efe-epaLa Paz, Mexico

The Espiritu Santo archipelago in the northwestern Mexican state of Baja California Sur is a protected area that captivates visitors for its rich biodiversity, a feature that makes it one of the jewels of the Gulf of California known as "the world's aquarium."

The park is being visited by a growing number of people every year, mainly tourists, who take advantage of the chance to dive, snorkel, sail, relax with sport fishing and soak up the scenery.

The Espiritu Santo Archipelago national park has more than 200 species of plants and 70 of animals.

"It's an example of conservation on the world level. Not because we say it, but because we're adhering to all the standards of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nataure), which bestows an award for the good management of ecosystems," park director Irma Gonzalez told EFE.

The Gulf of California, with its more than 900 islands and islets of volcanic origin, is known as "the world's aquarium" because practically all species of turtles, whales and fish are found there, along with a large number of bird species, Gonzalez said, adding that it is possible to conserve them because there are many protected areas in the region, including the Espiritu Santo archipelago.

The archipelago has been protected by law since 2007, and among the marine species to be found there are seals, hammerhead sharks and manta rays.

"In 10 years, we've made many important achievements, like getting the seal colony to have better reproductive success with 550 individuals in perfect health," said Gonzalez, who also emphasized the large nesting areas for pelicans and seagulls.

The archipelago is also a site of tourist interest because of its isolation, volcanic origin, scenic beauty and stark contrasts between sea and desert.

To get to the park, visitors need to travel 25 kilometers (16 miles) by boat from the state capital of La Paz. The archipelago - which covers 105 square km (about 40 square mi.) - consists of two main islands, La Partida and Espiritu Santo, along with three islets and four rocky promontories.

There are some 20 beaches where visitors can relax, sail or pursue other leisure activities.

The rocks in the park were formed before the separation of the Baja California peninsula from the mainland, according to what Javier Gaitan, a research geologist with the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur, told EFE.

"Many of the rocky formations reveal the geologic history of the zone and are of great interest from a scientific point of view," he added.