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Local partnerships in Mexico protect diverse island habitats

March 6, 2020

Like any country, Mexico wants tourism and development to bolster its economy. But economic growth, unless it’s managed carefully, can bring environmental degradation.

Seacology’s projects in Mexico target the overfishing, solid waste, and water pollution that now threaten Mexico’s 1,300 islands, which are home to coral reefs, mangroves, sand dunes, and rainforests.

Seacology also takes into account local people’s need to provide for their families. We partner with local communities, businesses, and NGOs to reduce environmental damage while providing much-needed economic support for communities.

“Seacology provides a better livelihood for people living in the islands,” says field representative Marisol Rueda Flores, who has led our projects since 2016. “Many people who live on the islands were born there and are very connected to their islands; they want to provide a good future for their children and preserve their environment. Seacology gives them this opportunity in exchange for preserving their ecosystem.”

Protecting coral reefs and sustainable fisheries

Isabel Island in Nayarit is a 213-acre, uninhabited island known as “Mexico’s Galápagos” because of its amazing biodiversity. The island is part of a World Heritage site, but the waters surrounding it are not yet legally protected. Eight local lobster fishing cooperatives want the government to designate more than 500 acres as a no-take marine reserve. In the meantime, they’re stopped fishing in the proposed reserve and are working to protect the coral reef.
To support their initiative, Seacology provided funding for 14 lobster shelters (casitas), which let more lobsters grow to maturity, and 14 mooring buoys that boats can attach to instead of dropping anchors on fragile coral.

These initiatives will provide more sustainable—and in the long term, more profitable—fishing while protecting the reef. Now that the casitas and buoys have been installed, fishermen are already seeing more lobsters and an increase in both numbers and varieties of fish near the no-take area. Our local partner Pronatura Noroeste hopes to gain protected status for the marine area this spring.

Installing mooring buoys to prevent anchor damage to the island's reefs

Installing lobster shelters

Fighting waste and improving water quality

The combination of an increasing number of tourists with poor sewage systems results in serious water-quality problems. Improperly treated waste contaminates groundwater, especially in areas that sit over porous limestone, which is common on Mexican islands. Eventually, the polluted water flows into the ocean, damaging ocean ecosystems and human health.

An example is Holbox Island on the Yucatán Peninsula, which hosts up to 3,000 visitors a day in the high season. Seacology made a grant to a local organization called Casa Wayuú to install bathrooms at the island’s waste transfer site, clear the site of accumulated solid waste, and replant trees in the area. The bathrooms have been installed, and replanting has begun.

Across the country on Mexico’s Pacific coast, at Natividad Island, we are helping to protect part of the largest wildlife refuge in Mexico. The island is a critical habitat for marine mammals and birds, including 90% of the global population of black-vented shearwaters, a near-threatened bird species.

Fishers from the island are committed to protecting it. Seacology is working with them and other community members to rid the island of more than 150 tons of accumulated scrap material. The piles of debris leach heavy metals, reduce shearwater nesting habitat, trap birds, and hinder efforts to develop ecotourism. With Seacology’s funding, the community has bought a waste compactor to dispose of the metal.

Trucks transporting waste to mainland

Birds on Natividad Island

Local partnerships for a greener Mexico

Seacology’s work in Mexico has supported community-based lodging for ecotourism, worked with the national park service to help lower the environmental impact of divers and snorkelers, and funded desalination equipment to provide clean water to isolated villages. The projects vary greatly depending on local needs, but all of them recognize that we can do the most good by helping island communities conserve their own natural resources.

“We always ask people to preserve our ecosystems, but they never get something in exchange, or they are never taught what other activities they could do,” Rueda Flores says, reflecting on our unique and collaborative approach. “Seacology gave me the opportunity to work with the people, to provide better livelihoods.”

Check out our interview with Marisol Rueda Flores below.