By: Eric Gustafson, MBA, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Gulf of Mexico Foundation, Mexico Cuauhtemoc Leon, Ph.D., Co-Founder and Technical Director, Gulf of Mexico Foundation, Mexico
Mangroves are one of the most valuable tropical ecosystems worldwide because they offer numerous ecosystem services that allow sustainable fisheries production, community development, and coastal protection against the types of meteorological events that will be increased by climate change (storm surge, sea level rise, coastal erosion, and floods, among others).
Mangroves are Ecologically and Economically Important Ecosystems
- Nourish coastal fisheries: Mangroves are more productive than coastal and offshore fisheries.
- Reduce the impact of floods and protect coastal communities: Found at the interface between land and sea, mangroves function like buffer zones, protecting coastal communities from the full force of weather related events, such as storm surges, floods and cyclones, and by damping wave action.
- Promote connectivity: Mangroves play an important role in chemical, physical, and biological connectivity with other coastal ecosystems such as seagrasses and coral reefs.
- Offer wood products for local communities.
- Trap sediments and filter water: Function as large filters to extract pollutants, excess nutrients, and sediments carried from municipal and industrial wastewater inland and storm water runoff.
- Are one of the most carbon-rich ecosystems in the world: Mangroves stock high amounts of carbon, three times higher than terrestrial ecosystems.
- Provide cultural and recreational services.
Even though they are of major importance for human sustenance, mangroves are one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world and have among the highest rates of deforestation. The world lost 192,000 hectares (474,000 acres) of mangroves from 2001 to 2012, a total loss of 1.38 percent since 2000 (or 0.13 percent annually)<sup>1</sup>.
Eric Gustafson (Executive Director, Gulf of Mexico Foundation, Mexico) informs the community around Nichupte about a project to eradicate an invasive species (Casuarina equisetifolia) impacting mangroves. A major aspect of each project was increasing community awareness of mangrove ecology, function, their value to communities, and the threats they face.
Mexico is among the four countries with the largest mangrove surfaces in the world, but it also has one of the highest mangrove loss rates<sup>2</sup>. Connectivity between these ecosystems is almost inexistent. As of 2010, Mexico had an estimated 770,057 hectares of mangroves, with 66% located along the Atlantic coast and 34% along the Pacific coast. The annual rate of loss in mangrove area between 1976 and 2000 was between 1% and 2.8%, with an estimate of 1.84% for Yucatan<sup>3</sup>.
Disregarding the important loss of mangroves and its direct impact on coastal livelihoods, Mexico has showed little progress towards reverting human impacts on mangrove ecosystems<sup>4</sup>.
There is a significant coastal lagoon deterioration rate at all scales, recognized by federal authorities; and designating protected areas is not enough to stop this trend. Previous research stated that the costs to successfully restore the vegetation cover and ecological functions of mangrove ecosystems range between USD$3,000 to USD$510,000 per hectare5, amounts that imply great obstacles for Mexico.
Mexico’s National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO) declared 81 coastal lagoons with mangrove priority sites to be restored and protected, including the Alvarado, Veracruz Lagoon system, pictured.
Currently, Mexico does not have any federal or state policies (or programs) devoted to restore mangroves, and restoration lacks a long-term national policy that copes with the level of mangrove ecosystem affectation. Moreover, there is a lack of in-country technicians, policies, and legal instruments for mangrove restoration.
In the past few years, the National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO) declared 81 coastal lagoons with mangrove priority sites to be restored and protected. Of those 81 priority sites, 10 correspond to the North Pacific region, 6 to the Central Pacific, 13 to the South Pacific, 27 to the Gulf of Mexico, and 25 to the Yucatan Peninsula. Some of them were chosen for the restoration efforts described in this article.
There have been important local initiatives in the last 10 years, with academia and non-profit organizations developing various mangrove, dune, and coral reef restoration techniques, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico. These initiatives have succeeded in many ways, particularly in establishing collaboration with fishing communities, farmers, and cattle ranchers. Unfortunately, there has been little collaboration between these initiatives and their successes have been poorly documented. Moreover, they face continuous funding challenges. These experiences deserve recognition and support, having overcome the social, cultural, and ecological challenges; and ultimately achieving successful mangrove restoration.
The economic and social challenges associated with tackling deterioration processes are substantial. Acknowledging this, the Gulf of Mexico Foundation— under Dr. Quenton Dokken’s leadership—has pursued transboundary collaboration and systemic approaches. The Gulf of Mexico Foundation, Inc. and Gulf of Mexico Foundation, Mexico have joined forces to come up with a tangible solution amid the complexity of problems affecting Mexican coastal biodiversity. This endeavor has brought together capable practitioners to implement restoration projects and develop successful stories to find long-term solutions for mangrove ecosystems in Mexico. During 2015, the Gulf of Mexico Foundation, Mexico carried out the major project “Mangrove Restoration in Key Mexican Coastal Lagoons at the Gulf of Mexico,” striving to reinstate one of the most valuable ecosystems worldwide—one of central value to ecological balance and human sustenance— in the country with the fourth-largest mangrove surface in the world… where it is unfortunately being lost at an alarming rate.
Our team of experienced mangrove restoration experts worked in four coastal lagoons located in the Mexican Gulf States of Veracruz, Campeche, and Quintana Roo.
Each site has unique environmental conditions and threats to mangrove ecosystems, and our experts employed distinct restoration techniques at each location, directly restoring 33 hectares (81.54 acres) of mangrove habitat and benefiting 150 hectares (370.66 acres) of additional mangrove habitat.
Each site had unique environmental conditions and threats to mangrove ecosystems. At Petenes, workers constructed channels to restore the hydrology of an area formerly populated with mangroves.
Through this project, we are augmenting ongoing mangrove restoration efforts in Mexico; enhancing capacity and capabilities among restoration practitioners to execute successful mangrove projects; increasing local community awareness of mangrove ecology, function, their value to communities, and the threats they face; and furthering the collaboration and communication on habitat restoration between Mexico and the United States. Our work was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Gulf of Mexico Program. Project details for restoration activities conducted at each site follow.
For the Alvarado, Veracruz Lagoon System project, 19 of the 22 people who worked on the production of plants and construction of chinampas and are now conducting monitoring are residents of local communities.
State of Veracruz, Mexico Alvarado, Veracruz Lagoon System – Chinampa Restoration Technique (Floating Islands)
Local Project Partner: Pronatura Mexico –Veracruz (NGO)
An area of 1.79 hectares (4.42 acres) was successfully reforested at Reserva Los Canates Nature Reserve with 1,880 plants of red, white, and black mangroves grown on 418 chinampas. A chinampa (floating island) is an old technique used by the Aztecs to grow vegetables in freshwater lagoons or flooding areas. This technique consists of a structure made of bamboo, iron, or another material and, on placement in the restoration area, the seedlings will settle and root with a high survival rate. This structure contains mud, and the trees are planted in it. This technique was developed for use in places that are continuously inundated since seeds do not grow if they are permanently covered by water.
Out of the 22 people who worked on the production of plants and construction of chinampas and are now conducting monitoring, 19 are residents of the San Antonio and La Nueva Reforma local communities. By hiring members of the surrounding communities, we are expanding the social impact of Gulf of Mexico Foundation, Mexico projects in numerous ways—in this case by providing the inherent benefits derived from mangrove restoration, adding jobs to the employment sector, and allowing for hands-on training on environmental restoration and practical education on the value of preserving mangrove, which is then transmitted throughout these communities and leads to a sustainable interaction between them and mangroves in the future.
In addition, our partner Pronatura Veracruz shows the work that has been conducted as part of this project to participants in their annual Diplomado de Restauracion de Manglares (Mangrove Restoration Seminar), teaching the chinampa mangrove restoration technique and using it as educational material for current and future mangrove restoration specialists in Mexico and other Latin American countries.
Tuxpan –Addressing Hydrological Flux
Local Project Partner: INECOL
In the Tampamachoco lagoon, three embankments where high voltage electrical towers are located interrupt the flow of water. As water has become impounded and evaporated between powerline embankments, the lagoon’s saline content has increased dramatically to more than 100 ppt, which is outside the tolerance range for mangroves; ultimately leading to the massive death of mangroves in a 40-hectare (98.84-acre) area.
Jorge Lopez-Portillo and Ana Lara, INECOL, conduct regular monitoring within the coastal lagoon at Tuxpan.
By opening waterways along the embankments and allowing water to flow again, there is a significant probability of natural restoration due to highly efficient propagule dispersal from surrounding mangrove communities. However, chronic accumulation of salt in deep layers of soil indicates that flushing out salts through restored water flux may take several years.
Although the rate of mortality of mangroves in this area has likely decreased somewhat in the last couple of years, there is evidence that it is still going on. Long-term monitoring will allow us to better understand the ecological and physiological processes that have occurred with the hydrological restoration.
Restoration activities in the mangrove system have been carried out since February 2011. All the advances made are toward the rehabilitation of the hydraulic system, which was interrupted for 29 years.
This Gulf of Mexico Foundation, Mexico project allowed for the excavation of channels in the northern embankment. The width of the five excavated channels was approximately 5.5 m, and now they have have approximately 12. 4 m (each channel is on average 76 m long and 40 cm deep). Furthermore, the project allowed for monthly monitoring of water level and physicochemical parameters of water within piezometers and outside at the root and flooding levels. Monitoring activities also include monthly collection of mangrove litterfall, an indicator of primary productivity in both the deteriorated area and the preserved area.
Mean salinity in the 300-hectare (741.32-acre) study site decreased at a faster pace after the expansion of the channels, with a positive effect on its natural rehabilitation. More propagules and seedlings now settle and survive in a more appropriate substrate. The natural reforestation is progressing from the edges of the mangrove toward the center of the chronically affected and dead areas.
A case study pertaining to this project and to other work conducted at the site since 2011 is presented in the Online Restoration of Ecosystems and Environmental Services Post-graduate Program taught by the International Foundation for the Restoration of Ecosystems of the Instituto de Ecologia, A.C. (INECOL) and the Colegio de la Frontera Sur, a sister institution. In addition, the topic was presented in the Center for Scientific Investigation and Higher Education of Ensenada (CICESE for its acronym in Spanish) in the Science of Life Post-graduate Program.
Forestation with red mangrove propagules during the hydrological restoration of mangrove of Petenes.
State of Campeche, Mexico Petenes –Hydrological Restoration of Mangroves
Local Project Partner: Autonomous University of Campeche
The Autonomous University of Campeche is restoring the hydrology of an area formerly populated with mangroves within the Petenes and Celestun Biosphere Reserves, obtaining resources from different organizations.
The Gulf of Mexico Foundation, Mexico supported the restoration of a 10-hectare (24.71-acre) site—reforested with seedlings (formally named propagules) of red and black mangroves—and the digging of two artificial channels to rehabilitate hydrology, benefiting 150 hectares (370. 66 acres). This forms part of a total restoration area encompassing 600 hectares (1,482.63 acres).
The channels are restoring hydrology to an area where natural propagation should occur over the next several years. Extensive and healthy mangrove forests exist near-by and will be the natural source of the seedlings. As a result of hydrological rehabilitation, natural regeneration of more than 75% has taken place in the entire restoration area; 98% represented by black mangrove propagules, 1% by red mangrove propagules, and 1% by white mangrove propagules, with a 90% survival rate. The increased vegetative cover resulting from this natural regeneration has allowed the reintegration of ichthyofauna, crocodiles, crustaceans (crab and shrimp), and endemic and migratory birds.
Dzotzil, Hecelchakan, Chunkanan, and Pomuch communities (approximately 80 people) aided the project from the beginning through their hard work. The communities were involved in dredging, transporting, and building the infrastructure and received training in the monitoring techniques employed. They were also exposed to and educated in mangrove ecology, importance, and threats.
Public Outreach and Education
Project results are communicated through conferences, including State of Campeche: Mangrove Conservation and Restoration Panorama at ECOSUR Research Institution; an environmental restoration course within the Chemical Biological Department of the Autonomous University of Campeche; and a keynote address on mangrove restoration invited by CONAFOR (Mexican Forestry Commission), among others.
At Petenes, increased vegetative cover allowed the reintegration of ichthyofauna, crocodiles, crustaceans, and endemic and migratory birds.
State of Quintana Roo, Mexico Nichupte Lagoon System
Local Project Partners: Flora Fauna y Cultura de Mexico, National Commission of Protected Areas (CONANP)
Within the Manglares de Nichupte Federal Protected Area is a 25.1-hectare (62.02-acre) island that historically had been populated with mangroves. While healthy mangroves still covered most of the island, about 7.6 hectares (18. 78 acres) of it was infested with an invasive species (Casuarina equisetifolia) that excluded the mangroves progressively as it spread. This invasive species disseminated within the Federal Protected Area and its area of influence, particularly Tajamar.
The invasive species was removed from the core of the infested area within the island. At Tajamar, where our efforts were concentrated, Casuarina equisetifolia was removed from 1.2 hectares (2.97 acres) of buttonwood mangrove, thatch palm, chaca, and seagrape habitat; 669 trees of the invasive species were extracted with diameters ranging from 2 cm (0.79 in.) To 186 cm (73.23 in.). In addition, 40 m³ (1,412.59 ft³) of plant material (logs, roots, branches, seeds) were removed and sent to the Leona Vicario community for their use.
A backhoe at work during the expansion of channels to address hydrological flux at Tuxpan.
During project execution, the risks of the invasive species to biodiversity in the area and the importance of its removal were emphasized to all stakeholders. Community workers, as well as society in general, were informed of the results of the work done. Monitoring carried out in the area where Casuarina equisetifolia was eradicated shows no growth of this invasive species.
The workers hired from Leona Vicario were fully involved in the project, from training through monitoring. By understanding their job well, they became committed to its implementation. As a result, they shared their newly gained knowledge and became key to communicating the objectives and benefits of mangrove conservation and restoration.
Success is not measured through the propogation of mangroves alone, the recovery of endemic species is also a key indication.
Public Outreach and Education
In addition to the physical removal of the invasive species and subsequent monitoring of the area, our project also involved an important communication campaign, which included an interview with local TV Azteca Company (www.aztecanoticias.com.mx/capitulos/estados/183664/vid eo-cientos-de-arboles-son-exterminados) and a special appearance on their program Hechos Meridiano, State of Quintana Roo; notes published in top newspapers Diario de Yucatan and Por Esto, State of Yucatan; an entire page published in the Por Esto newspaper, Quintana Roo (www.poresto.net/ver_nota.php?zona=qroo&idSeccion=15 &idTitulo=405680); and an educational campaign for children of the Leona Vicario community and relatives of workers involved in the project.
2 Calderon Ciro, O. Aburto y E. Ezcurra. 2009. El valor de los manglares. CONABIO Biodiversitas 82: 1-6. Available in: www.biodiversidad.gob.mx/Biodiversitas/Articulos/biodiv82art1.pdf
3 Zaldivar-Jimenez, M.A., J. A. Herrera-Silveira, C, Teutli-Hernandez, F. A. Comin, J. L. Andrade, C. Coronado Molina and R. Perez Ceballos. 2010. Conceptual Framework for Mangrove Restoration in the Yucatan Peninsula. Ecological Restoration Vol. 28, No. 3.
4 Agraz. C.M. y V. Arriaga. Restauracion de los Mangles en la Laguna de Terminos. En: Carabias, Julia, et al. (coords.), 2010. Patrimonio natural de Mexico. Cien casos de exito. Mexico, Comision Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad.
5 Calderon Ciro, O. Aburto y E. Ezcurra. 2009. Op cit.
Videos about all four projects can be viewed at www.gulfmex.org/news-media/video/.