As Mexico progresses and works to pull itself out of “third-world” status, media attention mostly focuses on the economy, violence, drugs, poverty and immigration. Absent from much of the news is how Mexico is managing its varied and distinct ecology. The population of the country has grown from 26 million in 1950 to 114 million today.
Mexico’s ecology important for future
There are just 67 federally recognized national parks—ecologically protected areas managed by the government’s Comisión Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas—accounting for only 0.73 percent of the Mexican territory.
According to the CNANP website, there are no protected areas in southern Oaxaca and Chiapas, one of the most important ecological areas and home of the Lacandon rainforest and important jaguar habitat.
Some might feel it’s difficult to make a case for saving forests and animals when people in the same areas are suffering from poverty and unemployment. No doubt it’s a difficult balancing act for the Mexican government, but protecting natural resources is as important as helping individuals.
Preserving the ecology can help the economically disadvantaged in remote areas through tourism, investigation and allowing for managed use of local resources by local citizens.
Mexico offers a unique diverse environment: deserts, rain forests, lagoons and coral reefs that are the habitat for animals on the endangered species list. The jaguar is not the only largest cat and top predator of the Americas, but an important symbol of Aztec and Mayan mythology.
Other endangered animals include the mantled howler monkey and the harpy eagle, both of which live in Southern Mexico. The Vaquita porpoise inhabits the shallow lagoons in the Gulf of California, and the tiny short-crested coquette, a miniature hummingbird habitat is in Guerrero State.
8.2 percent of Mexico’s economy comes from tourism. Mexico has done a good job promoting and preserving important archeological sites, beaches and coral reefs. The developments of Cancun and Acapulco are a far cry from smaller, better protected areas like Xolbox Island, Huatulco Bay and the Gulf of Baja California.
Managed tourism in sensitive ecological sites can be a boon for both the local and national economy, but also for the natural beauty and animals that attract tourists to the area in the first place. Ecotourism can be a win-win situation for everyone.
Mexico’s biodiversity and cultural heritage is almost unparalleled. UNESCO’s World Heritage list for Mexico includes 27 cultural sites, four natural sites and there are 32 sites or locations presently on a consideration list. One preserve; the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve protects the habitat of approximately 70 percent of the wintering monarch butterflies’ eastern population.
Unfortunately, the media mostly covers news of large ecological destruction, like the bulldozing and slash and burning of the Brazilian rainforest. Mexico and other countries in Central America where population growth, poverty and the need for natural resources challenge conservation efforts, rarely make a bleep on the radar screen of the rest of the world.
The importance of maintaining ecologically sensitive areas is particularly important as we face the daunting prospect of global warming. Nature and the environment have always had a way of balancing themselves out, to make a wrong, right.
If we neglect nature and interfere with this sensitive balance, we might not even live to regret it. The Mexican government, the U.S. and the United Nations, should work together to help develop a strategic plan to conserve the sensitive ecology of Mexico and Central America.