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 Mexican Caribbean Biosphere Reserve, a 57,541-km2 MPA of which nearly all is marine (57,255 km2), was designated off the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in the Caribbean Sea. Designation followed an intensive seven-month public consultation process, mainly involving stakeholders from the fisheries and tourism sectors. This biosphere reserve, together with the marine portions of 12 other preexisting federal MPAs, integrates a 63,825-km2 marine protection and sustainable use complex, including nearly half the length of the 1000-km Mesoamerican Reef, the largest reef system in the Western Hemisphere. Coral reefs, coastal wetlands, and deep-sea habitats will be permanently conserved and sustainably managed within this multi-use MPA.
Zoning includes three strictly protected core zones covering 19,326 km2, of which 100 km2 corresponds to coastal habitats and 19,226 km2 to the deep-sea marine area. The deep-sea zoning starts 100 meters below sea level and extends to the sea floor; fishing and mining activities are not permitted in this zone. A 38,214-km2 multiple-use buffer zone will allow important commercial fisheries for spiny lobster (Panulirusargus), queen conch (Strombus gigas), shrimp (Sicyonia brevirostris, Farfantepenaeus spp.) and finfish species. Regionally important tourism activities — including snorkeling and diving on coral reefs, sport fishing, and viewing of aggregations of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) and cownose rays (Rhinoptera bonasus) — will also be allowed. Bottom trawling for shrimp will be authorized in a limited area in the northeastern portion of the continental shelf. Mining of minerals is prohibited throughout the MPA. (As a result of Mexico’s 2014 Energy Reform, exploration and extraction of oil is not permitted in any Mexican protected area.)
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.