May 20, 2016 (Day 7)
The launch at La Ventana went smoothly and the crossing to the island went almost as smoothly. We arrived at the south end of Isla Cerralvo and found a small group of sea lions hauled up on some rocks. It was as though they posed for us so we could get a few shots of them sunbathing. Working our way up the western shore (the eastern side was more impacted by the wind) we were looking for the area where Nelson and Goldman landed in February of 1906.
Greg suggested a promising arroyo, or valley, where there were many biznaga gigantesca, or giant barrel cactus. These cacti are only found on this and four other islands in the gulf. They can be nearly two and a half meters tall. We found a number of specimens that were over six feet tall.
An hour’s stroll up the sandy arroyo yielded some fascinating finds. JT was able to get some amazing footage of several Baja California spiny-tailed iguanas. They are the largest lizard on the peninsula and very photogenic. We came across the skeletal remains of a feral goat, and spotted a total of 13 different species of birds. Nelson and Goldman noted only a few species of birds during their visit. One that stood out for us was the Northern Cardinal, a recent addition to this part of the world.
The goats were introduced to this island and others in the 17th century. Early records indicate that sailors introduced them to certain islands as a food source when food was scarce or if they became stranded. There are also competing opinions about the existence of the iguanas on the gulf’s islands. This animal is found on a handful of southern gulf islands and one small locale on the peninsula. Some think that the Seri Indians (from Isla Tiburon and Sonora, Mexico) were responsible for transplanting the iguanas to these islands hundreds or thousands of years ago. These iguanas are found in that region and due to isolation have evolved into a distinct species.
In 2009, the Mexican government decided to change the name of Isla Cerralvo to Isla Jacques Cousteau in honor of French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau (1910–1997) who led many expeditions to this area. Many of the local residents are less than pleased with the name change and continue to use the original name given to the island in the 1630s by the Spanish explorer Jose Francisco Ortega.