Mexican Resorts Destroying Mangroves, Dooming Fisheries

Eliza Barclay
for National Geographic News
July 21, 2008

The loss of Mexico's coastal mangrove forests to development is threatening the country's multimillion-dollar fishing industry, according to a new study. (See photos.)

Around Mexico's Gulf of California—between Baja California peninsula and the west coast of the mainland—mangroves are being destroyed to make way for high-end tourism resorts, marinas, and controversial industrial shrimp farms.

The government has overvalued such development and grossly undervalued the vital role mangroves play in supporting the region's U.S. $19-million-dollar fishing industry, the report said.

The Gulf of California harbors more than a hundred fish species, 30 percent of which depend on mangroves for survival.

In particular, the roots of the saltwater forests serve as sanctuaries and nurseries for commercial fish species such as snapper, snook, and mullet.

The study, led by researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Money Trees

In the Gulf of California, 2.5 acres (1 hectare) of coastal mangrove helps produce an average of $37,500 worth of harvestable fish and crab species annually, the study said.

Over the productive life of a mangrove forest, more than 30 years, 1 hectare is worth $600,000.

When considering the ecological cost of development, the Mexican National Forest Commission requires developers to pay $1,020 per hectare. Over the course of ten years, this would be 300 times less than what that hectare is actually worth to fisheries, researchers say.

The research is one of the first quantitative analyses of the economic benefits of mangroves to fisheries.

"We can plant mangrove seedlings but we can't bring back all the biodiversity and ecosystem complexity, and seldom can we bring back all the ecosystem services that they provide," said Enric Sala, a study co-author and marine ecologist formerly at Scripps and now a National Geographic Visiting Fellow. (National Geographic News is owned by the National Geographic Society.)

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