On 7 December 2016, during the 13th Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP13) held in Cancún, the Mexican Government designated three new MPAs totaling 647,015 km2. All three sites are multiple-use biosphere reserves, with some zones that are strictly protected (no-take) and others that are sustainably managed.
The Baja CaliforniaPacific Islands Biosphere Reserve, covering 11,612 km2, was designated off the west coast of the Baja California Peninsula. After an 11-year multi-stakeholder consultation and negotiation process, this new biosphere reserve represents a substantial effort to protect Mexico´s largest gap in island conservation through multiple-use zoning. The zoning covers not only islands (701 km2) but also a large portion of their surrounding waters (10,911 km2). These waters are critical both to an array of sea life (fish, marine mammals, seabirds) and to fishing cooperatives who depend on local fishing grounds for their livelihoods.
Zoning includes 17 strictly protected core zones: 16 of them are terrestrial while the one marine core zone covers 0.8 km2. Multiple-use buffer zones cover nearly all the rest of the MPA. In these buffer zones, important commercial fisheries will be allowed to continue for lobster (Panulirus spp.), abalone (Haliotis spp.) and sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus spp.).
The new biosphere reserve includes six archipelagos: Coronado, Todos Santos, San Jerónimo, San Benito, Cedros and Bahía Magdalena, comprising a total of 21 islands and 97 islets. While all of the islands host important bird colonies, the San Benito Islands have the greatest abundance of seabirds in the entire Eastern Pacific Ocean: more than 2 million birds of 13 different species congregate annually to breed there. Northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) and Guadalupe fur seals (Arctocephalus townsendi) have also naturally recolonized San Benito East Island.
New MPAs in a time of budgetary constraints
Concerns have been voiced that more than tripling Mexico´s protected area coverage at a time of serious budgetary constraints for management will drain resources for existing protected areas. Some have suggested this indicates these MPAs were created only in order for Mexico to meet Aichi Target 11.
However, while the national budgetary crisis is certainly real and worrisome, it should be noted that only the Baja California Pacific Islands and the coastal portion of the Mexican Caribbean biosphere reserves will require immediate on-the-water management efforts. Currently protecting the deep-sea portions of them will only require focusing existing surveillance activities of the EEZ by the Mexican Navy and a relatively small increase in administrative tasks — since no public or private stakeholders currently use resources from these deep zones. Precisely this situation is what makes their establishment more than timely. Why wait for conflicts to emerge in order to create MPAs?
It is encouraging to see Mexico adopt measures that will protect the deep ocean. These measures are implementing United Nations General Assembly resolutions on deep-sea protection, such as Resolution 61/105, and support similar measures taken by the European Union, individual countries, and regional fisheries management organizations around the world.