Revillagigedo Islands: Building the Largest Marine Reserve in North America

Fagjun | Published 2017-10-10 01:21

Mexico is building the largest marine reserve in North America in the area around the Revillagigedo Islands.


The island of San Benedicto in the Revillagigedo archipelago [Photo by Panoramio]



The Revillagigedo archipelago consists of four volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean. These islands have an ecosystem considered to be quite unique. Last year in July, the archipelago was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On October 5 of this year, Mexico’s National Commission of Protected Natural Areas announced plans to turn the area into the largest marine reserve of its kind in North America.


The reserve won't just encompass the islands, but the waters around them as well. In total, the reserve will cover 57,000 square miles in a huge rectangular area in the Pacific. There, scientists have found large fish, several species of birds, unique plants, and coral gardens. Alejandro Del Mazo Maza of the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas said in a statement that all forms of fishing will be prohibited in the area.



The Ecosystem of the Revillagigedo Islands


The islands of San Benedicto, Socorro, Roca Partida, and Clarion make up the archipelago.



"We saw lots of sharks, groupers, and tuna,” says Enric Sala, who led an expedition to the islands in March 2016. “It was a rare place of large fish, with biodiversity as if the Galápagos Islands had opened a branch in Mexico."


Sala and his team also saw reptiles endemic to the islands, and the waters harbor corals, sea fans, crabs, and sponges. The team also saw huge “manta rays galore”.


Prior to the plans to create a large marine reserve, only the area up to six miles off the Revillagigedo islands were under protection. This, of course, is quite a small area. That means that feeding and migration areas for various marine life are still accessible to fishermen. Now, however, the entire 57,000 square miles of the reserve will be free of fishing, mining, or other resource development activities. Though some fishermen objected to the expansion of the reserve, they wouldn't actually be losing too much of their fishing grounds.


Plus, it's likely that fishermen will be able to catch more fish outside the reserve, since the growing fish populations in the reserve would soon spill out anyway. This is apparently what happened when authorities restricted fishing around the Galápagos.



Enforcing Boundaries and Building Tourism


Footage of a whale calf playing with dolphins in the waters around the islands [Video by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society]



However, there is still the possibility that some fishermen will violate the boundaries of the reserve and fish where they're not supposed to. Not all fishermen, after all, go out to sea just in wooden boats and nets or fishing rods. Some even utilize helicopters to see if a particular restricted area is being patrolled. Now that Mexico has established the boundaries of the reserve, the next move is to figure our how to enforce them.


The reserve is also likely to attract a lot of dive tourism to the area. As it is, the industry is already worth $15 million. With the expansion of the reserve, tourism is likely to grow.


Thus, expanding the marine reserve around the Revillagigedo islands is set to not only protect a unique ecosystem, but also bring in considerable revenue.

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