The Mexican government and the Pronatura Noroeste organization signed an accord to improve protection of a Pacific coastal lagoon that serves as a refuge for gray whales.

At a press conference in the capital, representatives of the Semarnat environmental agency and Pronatura presented the Wildlife Conservation Management Unit, or UMA, with a plan of collaboration in which ecologists and government officials will work together.

The San Ignacio Lagoon forms part of the El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, an expanse of 2 million hectares (almost 8 square miles) in the state of Baja California Sur.

The agreement includes working up a plan for protecting, monitoring and tracking the species that inhabit the lagoon and establishing a system for attending to any eventual environmental contingencies.

The initiative plans to take a long-term view of dealing with threats related to coastal development, illegal fishing and the excessive exploitation of natural resources.

The director general of Pronatura Noroeste, Martin Gutierrez Lacayo, said that the plan is an example "of how private initiative, the government and civil society" can work together to save "priority ecosystems" in this country.

"This is a pioneering effort without precedent that replaces unsustainable development with cooperation between the government and society, which will actively take joint responsibility for the protection of the environment," law of the sea expert Alberto Szekely told the press conference.

San Ignacio Lagoon has 400 kilometers (250 miles) of coastline, of which 320 kilometers (200 miles) are mango groves and wetlands inhabited by a great many species like sea turtles, Arctic geese and, in its waters, gray whales.

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