Science is at the core of the sustainable management and conservation of Mexico’s marine resources

What if scientists, governments and citizens had access to a database that held everything we know about our oceans? This snapshot of the current state of science would be invaluable to understand the state of ocean health, would help build scientific solutions to climate-driven ocean problems and could spur new collaboration and amplify current conservation efforts.

Luckily for all of us passionate about the oceans in Mexico, this amazing database is not just a fantasy. It is now a reality in Mexico thanks to the collaborative efforts of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Mexican researchers from several institutes including the University of British Columbia and the Mexican National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO).

Geographic location of metadata according to sub-regions and research category

Together we developed Infoceanos, a metadatabase that provides the most comprehensive snapshot of the current state of marine data in Mexico. Infoceanos is a free, public website with interactive interfaces that allow data visualization by species and region.

It represents a unique effort in the country. “We have created the most complete metadatabase of marine research in Mexico, since it gathers more than 130 thousand records representing more than two million data points from 215 databases,” says Juliano Palacios, one of the researchers and collaborators of the project. “Thanks to the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO) in Mexico, the final product is an open-source and dynamic tool that can be accessed by anyone, and is open to the addition of new records. We hope that this multi-institutional effort helps improve marine conservation and management in Mexico.”

Infoceanos was built from the collaborative work of 14 researchers who were recently published in a PLOS ONE article. Their research focuses on building a metadatabase as a way to understand data about data, and use that information to design strategies to face pressing problems such as climate change.

Climate change is one of the main threats for our oceans, not only because of the impacts it will have on food security and conservation, but also because of the uncertainty of its extent. To face climate change and other critical challenges like poor management and pollution, we need to rely on robust data to inform effective environmental policies and protect our oceans.

Number of records per research field

In the case of Mexico – one of the main fishing countries in the world where over two million people rely on fishing for their livelihoods – the analysis derived from Infoceanos shows that most of the research done around the oceans focuses on ecology, biology and fisheries, while social and human dimensions are areas ripe for more research. At the same time, we found regional differences in terms of information availability. The Gulf of California, Campeche Bank and the Caribbean have the most data, while central and south Pacific and the western Gulf of Mexico have less data.

“Information about the state of our oceans is essential for the future of thousands of species, and millions of people who depend on seafood as their main source of food and employment,” says Andres Cisneros, a collaborator on Infoceanos and researcher at the Institute for Oceans and Fisheries of the University of British Columbia. “The information contained in this metadatabase has the potential to strengthen the knowledge and actions we need to secure the oceans and their resources in Mexico.”

Locations where metadata workshops were held and contributing institutions

Likewise, metadatabases can be a useful tool for other countries or regions in our effort to expand our knowledge about oceans and generate a worldwide scientific movement around marine conservation. In the case of Infoceanos, this effort started in Canada and was then adapted in Mexico, which exemplifies how this tool can help many countries around the world.

At EDF, we believe that information should lead to action. We hope that this multi-institutional effort helps improve marine conservation and management. Decision-makers can rely on this data to generate the necessary policies and reforms needed to overcome challenges like climate change so that we can still have more fish in the oceans, more food on the plate and more prosperous communities.

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In Sinaloa, Mexico fishermen are rewriting their legacy

A year ago, Fidel Insunza was not very optimistic about his future in fishing. With more than 30 years on the water, he has seen prosperous times come and go in Altata-Ensenada del Pabellon, a coastal lagoon system in Sinaloa, Mexico. Back in the “good days,” as he calls them, his income allowed him to buy a brand new pick-up truck or take his whole family on vacation to participate in Mazatlan’s famous Carnival. “Those were the days,” he recalls with nostalgia. Today, his income has reduced to a third of what it used to be. But he is not ready to give up on fishing just yet. “This is my life, the heart of my community, and I would choose to be a fisherman once more if I was born again. The only difference is that I would do it more responsibly,” he says. Read More »

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No time to lose: Solutions needed to protect the environment and economy of the Upper Gulf

montandoThis piece was originally published in Spanish on February 5, 2017 in El Universal.

The future of the vaquita – a porpoise endemic to the Upper Gulf of California – and the jobs of thousands of people living in the region are in jeopardy.

In recent weeks numerous reports have made public that rampant illegal poaching of the endangered totoaba fish continues – sought for its valuable swim bladder and sold for thousands of dollars in the Chinese black market.

Experts in fishing and environmental issues concur that totoaba poaching in the region is not only threatening the endangered totoaba, but is also the main source of mortality of the vaquita, which is on the brink of extinction. Environmental Defense Fund is seriously concerned about this situation and the equilibrium of the marine ecosystem in the Upper Gulf. Read More »

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The time is now: Solutions for lasting change in Upper Gulf of California

Photo: Carlos Aguilera

Photo: Carlos Aguilera

We are deeply concerned about the future of the vaquita marina, a small porpoise endemic to Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California.  Long on the brink of extinction, the vaquita is facing an additional threat due to rampant poaching of an endangered fish – the totoaba – whose swim bladder is prized in Asian cuisine, and whose future is also imperiled. The situation is now dire with scientists estimating that fewer than 60 vaquita may now exist, escalating the urgency for action. Not only are the futures of vaquita and totoaba at stake, but also the future of thousands of legal fishermen whose livelihoods are uncertain as the government proposes management changes to address the threats to vaquita.

In July, President Peña Nieto and President Obama called for a permanent ban on gillnets in the Upper Gulf region where vaquita are found, the development of alternative gear to ensure that legal fishing in the Upper Gulf does not interact with vaquita, and bilateral coordination on enforcement to eliminate illegal trafficking of totoaba. The Mexican government has made initial strides, and this week the Mexican Senate Fisheries Committee convened Upper Gulf stakeholders to provide a platform for discussion of the critical issues at hand.

We commend both governments for understanding the urgency and importance of these issues, and for announcing efforts focused on fisheries gear improvements. However, these actions alone are not enough. What’s most important is to end the illegal poaching of totoaba. As long as poaching continues, vaquita continue to risk death as a result of entanglement in totoaba nets and further, the already depleted totoaba population will continue to decline. Read More »

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Mexico is making strides to improve fisheries management and conservation

Photo credit: Carlos Aguilar

Photo credit: Carlos Aguilar

2015 looks to be the year Mexico takes significant action to improve the sustainability of its fisheries.

Mexico is the world’s 16th largest fishing nation and one of the globe’s richest in marine biodiversity. The productive waters of both of Mexico’s coastlines teem with a wide array of species that sustain commercially important fisheries.  These include hundreds of commercially valuable species of finfish, clams, squid, sardines, and tuna that share the waters of the Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean with wildlife such as whales, dolphins, seabirds, and turtles.

This year, Mexico’s Federal Fisheries Commission (CONAPESCA) and Federal Fisheries Institute (INAPESCA), are working together with fishing communities and state authorities to implement stronger measures to protect marine biodiversity and ensure sustainable fishing livelihoods.  Read More »

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