish reserves along the coast of the Gulf of California (such as La Estrella, and San Lorenzo), in order to protect critical coastal habitats, and deter further development.

Please note our updated contact information
Sonoran Desert Coastal Conservation
The University of Arizona, EEB Dept. Biological Sciences East 1D
Tucson, Az 85721
(520) 622-3140