Gulf of California
The Empty Aquarium: the Sea of Cortez is running out of fish
The seas surrounding the Baja California Peninsula are among the richest on Earth.
Its abundant fisheries, including shrimp, squid, tuna, and sardines constitute 70% of
the country’s annual catch making it Mexico’s most important fisheries region. These
resources are the engine for the region’s economic growth and a key source of income,
food and livelihoods for nearly 10 million people. The region’s fisheries provide
employment for 88,000 people, and contribute $400 million to Mexico’s economy
Although commercial fishing and tourism bring substantial revenues, they are also
the region’s greatest challenge. Overharvest and use of destructive fishing gear have
contributed to declines in fisheries. Unsustainable coastal development pollutes
and depletes water resources and destroys habitat. For example, it is estimated that
the loss of one hectare of mangrove results in an annual loss of $37,500 in fisheries
A Groundbreaking Approach
Nearly all conservation efforts to date have been organized around individual sites or
narrowly defined strategies, lacking an overarching vision for the region as a whole.
In 2012, the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature (FMCN) and The Nature
Conservancy (TNC) launched the Baja Marine Initiative (BMI), which builds upon
six high leverage strategies that will create the enabling conditions to help bring
10 million hectares under protection in the next decade, doubling the
existing conservation and fisheries management areas.
Solutions for Broader Impact
Increased Resources. In order to permanently conserve the region’s marine treasures,
it is necessary to mobilize the political will and leverage significant private and
public resources. Government funding needs to be redirected and aligned towards
more effective and coordinated investments. We anticipate that a FMCN-TNC
investment of $65 million over ten years will complement approximately $200 million
in public investments to protect resources and increase fisheries productivity in the
Strong Local Partners. In many parts of the region, strong and successful local
partners are in place. In others, especially Sinaloa and Nayarit, there is limited local
capacity. A 5-year Regional Capacity Building Program is being developed that will
strengthen the individual, institutional and social capacity of local partners.
The Right Policies. Mexico has already enacted a range of policy tools to manage
marine and coastal resources. However, some have not been tested or applied
effectively. We will work with the three levels of government to expand the use of
instruments that have worked well, as well as test and improve the functionality of
those that have not been effective.
Proving it works. During the design phase of BMI we collaborated closely with the
Mexican government, academia, and conservation partners to identify priorities for
conservation in this region based on sound science. We will support the work of our
local partners at 9-12 proof of concept sites where we will test the application of
conservation, spatial planning and fisheries management tools, as well as measure
how protecting habitat increases fisheries and benefits livelihoods.
An Aware Public. An important aspect of BMI will be to increase public awareness
regarding the economic value of saving this sea’s bounty, primarily among politicians
and the private sector (tourism and fisheries). We will work in close collaboration
with marine scientists, film producers, graphic designers, and advertising and public
relations companies on videos and publications that highlight the region’s importance.
Regional Cooperation. Since its inception, BMI has incorporated the views of a wide
array of stakeholders. Throughout the life of the project we expect to continue with
a participatory approach to foster communication and collaboration. We will help facilitate
cooperation at the regional level by establishing mechanisms that ensure that
resources coming into the region are aligned and used efficiently by skilled organizations,
and best practices are shared among key stakeholders in order to increase
efficiency, accelerate replication, and leverage resources.
Envisioning the Future
While there is still time, while large areas remain pristine, and while there is still a
chance to rebuild fish stocks and prevent further loss it is critical to act now to
assure that the region’s ocean bounty will be sustained. Working with local
communities to sustain their resources for present and future generations, we can
create solutions that work not only in this part of Mexico, but can later be replicated
in the rest of the country, and other parts of the world as well.