Think of an aquatic habitat as far away from the deep-sea as you can get without coming up on land, and we will find a connection to the deep-sea. River rock = settlement substrate. Kelp forest = urchin food. Beaches = spawning grounds for tuna food. Mangroves = seafood … food.
Bumper stickers in the Carolinas say it best – “no wetlands, no seafood.”
Now imagine for one moment that you actually depend on the ocean for your daily meal. That you couldn’t go to the grocery store, or even a restaurant, for seafood. And, it’s getting harder and harder to find your seafood. That’s the story I want to tell you. It begins in the mangroves, but reaches into the deep-sea.
Local fishermen in Baja California Sur and the mainland Gulf states of Sonora, Sinaloa and Nayarit in Mexico average hauls of 10,500 tons of fish and blue crab, worth US$19 million per year, with all landings combined. One third of the species caught by these small-scale fisheries in the Gulf of California rely on mangroves as a habitat (Aburto-Oropeza 2008). The mangroves are disappearing over the last two decades to make way economic growth and development.
The problem is – mangrove habitat is undervalued. The going rate for a hectare of mangroves in Mexico is US$1000 per hectare. But seafood from the mangroves is worth a median value of $37,000 per hectare, and more than $600,000 over 30 years, according to an economic valuation of mangrove habitat published in PNAS (Aburto-Oropeza 2008).
So, in essence, the Mexican government is selling out future generations. The study also found a positive relationship between fisheries landings and mangrove area (Aburto-Oropeza 2008). If the region is developed while mangroves are sacrificed, and the population grows, there may not be enough seafood to feed the people. Economic growth without mangroves, the study argues, is not sustainable.
Early last year, Mexico enacted a new law outlawing mangrove destruction that was designed to prevent a repeat of past catastrophes. In the La Paz region near the tip of Baja California, for example, 23% of the mangroves were wiped out between 1973 and 1981. Magdalena Bay is the largest mangrove forest in Baja California, and on the lower Pacific coast, but according to local activist Julio Solis, this jewel of a wetland is under immediate threat. A huge development is planned for the bay that spawns fish for the entire West Coast.
Magdalena Bay is important nursery habitat for highly migratory species like gray whales and humpback whales, and provides food for blue whale, striped marlin, yellowfin tuna, and billfish. Endangered green, hawksbill, olive ridley and loggerhead sea turtles come to the bay to feed, and a wide variety of birds, among them migratory and threatened species, find their way there, including brown pelicans, magnificent frigates, and bald eagles to name a few. Magdalena Bay comprises one of the most important wetland ecosystems on the Pacific coast of North America. It pushes resources off shore 200km and more in filaments, upwellings, and meanders. Now, the Bay is experiencing development pressure.
Fortunately, the Bay has an environmental champion in Julio Solis, who recently founded Magdalena Baykeeper, an organization he calls “the Vigilantes de Bahia Magdalena“. Julio started his environmental career as a panguero at the School for Coastal Studies, but now he is known as an eco-daredevil, literally called “the Han Solo of pangueros“. Once a month he gets behind the wheel of his RX-7 with a 454 under the hood, vying for first place in the regional dirt track drag race circuit. He says “I’m still a rebel, but now I’m a rebel for conservation.”
J Nichols works in the region tagging and tracking sea turtles. He says Solis’ work has resulted in the cancellation of one mangrove-leveling resort development plan, and he’s personally responsible for more sea turtles in the bay.
“Julio has the knowledge of a fisherman turned activist. But he must have learned his fearlessness from drag-racing. He faces down the developers and the corrupt officials as he fights for sea turtles and mangroves in his bay. He knows it’s about sustaining the economy his town is built on, and he’s leading the country to a greener future.”
Like others in the Ocean Revolution, Julio Solis is an eco-daredevil, turning the world around one sea turtle and one fisherman at a time. We gotta get this guy behind the wheel of a submarine sometime.
Aburto-Oropeza, O., Ezcurra, E., Danemann, G., Valdez, V., Murray, J., Sala, E. (2008). Mangroves in the Gulf of California increase fishery yields. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(30), 10456-10459. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0804601105 Open access.