The Desert Islands of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez

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The desert islands in the Sea of Cortez are little known except to a few intrepid tourists, sailors, and fishermen. Though at first glance these stark islands may appear barren, they are a refuge for an astounding variety of plants and animals. While many of the species are typical of the greater Sonoran Desert region, some are endemic or unique to one or two islands. For example, Isla Santa Catalina is home to the world’s only rattlesnake that has lost its ability to grow a rattle. Other islands host nesting birds, such as Isla Rasa, a tiny, flat flow of basalt lava that attracts nearly half a million elegant and royal terns and Heermann’s gulls each spring.

The Desert Islands of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez is one of the few books devoted to the biogeography of this remarkable part of the world. The book explores the geologic origin of the gulf and its islands, presents some of the basics of island biogeography, details insular life—including residents of the intertidal zone —and provides a brief outlook for preserving this area. More than a simple guidebook, Aitchison’s writing will take both actual and armchair travelers through a gripping tale of natural history.

Like the rest of our fragile planet, the Sea of Cortez and its islands are threatened by humans. Overfishing has eliminated or greatly diminished many fish stocks, and dams on rivers that once flowed into the gulf prevent certain nutrients from reaching the sea. The tenuousness of this area makes the book’s extraordinary photographs and the firsthand descriptions by a well-known teacher, writer, and photographer all the more compelling.
"This book is more than just a fun romp through the islands of the Sea of Cortez—it is first-rate natural history writing about one of earth's most unique and special places. This book is a great read, whether you are a longtime Sea of Cortez traveler or simply wish you were."—Richard Brusca, editor of The Gulf of California: Biodiversity and Conservation

"Visiting a breathtaking place like the Sea of Cortez is always enhanced when you have a better understanding of the natural history that makes the area so unique and majestic. Stewart Aitchison's book, with its lush and informative detail showcasing the unique geology and wealth of animal and plant life, will enhance anyone's visit to this critically important ocean ecosystem."—Senator Mark Udall

"Stewart Aitchison is as gifted a photographer as he is a writer and scientist. Thanks to this rare combination of gifts, we get a thorough, thoughtful, and visually appealing portrait of this unique region—one that deserves our attention and care."—Bob Krist, photographer for National Geographic

"With decades of experience exploring south of the border, few writers know Baja California and the Sea of Cortez better than Stewart Aitchison. And with all the interest in developing Baja's wild shores, this book is very timely indeed. The more people know about a place, the more they are likely to care. This book will certainly help make a difference."—Ralph Lee Hopkins, Lindblad Expeditions
The Desert Islands of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez
120 Pages 5.5 x 8.5 x 0.5 Published: 2010 Paperback (9780816527748)

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