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Bisbees Conservation Journal Q2 2015

When the flow of fresh water is disrupted by manmade activities such as construction of a road to a fishing village or a dike to support a shrimp farm, the wetlands can be cut off from their supply of fresh water. Rain alone cannot replace the natural flow of fresh water necessary to sustain the coastal wetlands, and high salinity saltwater encroaches farther into the wetlands. Exposed to higher salinities, mangroves first attempt to physiologically adapt, but eventually begin to suffer and eventually die. As the mangroves die so too do the other plants in the system. As the ecosystem is degraded, it can then no longer support the fish and wildlife species that depend on the habitat. A seemingly simple solution would be to construct roads with sufficient culverts and other water management structures to allow for the continued interchange of water. But in a country short on funding for economic development and basic necessities in many areas, such a straight-forward solution is often compromised by the shortage of resources and the need for expediency. After all, what’s more important? Building a road to improve economic opportunities for a small fishing village, or maintaining the integrity of the mangrove ecosystems? Constructing a new seaside resort which brings much needed jobs to an area, or ensuring wintering grounds for migrating waterfowl? The answer, of course, is that both economic development and habitat preservation are necessary and desirable. Expediency may be cheaper than sustainability in the short term, but it is far more costly over time. We have been exposed to this lesson throughout North America as the benefits of development 56 BISBEE’S CONSERVATION JOURNAL Q2 • 2015 have been weighed against the costs to the environment. But nowhere is this issue more critical than in Mexico. As we learned from Eduardo and DUMAC Assistant Director Gabriela de la Fuente, about 45% of the mangrove wetlands in Mexico are threatened by development. The short term impact is loss of habitat. The longer term impacts include reduction of species diversity and biomass critical to carbon sequestration and mitigation of climate change, for example. Moreover, destruction of the mangroves has a significant impact on commercial and sport fishing. Nearly 80% of the commercial catch is taken just off shore, and the intertwined and ropy prop roots of the mangrove forests are ideal nursery habitat for many species of fish and shellfish caught both commercially and for sport. On the average, each acre of mangroves is ultimately responsible for producing over 700 pounds of seafood each year. As members of our group discussed over cocktails under the palapa of the Walker Center, the irony is that the very types of development that are so desperately needed in Mexico to boost quality of life and economic opportunity can damage the fragile habitats upon which other economic endeavors depend. The question is how to balance economic necessity with habitat conservation. Our discussion that evening focused on the ongoing challenge faced by organizations like DUMAC: how to conserve habitat in a country with more pressing social and economic challenges like poverty, unemployment, corruption and drug cartels. Is it possible for an organization like DUMAC to make a significant difference? The answer is yes, as evinced by the success DUMAC has had promoting environmental education, building professional capacity in habitat management, increasing environmental research capabilities within the country, and influencing public policy. A fundamental principle of DUMAC is to involve local officials and communities in executing its conservation mission. DUMAC’s educational programs are a case in point. For 25 years the RESERVA Training Course on Natural Resources Conservation has been training professionals from throughout Mexico, Latin and South America, and the Caribbean in strategies that improve natural resource conservation throughout the region. Environmental Education Workshops teach teachers about wetlands conservation so that they can pass such knowledge along to young people through school programs. Waterfowl and Wetlands Workshops engage professionals from federal, state and municipal agencies in dialogue and problem solving around wetland and waterfowl management strategies. Importantly, on our field trip to the Dzinitun wetlands area within the Ria Celestún Biosphere Reserve, we viewed for ourselves in a distinctly hands-on fashion the impact of


Bisbees Conservation Journal Q2 2015
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