In search of legal protection for Mexico’s reefs

Coral reefs in Cozumel, Mexico.

Coral reefs in Cozumel, México. | Credit: Gustavo Danemann.

By Camilo Thompson

From the coasts of Baja California to the shallows of the Caribbean, Mexico is home to an incredible array of reefs.

The coral and rocky reefs found throughout the country are sources of food and potentially life-saving genetic material. They protect people on the coasts from the impacts of storms and hurricanes, stimulate tourism, and provide shelter for a wide variety of plants and animals.

Despite their inherent value, Mexico does not yet have an overarching law for reef protection. This vital task is instead governed by a variety of legislation and by international treaties that establish the country’s obligations to preserve these valuable ecosystems.

Climate change is one of the most serious threats to reefs. Oceans are becoming warmer and more acidic, conditions that reduce reefs’ capacity to grow and repair themselves.

In addition, warmer water disperses the algae that corals feed on, leaving the corals weakened and at risk of death.

This month, the Mexican Senate’s Special Climate Change Commission decided to do something about the threats facing corals. They convened a series of meetings to promote the creation of a legislative instrument aimed exclusively at protecting the nation’s many reefs.

I participated in these meetings as a representative of AIDA, alongside our colleagues from Wildcoast and scientists, academics, and community members who benefit from the services reefs provide.

We drew the Senate’s attention to the serious threats facing reefs, and to the urgency of applying the precautionary principle to guarantee the human right to a healthy environment, which is at risk due to the lack of adequate regulations for reef conservation. 

To guarantee this right and to protect the oceans against climate change, Mexico has signed international treaties including the American Convention on Human Rights, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles. 

Veracruz, an emblematic case

Reefs around the country are also being threatened by inadequately planned coastal infrastructure and insufficient environmental impact assessments. This is the case with the expansion of the port of Veracruz, a project that endangers the Veracruz Reef System, the largest coral ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico.

The site was declared a Natural Protected Area in 1992, a priority region for the National Commission for the Knowledge and use of Biodiversity in 2000, a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 2006, and a Ramsar site.  Even so, the government reduced the size of that area in 2013 to make way for the port project, violating international conventions such as the Ramsar Convention, under which the Veracruz reef is recognized as a Wetland of International Importance.

Learn more about the case in the following video:

Hope

We are confident that the Senate initiative will bear fruit and that Mexico will develop a law for the protection of its reefs, and that it will be born from a transparent and participatory process to which we will continue to contribute.

To learn more about the topic, see our report The Protection of Coral Reefs in Mexico: Rescuing Marine Biodiversity and its Benefits for Humanity


About the Author

Camilo Thompson

Camilo Thompson

Camilo Thompson is a Mexican attorney with the Marine Biodiversity and Coastal Protection Program. He works with AIDA from Chiapas, Mexico. He has a Masters of Science in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources from Colorado State University and a Professional Master's Degree in Leadership for Conservation through Learning from the Colegio de la Frontera Sur. He has studied international environmental law at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research and has taken various international seminars with the US Forest Service and the Conservation Leadership Program. He has worked as a consultant for Mexican and international NGOs, primarily related to the integral management of hydrological basins, public policy initiatives on climate change, and sustainable forest management. 

Any opinions expressed in this blog are the authors’ own and may not be shared by the organization. AIDA includes them with full respect for the freedom of expression and plurality of our team of professionals.

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