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How Wildlife Tourism Can Benefit Mexico's Animals

A new web video series, Perpetual Planet, takes viewers on an adventure with correspondent Alexandra Roca, from diving with bull sharks to searching for bats.

Going Underwater For a World Worth Protecting National Geographic and Nat Geo Correspondent, Alexandra Roca, travels across Baja California, Mexico to explore why wildlife tourism is evolving in this biodiverse region.
National Geographic produced this content as part of our partnership with Rolex, formed to promote exploration and conservation. The organizations will join forces in efforts that support veteran explorers, nurture emerging explorers, and protect Earth’s wonders.

What can be done for a world worth protecting?

That’s a question posed by National Geographic correspondent Alexandra Roca in a new original digital series – created in partnership with Rolex – that delves into pros and cons of the quickly evolving world of wildlife tourism.

Perpetual Planet transports viewers across Mexico with Roca to explore its vast biodiversity and what we’re doing to protect it—and harm it. There, she’s plunged into the Sea of Cortez, which features a cast of characters from bull sharks to devil rays.

The practices of wildlife tourism have often been a source of controversy, as National Geographic has reported. In a recent special report, a popular form of “selfie safari” in the Amazon was revealed to result in widespread animal suffering.

At the same time, many people who seek out wildlife tourism do so because they love animals and want to contribute in positive ways. “Your itinerary has the potential to support conservation and promote good wildlife management, but it could also encourage hidden animal abuse and wildlife snatching,” says National Geographic’s wildlife trade investigative reporter, Rachael Bale. (Check out these 6 tips for better wildlife encounters.)

Perpetual Planet’s host, Alexandra Roca, is an investigative journalist who has found her stride covering human-centric stories in developing countries. She tells us that the new series allowed her to go deeper in reporting on wildlife and to try new experiences. For example, she wasn’t even PADI dive-certified until shortly after her arrival in Mexico.

We had a chance to catch up with Roca to learn more about the new Perpetual Planet series:

What do you hope people will take away from Perpetual Planet?

Perpetual Planet really highlights topics of biodiversity and how to protect our ecosystems in a way that hasn't been done before. It's very dynamic and immersive, so I think the audience can really feel like they’re a part of it.

I hope the series motivates and inspires people to find ways in which they can help protect our planet for future generations. When I was in Mexico I saw the impact that we can have on wildlife, and I learned how we're responsible for protecting it.

Did you have a favorite moment while you were shooting the series?

What inspired me the most was diving with bull sharks. I have two fears—heights and sharks—so I never imagined that I would one day be diving with them. Once we jumped in and I was surrounded by seven bull sharks, I realized how beautiful and important that moment was. My perspective on sharks changed, and I learned a lot as a person.

Do you think the series will help viewers get out their comfort zones?

Absolutely. I was scared, and then suddenly, I’m a big fan of protecting these sharks. They’re apex predators, and they’re so essential to our oceans. If we don’t understand them, it’s a big problem.

Being close to them made me realize that we need to be more aware of animals, and I hope the audience has a chance to learn about different species, whether they’re endangered or not.

Has the series changed the way you think about conservation?

I’m looking forward to learning more about how to protect our planet. And now that I’m PADI certified, I want to dive again and learn more about endangered species.

Do you have any tips for our readers on how they can responsibly seek out ecotourism opportunities?

Know where you’re going. Everything starts by being aware and educated.

The more I started learning about bats, whale sharks, bull sharks, and sea lions, the more I wanted to know. That would be my tip: really try to understand wildlife and the reason why you’re going. Through understanding their behavior, we realize that they’re a lot more similar to us than we think, and that we have so much more to learn.