In a move that will protect thousands of ocean creatures, the Mexican government has created the largest marine reserve in North America. At a time when Donald Trump is considering downsizing two marine national monuments – the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll – this is welcome news.
The protected area will be vast, covering a massive 150,000 square kilometers (58,000 square miles) of ocean. It will surround the Revillagigedo Islands, a group of four volcanic islands in the Pacific. Famed for their unique ecosystem, they are often referred to as the “Galapagos of North America". They are located 390 kilometers (242 miles) southwest of the Baja California peninsula.
Enrique Peña Nieto, the president of Mexico, announced the news on Friday, saying that the government was reaffirming its “commitment to the preservation of the heritage of Mexico and the world”.
Human activities like mining and constructing hotels will be banned, as will fishing. This is important because the area provides breeding grounds for commercially fished species, like tuna, which have been decimated in recent years due to overfishing. Staying protected in this new reserve will hopefully allow their numbers to recover somewhat.
The marine world has suffered hugely in recent decades, subjected to pressures like plastic pollution, boat noise, coral bleaching, and oil spills, and it appears that no part of the sea is safe from human impact. Now, the species living in the newly protected area should face fewer dangers than before.
Marine protected areas are often criticized due to lack of enforcement, but the new reserve will be policed by the Mexican navy to prevent activities like illegal fishing from taking place. The new reserve is a bold decision by the Mexican government, as it faced much opposition from the commercial fishing industry.
The Revillagigedo Islands ecosystem is home to around 400 species of fish, rays, and sharks. As they are located where two currents converge, they are important for open-water and migratory animals, like the 2,000 humpback whales that visit the islands each year. Meanwhile, the islands and surrounding seas sustain many other species like turtles, lizards, and migratory birds.
Mario Gómez, executive director of Mexican environmental charity Beta Diversidad, told The Guardian: “We are proud of the protection we will provide to marine life in this area, and for the preservation of this important center of connectivity of species migrating throughout the Pacific.”
Along with countries like Chile, which set up a huge marine reserve back in 2015, Mexico is setting an example to the rest of the world, highlighting the importance of maintaining our ocean ecosystems before it is too late.
[H/T: The Guardian]