Mangroves in Mexico: Fisherwomen want to save the ecosystem

Status: 04.11.2021 2:39 p.m.

Mangrove forests are a valuable weapon against climate change – they store more CO2 than rainforests. But in Mexico, pesticides and construction projects are damaging the ecosystem. The existence of the fishing families there is also threatened.

By Anne Demmer, ARD Studio Mexico City

Mangroves line the Pastoría Lagoon in Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. The thick, branched roots protrude from the green-brown water. Christina Arellanes steers her motorboat into a narrow canal. The mangrove trees form a tunnel in front of her.

She goes out fishing up to three times a week. “Mangroves mean life to us, they ensure that we have food,” she says. The roots are buried deep in the ground and offer protection for the fish, crocodiles, shrimp, but also for the birds that build their nests there.

Mangroves are actually resilient. They grow where the conditions are deadly for ordinary trees: where the salt water mixes with fresh water. 20 years ago the lagoon and the mangrove forest were still completely intact. More than 2000 families lived from fishing in the region.

The dense network of roots also offers protection against storm surges.

Image: ard-mexico

A year of work to uncover the canal

But pesticides from farmers’ fields by the lagoon have polluted the water. In addition, an entrance to the sea and another channel to another lagoon are blocked, which prevents the inflow of fresh water. “Tons of fish died in 2017. There was almost no life,” said Arellanes.

She has formed a collective with women from her village. The aim is to protect the mangroves because they secure their existence. It took the fisher women over a year to uncover the clogged channel between the lagoons. Meter by meter they removed sand and removed dead mangroves.

Effects on animals

In addition, illegal logging is a problem, says Arellanes when she points to the bank. “The people here cut down the trees, not only to build their own houses, but also to sell them.” And that has an impact on the animals, the creatures of the lagoon.

“People are not even aware of how worth protecting the mangroves. Because the loss of every tree also means the loss of part of the lagoon,” she says.

Christina Arellanes works with other fisher women to protect the mangroves.

Image: ard-mexico

Area is protected – actually

There are no fish without mangroves. Actually, it is an area that falls under the international Ramsa agreement, which is supposed to protect wetlands, explains the mangrove expert at the Mexican research institute Cinvestav, Jorge Herrera.

Mangroves are protected by law, he explains. But since environmental crimes are not considered serious, there are also many international companies that have built over the mangroves or come very close to the forests. “Sooner or later this will have an impact on their existence,” says the scientist. But the greatest danger would be hotels that are being built near them.

Inventory reduced by a third

According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are still 14 million hectares of mangrove forest worldwide. The population has decreased by more than a third since the 1980s. Globally, their area is shrinking three to five times faster than that of the forest as a whole.

The mangroves are not just important ecosystems. As a result of climate change, Mexico is also increasingly suffering from the effects of cyclones. The mangroves are an important protective barrier in the hurricane season. They also store more CO2 per hectare than rainforests in the tropics.

For the mangrove expert Herrera, there is hope if action is taken immediately. “The mangroves are a very generous ecosystem. If you help it regenerate, it reacts very quickly.”

The Mangrove Protectors – Climate Summit in Glasgow

Anne Demmer, ARD Mexico City, November 4, 2021 1:26 p.m.

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