Northeastern Yucatan Peninsula

Leaving a Legacy for Future Generations

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The northeastern Yucatan Peninsula—stretching across 500,000 hectares of dry and moist forests, wetlands, coastal lagoons and sand dunes—is the first stop for millions of migratory birds crossing the Gulf of Mexico. The region is home to 407 bird species (49 of which are endangered) and 123 mammal species, including jaguar, Baird’s tapir, anteater, howler monkey, ocelot, tigrillo, manatee and the northern tamandua, or collared anteater.

The forests, wetlands and mangroves here store thousands of tons of carbon dioxide, and the area provides water to Cancun and future developments in Isla Mujeres, Chiquila and Isla Holbox.

Non-timber products—such as chicle, palm leaves, firewood, charcoal and organic honey—add value to these forests as well.

A Region Under Threat

But a rapidly growing population and real estate and infrastructure projects are reducing the amount of forest cover, creating barriers to wildlife and polluting the underground water supply. In addition, catastrophic wildfires often follow on the heels of tree-toppling hurricanes, both of which are exacerbated by climate change and hot, dry season peaking from March to May.

What the Conservancy Has Done

The Conservancy and Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatan (PPY) purchased a 2,400-hectare property—El Zapotal—containing dry and humid forest, savannas and wetlands. The property is key to reducing pressure to change land uses and provides a platform for working with local landowners and communities whose vision and practices have changed over time.

The Conservancy and PPY have helped local communities obtain annual funding from the National Forestry Commission of more than $1,000,000 to manage and protect their lands, as well as federal funds to train and equip fire brigades to build and maintain 250km of fire breaks annually. The Conservancy also supported coordination among federal, state, and municipal agencies and private land owners to address fire management.

At a larger scale, TNC and PPY led a comprehensive conservation action planning process for the northeastern Yucatan Peninsula with the participation of local agencies and communities. And the Conservancy helped form an environmental alliance for the Yucatan Peninsula (abbreviated as AAPY in Spanish) with local partners PPY, Amigos de Sian Ka’an, the National Protected Areas Commission, NIños y Crias, and El Eden.

Current Conservation Strategies

The Conservancy and partners are now focused on developing a mosaic of land uses compatible with conservation to preserve habitat not only for plants and animals, but also for local people who count on nature to provide clean water, clean air, croplands and livelihoods. AAPY is pursuing the following strategies:

  • Establishing private reserves through land purchase and local partner management, including a 4,000-hectare property owned by PPY.
  • Promoting conservation easements and land use limitations on ejido (communal) land, private property and real estate developments using voluntary conservation incentives such as tax breaks, a conservation compensation fund generated from Cancun water user fees, funding from the National Forestry Commission and other financial mechanisms.
  • Promoting ejido land conservation by helping partners and ejidos access federal funding to manage their forests and implement fire management activities such as fire breaks on nearly 10,000 hectares. 
  • Promoting the establishment of a formal protected area covering 25,000 hectares of wetlands and associated forest near Isla Mujeres.
  • Monitoring birds and wildlife on the El Zapotal reserve (home to 65 migratory bird species and 157 residents, with  110 of those species breeding in the area) and using trip cameras to detect large mammals in the reserve and surrounding ejidos and properties.


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