Laguna José Ignacio

The José Ignacio lagoon is a brackish body of water located in the department of Maldonado. Its landscapes are varied, with alternating sandy beaches, wetlands and grasslands. The narrow sandbar separating it from the Atlantic Ocean opens frequently, resulting in ecosystemic variations with unique characteristics.


This variety of habitats is home to specific fauna and flora, resulting in a landscape of great beauty and biodiversity. Its proximity to the village of José Ignacio, the most fashionable seaside resort of the Uruguayan coast, makes it a very popular lagoon but generates a high degree of impacts on the smallest of our lagoons.


It is a favourite spot for surfers known as “El Pepe”, as the sandbanks in the ocean outside the lagoon’s sandbar create an ideal wave for this sport. It is also a popular kitesurfing spot.

Importance for conservation


In this area there are several species with restricted distribution that are listed as threatened. Among them we may mention Larus atlanticus (Olrog’s gull), abundantly recorded in this lagoon. There are also abundant records for the Chilean flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis), and it constitutes the most important area for this species in Uruguay (Azpiroz 2005, en CNAA 2005; Rilla 2004, en CNAA 2004). The black and white monjita (Xolmis dominicanus) is another threatened species that occurs regularly in the area. Other regularly occurring species that present conservation problems at the global level are the bay-capped wren-spinetail (Spartonoica maluroides) and the straight-billed reedhaunter (Limnoctites rectirostris).


This lagoon was integrated into the national lake park “National Park and Multiple Use Area José Ignacio lagoon, Garzón lagoon and Rocha lagoon” by Decree 260/977 dated 1977. It Esta laguna fue integrada al parque nacional lacustre “Parque Nacional y Área de Uso Múltiple Laguna de José Ignacio, Laguna Garzón y Laguna de Rocha” por el Decreto 260/977 de 1977. It was also identified as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area by BirdLife International under code UY017. These provide the BirdLife Partnership and local partners with a focus for conservation action, planning, and advocacy.

PH: 1. Silvia Zumarán; 2, 3 y 4 Daniel Caselli

Uses and economic activities

Artisanal fishing has decreased significantly in the past decades as a result of modifications to the lagoon’s natural flow arising from the bridge, built in 1982 and intense urbanisation. However, a small fishing community subsists on its southwest margin near the sandbar,

capturing mainly silverside (Odontesthes bonariensis) and species with high commercial value like the Sao Paulo shrimp (Penaeus paulensis).


Other ventures like tourist ranches, polo clubs and high-end hotels and developments have sprung up on its shores and surroundings. Conventional production on lands adjacent to the lagoon is mainly cattle raising, and kitesurf is popular on the southeast margin.

The main threats

One issue of concern is that the José Ignacio lagoon has not yet been included in the National Protected Area System (SNAP, for its acronym in Spanish). This means that it lacks the strict regulatory framework governing other lagoons and that there are no park rangers monitoring the area.


Urban development and the absence of regulation enforcement pose the greatest threats to this lagoon, followed by agricultural runoff and domestic wastewater. On its southwest margin the expansion of the neighbourhood of La Juanita leads to habitat fragmentation and degradation, as is the case of Balneario Santa Mónica on the southeast margin.