Large ships that trawl the ocean floor are prohibited from entering certain protected areas of Mexico's waters. But there's nothing stopping them from entering unprotected regions, where their heavy nets often destroy fragile marine life as they drag across the ocean floor. To protect against this damaging practice, bottom trawlers have been barred from two more marine regions with the announcement of additional marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Gulf of California.
Recently designated by Mexico's president Felipe Calderon, more than 400,000 hectares of newly protected waters are now integrated into the Gulf of California's 4.4 million acres of protected marine habitat.
The new protected waters – at Bahia de los Angeles Biosphere Reserve and Espiritu Santo National Park – will help safeguard a body of water in dire need of protection.
Steps to Protection
Shrimp farms, marina development, deforestation and construction of inland channels are destroying the Gulf's mangrove forest habitat. To feed Mexico’s growing coastal population, people are also removing fish from the Gulf of California faster than those species can reproduce. They often do so using destructive fishing techniques that inadvertently harm other species, such as the Critically Endangered vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus
), which today is on the brink of extinction.
"For decades we have made the mistake of believing that in order for civilization to advance, we must destroy our natural resources, establishing cities and communities at a great cost to our environment," Calderon said when announcing the newly protected areas in late February. "Today we are paying a high price for that mistake – we are paying for it by having less water, fewer species, more degraded lands, and more poor people forced to live in misery."
To better protect the nearly 900 species of fish and 34 marine mammal species that live in the Gulf of California, Conservation International (CI) worked for four years with regional partners and Mexico’s National Commission of Protected Areas (CONANP) to facilitate the creation of these newly protected areas. In the southwestern Gulf, a local organization called Niparaja – established with CI's longstanding support – started the decree process to safeguard the 36,000 hectares of water surrounding Espiritu Santo archipelago.
CI’s Global Conservation Fund has contributed nearly $450,000 to implement protected areas in the Gulf of California. An additional $1 million has been earmarked to support sustainable financing for the region.
The new milestones are built upon more than a decade of work that CI-Mexico has done alongside partners and friends to establish safeguarded regions, train shrimp farmers and fisherman in techniques that will alleviate harm to the region’s biodiversity, and support passage of the law that restricted the use of harmful fishing gear like bottom trawls in MPAs.
Mexico's Dedication to Conservation
President Calderon’s announcement about the Gulf of California was one of many he made this year revealing Mexico’s unprecedented dedication to conservation. Others include:
- The largest budget ever for protected areas management in Mexico. The president boosted the previous budget by 35 percent, allocating $75 million for CONANP
- A commitment to protect 15 percent of Mexico’s national territory. The president’s pledge would increase protected area coverage from 22 million hectares to 25 million hectares
- The creation of a Conservation Program for Endangered Species, to focus on species such as the vaquita dolphin, the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) and the jaguar (Panthera onca)
"We congratulate the Mexican government for its recognition of this important government agency and for providing the largest budget ever to be given for protected areas management in Mexico," says Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, director of CI's Mesoamerica Center for Biodiversity Conservation.
Strides in Mexico bring CI closer to its own Future for Life campaign goal of helping establish 20 marine protected areas worldwide by 2010.