Mexico is ready to protect the Aquarium of the World

/ Special Collaborations
Foto: Ramón Castellanos

POR: John Kerry

Human activities worldwide are affecting the oceans, which currently face unprecedented threats such as overexploitation of fisheries, loss of coral reefs and coastal pollution and erosion due to rising sea levels. In the light of these events, many brave nations have recognized the importance of healthy oceans and have committed to fight these threats. Because of its leadership, Mexico has been an exemplar country in this respect.

We know the intention of Mexico to create a large Marine Protected Area (MPA) to safeguard the enormous wealth of Sea of Cortez and the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur. This excellent news comes five years after the designation of the Revillagigedo Archipelago, a chain of pristine islands in the Mexican Pacific, as the National Park with about 150 000 km2, completely protected extractive activities.

However, Mexico’s efforts to protect its seas started with a much smaller area, the Cabo Pulmo National Park (located in Baja California Sur), which is considered a success worldwide. Science shows that MPAs guarantee the survival of marine animals such as whales, dolphins, sharks, and turtles, but are also beneficial to adjacent fisheries.

Cabo Pulmo is a clear example of this. Cabo Pulmo was declared a National Park in 1995, as a result of a collaboration process between the local community, NGOs, scientists and government officials. One of the most amazing results is that over the past 10 years, the fish biomass in the area has quadrupled. This means that fish can grow and mature within the protected area and can also move this area due to the spillover effect. Once out, fish can be captured and support the local fisheries for generations to come.

Each year, Cabo Pulmo attracts close to 30 000 tourists interested in seeing healthy coral reefs, sea lions, hammerhead sharks, Pacific giant stingrays and other marine animals. The park is therefore capable of creating well-paid jobs and giving economic certainty to the community, whilst improving their standard of living.

The model used in Cabo Pulmo has been replicated worldwide. A few years ago, the Chilean Government established the protected marine area of Rapa Nui around Isla de Pascua, thoroughly protecting an area close to the size of the continental territory of this South American country. It was established in agreement with the Rapa Nui people, with the purpose of safeguarding traditional fishing methods, unique ecosystems, and biodiversity, as well as preserving ancestral livelihoods for the generations to come.

On the other side of the Pacific, President Tommy Remengesau declared the small insular nation of Palau as National Marine Sanctuary, thoroughly protecting 80% of the waters of the country. The same decree establishes a fishing zone for the exclusive use of their local fishermen. The Palau Sanctuary provides marine resources for the local market and fully satisfies the growing tourist market, which every year generates millions of dollars.

The creation of a vast marine reserve in the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Coast in Baja California Sur could have a very positive effect on thousands of fishermen adjacent local communities, as well as for many marine species including shark, dolphin, whale, tuna, stingray, and turtle. The project contemplates allowing local fishing, which would grant communities rights over coastal waters for the first time in history.

If it goes ahead, populations of fish would continue to recover over time and the spillover effect out of the protected area would improve the capture index for future generations of fishermen.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Mexican people for this new initiative and express my confidence that the President will continue to work to strengthen the legacy of Mexico to the Ocean, to benefit coastal communities with more fish, more tourists, and more well-paid jobs.

About the author

John Kerry is former US Secretary and former Democrat Senator for Massachusetts. He led the first Our Ocean Conference in 2014, creating a forum for politicians, scientists, environmentalists, and industry leaders to gather to discuss the state of the oceans as well as the steps required to protect it and the solutions ahead.