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The Mangroves of Mexico – By Numbers.

This article is brought to you by the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). Read our other articles on the National Geographic Voices blog featuring the work of our iLCP Fellow Photographers all around the world.

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The science and communications initiative Natural Numbers presents Mangroves (see video at the end of the article), the fourth chapter of its popular internet series about the value of the natural capital of Mexico. Created by iLCP Fellows Jaime Rojo and Octavio Aburto in 2012, Natural Numbers is a series of short films that combine sound science, stunning photography and creative graphics to present the value of the natural capital of Mexico and the conflicts of its exploitation, with the goal of transforming the audience into an environmentally engaged citizenship. In their new chapter, they explore the endangered mangroves of Mexico.

Mangroves are a silent and enigmatic microcosm full of life.
Mangroves are a silent and enigmatic microcosm full of life.
Mexico is one of the countries with most mangroves in the world, but also occupies one of the first places in mangrove deforestation rates.
Mexico is one of the countries with the most mangroves in the world, but also occupies one of the first places in mangrove deforestation rates.
Mangoves are a fragile tangle of life generates valuable ecosystem services.
Mangoves are a fragile tangle of life and generate valuable ecosystem services.

Mangroves are trees that have evolved to survive in flooded coastal environments. Where the salt and the lack of oxygen make life impossible for other plants, these trees prosper offering shelter and food to numerous other species. From the dwarf trees in the deserts of Baja California to 40 meter-giants in the coastal forests of Chiapas, the coast of Mexico has more than 700,000 hectares of mangroves, 5% of the world total, making it the fourth country in the world in area of this kind of ecosystem, after Indonesia, Brazil and Australia.

Ecosystem services from mangroves can reach an annual value of $100,000 USD per hectare.
Ecosystem services from mangroves can reach an annual value of $100,000 USD per hectare.
700,000 hectares of mangroves in Mexico contribute every year to the national economy with 70 billion dollars.
700,000 hectares of mangroves in Mexico contribute every year to the national economy with 70 billion dollars.
Mangrove's roots, firmly anchored to the mud, absorb up to 90% of the energy of the waves, mitigating the impact of hurricanes in coastal communities.
Mangrove’s roots, firmly anchored to the mud, absorb up to 90% of the energy of the waves, mitigating the impact of hurricanes in coastal communities.

Mangroves provide valuable ecosystem services –processes that generate benefits for all species– such as carbon sequestration, fisheries productivity, filtering of pollutants or coastal protection against hurricanes “These services can reach an annual value of $100,000 USD per hectare, which means that every year, Mexico’s mangroves contribute to the national economy with 70 billion dollars”, says Octavio Aburto, also a professor of Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Mangroves provide shelter and food for the juveniles of the main fisheries species in Mexico.
Mangroves provide shelter and food for the juveniles of the main fisheries species in Mexico.
The four species of mangroves in Mexico range from the dwarf trees in the deserts of Baja California to 40 meter-giants in the coastal forests of Chiapas.
The four species of mangroves in Mexico range from the dwarf trees in the deserts of Baja California to 40 meter-giants in the coastal forests of Chiapas.
Mangroves retain nutrients and sediments from the rivers, creating habitat for other species.
Mangroves retain nutrients and sediments from the rivers, creating habitat for other species.

Despite the widely recognized value of this natural capital, Mexico has one of the highest mangrove deforestation rates in the world. Every year thousands of hectares are cleared and replaced by shrimp farms, agro-industrial plantations or tourism mega-developments. “This short-term vision ignores the losses for society that are generated by degrading such a valuable ecosystem”, adds Exequiel Ezcurra, Director of the Institute for Mexico and the United States at the University of California. At the current deforestation levels, in 25 years, close to 50% of Mexico’s mangroves will have been lost. Is it really necessary that our idea of “progress” should imply the destruction of the natural ecosystems?

Mexico is one of the countries with most mangroves in the world, but also occupies one of the first places in deforestation rates.
An aerial view of a mangrove area destroyed for a fisheries farm.
Reforestation initiatives are proposed as a remedy to the devastation of mangroves. But restoring a single hectare of mangrove costs thousands of dollars and a century is needed for it to restore its services back to full capacity.
Reforestation initiatives are proposed as a remedy to the devastation of mangroves. But restoring a single hectare of mangrove costs thousands of dollars and a century is needed for it to restore its services back to full capacity.
Aerial view of mangrove forest in low tide.
Aerial view of mangrove forest in low tide.

Behind the scenes

To tell the story of mangroves in an innovative way, the team of Natural Numbers spent more than 1,000 hours in the field, working in 10 different locations, and combining a classic storytelling approach of still photography with other techniques such as time-lapse, drones or underwater videography. “This video is a collaborative effort of a great team of professionals. Every aspect of the production, from photography to motion graphics, from editing to the original music, has been handled with the utmost care”, explains Jaime Rojo, director of the chapter. “The competition for the public attention is fierce these days. If we are to achieve any social change for the environment, the conservation community needs to produce powerful and clear communication materials that can engage the audience and transform them in responsible citizens”

 “The scientific community has produced a lot of data on the value of ecosystem services that, because of its complexity, never reaches beyond the specialists”, adds Octavio Aburto “This information is rarely taken into account in the policy making process or the consumer decisions. We hope that Natural Numbers can change that trend”

Find out more about the Natural Numbers

www.thenaturalnumbers.org