Mexico takes action to protect its wetlands from unsustainable development


AIDA and the members of the National Wetlands Committee have won a big victory after years of legal work to protect Mexico’s estuaries, coral reefs, mangroves and other wetlands.

On February 4, 2014, Mexico’s Natural Protected Areas Commission (CONANP) announced a national wetlands policy, a legal framework we had been calling for since 2009.

“It’s not a panacea, but it’s a good start,” says Sandra Moguel, an AIDA attorney who participated on the National Wetlands Committee, a CONANP -led group that helped develop the policy.

Mexico is rich in wetlands. The country ranks second after the U.K. in the number of protected wetland areas under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of these ecosystems. Centuries-old coral reefs serve as breeding pens for fish that feed the populace and delight divers. Mangrove forests house endangered species and perform increasingly important ecosystem services: they absorb carbon emissions and buffer the coastline against storms made harsher by a warmer climate.

But many coral reefs, mangroves, estuaries, and rivers have suffered from poorly planned development. On the Sea of Cortez, for example, plans for mega-resorts have kept us busy defending Cabo Pulmo’s coral reefs, and now a proposed port expansion is threatening reefs in Veracruz. To protect these and other wetlands, we have had to draw on a jumble of laws and policies.

Not any more.

Now we have a specific instrument that is in line with the laws and policies for the protection of wetlands. The new policy sets actions, goals and priorities for the management and protection of wetlands. It is a vast improvement. And while a national wetlands policy is a Ramsar requirement, Mexico’s policy stands out from many others in the world for creating not just principles and guidelines, but also an action plan to make them happen.

For example, the government will soon set and sustain minimum water levels to preserve mangroves. Other actions will guarantee the reasonable use of wetlands. Fishing, tourism, and other activities that rely on wetlands must be carried out sustainably. If damages occur, the state must ensure ecosystem restoration.

A key element that AIDA pushed for is the principle of environmental progress. The new policy stops the government from continuing to modify and reduce natural protected areas to make way for large infrastructure projects or to benefit private interests. Now the authorities must preserve and promote environmental progress by respecting protected-area status and by improving safeguards.

We are thrilled. This principle could help AIDA in our legal battle to stop construction of the Las Cruces hydropower project on the San Pedro Mezquital river. The dam would reduce water flows and sediments needed to feed and sustain mangroves in Marismas Nacionales, a protected wetlands area on the Sea of Cortez. Construction of the dam would clearly reverse environmental progress.

The new policy has its weak spots—for example, it doesn’t set dates for reviewing the progress of the action plan, and the actions could be supplemented for more effect—but comparatively, it is at the forefront of wetlands policies in Latin America. “Mexico is setting an example,” Moguel says. “Let’s hope that this encourages other countries to follow suit.”

Your contributions helped us press for and contribute to the development of the new policy, and with your continued help we will be able to aid Mexico in its efforts to protect its vital wetlands.

Thank you!