TB

Sep 012014
 

It is surprisingly difficult to give a single, definitive response to this seemingly simple question, so in 2008, Arturo Ruiz-Luna and a group of researchers set out to answer the question once and for all, by taking a close look at the available data and its reliability.

The first challenge is to define precisely what counts as “an area of mangroves”. Since the edges of any one type of vegetation tend to merge gradually into the next, the boundaries between types are often not clear or discrete. The second challenge is to find comparable maps or records of the extent of mangroves in former times. In many cases, earlier maps were based on simple aerial photography as opposed to the more sophisticated satellite imagery available today. Equally, studies relying on different technology may produce quite different results.

Ruiz-Luna and his colleagues concluded that there was a high degree of uncertainty over the true extent of mangrove cover in Mexico and over the rates of mangrove depletion.  The unreliability stemmed from the very different estimates of mangrove cover given in earlier studies.

Opposition to mangrove destructon

Opposition to the destruction of mangroves, Cancún climate summit, 2010

They found that the earliest estimate of the extent of mangroves in Mexico, made in 1973, was 700,000 ha (1.7 million acres). From 1980-1991, a figure of 660,000 ha was widely quoted. This is thought to have been derived from the previous figure using a linear regression to include estimated deforestation rates.

On the other hand, a study in 1992, based on 1:3,800,000 scale maps, arrived at an areal extent of 932,800 ha. A 1993 government estimate, based on satellite imagery and supporting ground survey, came up with a figure of 721,554 ha. A 1994 estimate, also using satellite data, arrived at a similar figure.

Since 2000, estimates vary from a low of 440,000 ha (based on deforestation rates and linear regression) to a high of 955,866 (almost all of it mangrove, with a small area of secondary mangrove succession).

According to Ruiz-Luna and his co-authors, it is therefore likely that the true value of the extent of mangroves lies somewhere between 600,000 and 900,000 ha, with the authors plumping for 800,000 ha as a reasonable estimate.

Why are mangroves lost?

Mangrove habitats are lost due to damage (deforestation) from logging and land use changes. Examples of land use changes adversely affecting the extent of mangroves are:

  • the conversion of mangroves to harbors, as in Manzanillo (Colima)
  • mangroves being converted for hotels and tourist use (Cancún)
  • mangrove swamps being reassigned for aquaculture (San Blas)

The loss of mangroves can also result from changes to hydrological systems on the landward side of the mangroves. For example, when an artificial channel was opened in the 1970s in Cuautla (Nayarit) to connect the Marismas Nacionales with the sea, the channel was originally about 50m wide. It is now about 600m wide in the middle, and more than 1000m wide at its mouth, due to damage caused by the river flow, and from the greater exposure of mangroves to higher salinity water, as well as increased mangrove mortality from storms and hurricanes.

While there are some small-scale projects to replant mangroves in some tourist area, this is unlikely to be a good substitute for the original mature mangrove ecosystem. This is why Geo-Mexico is happy to help publicize public protests against mangrove destruction, such as the one pictured above which took place at the Cancún climate summit in 2010.

Reference:

Arturo Ruiz-Luna, Joanna Acosta-Velázquez, César A. Berlanga-Robles. 2008. “On the reliability of the data of the extent of mangroves: A case study in Mexico.” Ocean and Coastal Management 51 (2008) 342-351.

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Aug 302014
 

Diana Kennedy is the world’s foremost authority on regional Mexican cuisines. Born in the UK, she moved to Mexico in 1957 with her husband, Paul Kennedy, a New York Times correspondent. Over the next half a century, Kennedy traveled the length and breadth of Mexico, collecting stories, cooking techniques and recipes, and writing about regional cuisines from all over the country.

kennedy-cuisines-of-mexicoHer first cookbook The Cuisines of Mexico was published in 1972 and quickly became a classic. She has written several other books about Mexican cuisine, including

Now in her nineties, Kennedy continues to live in an eco-friendly house in s small village near the city of Zitácuaro in the western Mexico state of Michoacán. The Mexican government awarded her the Aztec Eagle, Mexico’s highest award for non-Mexicans, for her truly outstanding contribution to the country.

In this recent BBC radio podcast, Diana Kennedy is interviewed about her lifetime’s work, including the thousands of hours spent driving along dusty dirt tracks in her pick up truck in search of yet another unrecorded gem of Mexican cuisine.

Her travels often took her to indigenous villages, way off the beaten track, where she would study how and what the local people cooked, discovering along the way, all kinds of things never previously written about.

Podcast (mp3 file) of BBC Radio 4 Food Programme about Diana Kennedy :

 

The initial leads for the next trip often came from the maids of friends in Mexico City, maids who were prepared to share their family recipe secrets with her.

Kennedy documented varieties of corn and beans that are rapidly disappearing, as are the small family farms where they were grown. In most locations, she would start by exploring the local market. Marveling over the incredible fresh produce she encountered wherever she traveled, she recorded every detail; sadly, some of these markets have long since disappeared.

The “Mexican miracle” of the 1960s and 1970s, with its growing economic prosperity brought a tide of imported foods into Mexico. These reached deep into the countryside. In many places, traditional foods were forgotten, replaced by imported items such as wheat bread and pork chops.

Dietary changes have continued to plague Mexico, leading to a dramatic increase in obesity. Note, though, that despite the claims made on this BBC program, Mexico does not yet lead the world in obesity – though it is the fourth most obese country in the world (excluding small island states). Clearly, BBC researchers should read Geo-Mexico more often.

Kennedy’s 1972 book, The Cuisines of Mexico was a ground-breaking look at the regional world of food in Mexico. UNAM, Mexico’s National University, is keeping Kennedy’s work alive by making digital copies of all her notebooks, some of which date back to the 1950s.

For more about Mexican cuisine, visit the amazing award-winning blog Mexico Cooks! and also browse the huge selection of recipes, articles and tips about all aspects of Mexican food and cooking in the “Cuisine” section of MexConnect. ¡Buen provecho!

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Aug 282014
 

In numerous previous posts, we have looked at the importance of tourism in Mexico, and have examined its impacts at different scales, from the national/international scale at one extreme to the single resort scale at the other:

National scale:

Sub-national regional scale:

Single resort scale

We have also considered the way in which the characteristics of tourism in a resort change over time:

Attempting to quantify the importance or impacts of tourism, beneficial or otherwise, is fraught with methodological difficulties. The number of hotel rooms in different cities is often used as a proxy measure of the relative importance of tourism in different communities, but looking only at tourist capacity “masks  the fact that hotels are rarely full. In 2007, the national occupancy rate was 54.8%. Traditional beach resorts such as Acapulco, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta had an occupancy rate of 52.2%, compared to 68.1% for modern, planned mega-resorts like Cancún and Los Cabos. The occupancy rate in the large cities—Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey—was 55.0%, well ahead of the 47.2% for other interior cities.” (Geo-Mexico, p 134).

As in other branches of geography, it is not only the “reality” that matters, but also people’s perceptions of reality. Most decisions concerning location (such as where to live, the best place to start a new business. etc) are taken on imperfect or incomplete information; in other words, these decisions are based, at least to some extent, on perceptions.

In the case of tourism, it is the perception of visitors that matters. This is precisely why certain resorts gain a reputation as being “jet set” or the “in place” to vacation. The “in place” today is not going to be the “in place” in a few year’s time, since perceptions (and reality) change. Nowhere has this proved to be more true in Mexico than in the case of Acapulco.

But is it possible to measure tourist perceptions? It is very difficult to do so directly, but there are ways of tackling this question, and here we look at one approach, based on an analysis of tourist-oriented literature.

The approach is easiest to explain in the context of a real example, in this case an analysis of the likely perception of foreign tourists of destinations in the Lerma-Chapala drainage basin in Mexico. (This study formed part of my contribution on tourism to the Atlas de la cuenca Lerma-Chapala, construyendo una visión conjunta, Semarnat-Unam-IE, 2006 – the link is to a low-resolution pdf of the entire atlas).

The Lerma-Chapala Basin (see map) is one of Mexico’s major river systems, comprising portions of 127 municipalities in five states: México, Querétaro, Michoacán, Guanajuato and Jalisco. The basin has considerable economic importance. It occupies only 2.9% of Mexico’s total landmass, but is home to 9.3% of Mexico’s total population, and its economic activities account for 11.5% of national GDP. It also has considerable importance for tourism.

Lerma Basin Tourist Perception Index.

Lerma Basin Tourist Perception Index. Cartography: Tony Burton / Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved Click to enlarge.

The red circles superimposed on the map represent an index of tourism perception. This index is based on an analysis of seven tourist guides that purport to cover the entire country:

  • AAA Tourbook (2004)
  • Let’s Go Mexico (2004)
  • Lonely Planet (2002)
  • Footprint Guide (1999)
  • Upclose Mexico (1998)
  • Insight Guide (1994)
  • Cadogan Guide (1991)

In each case, the total number of lines of text in the guide devoted to any location within the Lerma-Chapala drainage basin was counted, as well as the number of lines devoted to each individual location. This allowed a ratio or percentage to be worked out for each place for each book. For example, if a book had 240 lines in total devoted to the drainage basin, of which 60 were devoted to San Miguel de Allende, the perception index for San Miguel for that book would be 60/240 * 100 = 25%. Similar calculations were performed for all the locations mentioned, for each book, and then the mean index was calculated for each location. These mean indices were the basis for the size of the circles on the map.

In broad terms, the map shows which places are likely to be on a foreign traveler’s radar when they are visiting the area. Those familiar with this area may be surprised to see that the ghost town of Pozos merits as many lines of text as Quiroga (and indeed more lines of text than Atotonilco). Another surprise is that Tzintzuntzan appears to be as much in the tourist eye as Chapala, Dolores Hidalgo or Toluca. The main purpose of this post is not to analyse such apparent anomalies but only to suggest a relatively easy way of analysing tourist perceptions through the use of tourist-oriented literature. Applying the same method to the entire country, on a state-by-state basis, throws up far more interesting anomalies which we plan to share at some point in the future.

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Aug 252014
 

Two wastewater treatment plants have been in the news recently. The first is the $230 million Agua Prieta wastewater treatment plant, located north of Guadalajara in Jalisco, which was formally inaugurated last month. It is the first stage in a plan to restore the heavily polluted Santiago River back to health. The Santiago is the outflow from Lake Chapala and receives pollutants from the industrial zone of El Salto outside Guadalajara. The initial capacity of the Agua Prieta plant is 6,500 liters/second, almost all of which is returned to the river after treatment.

The plant was built by a consortium led by ICA subsidiary Conoisa, Atlatec, and Servicios de Agua Trident under a 20-year concession. President Enrique Peña Nieto claims on his government webpage that, “Integrated, sustainable water management is a government priority. The challenge is even greater because almost 50% of the wastewater returned to the environment does not undergo any form of treatment… The Agua Prieta Wastewater Treatment Plant in Zapopan… [will] improve the quality of life of 3.3 million inhabitants in the metropolitan area of Guadalajara… It will treat 82% of the wastewater in the area, and 100% when the complementary sewage works are completed.”

agua-prieta-wastewater-According to government figures, waste water treatment coverage at the national level is currently 50.3%, with a 2018 target of 63%. Agua Prieta has raised national coverage to 53.3%, and will boost it to 54.3% once the plant is operating at full capacity and treating 8,500 liters/second of wastewater. At the state level, Jalisco is now treating 32% of its wastewater.

The Agua Prieta plant is currently the largest of its kind in Mexico and is powered by biogas derived from the wastewater sludge. However, an even larger plant is under construction, in the state of Hidalgo in central Mexico. The Atotonilco Wastewater Treatment Plant is being built by a consortium, including Mexican construction companies ICA and IDEAL, Mitsui subsidiary Atlatec and Spanish firm Acciona Agua, that won the concession to design, build, and operate this plant for 22 years, at which point the plant will be transferred to federal ownership. Work began in 2010 and is due to be completed by 2015.

The Atotonilco Wastewater Treatment Plant will be the largest wastewater plant in Latin America and one of the largest in the world, with a biological treatment capacity of 23,000 liters/second (1.99 million m3/day). The wastewater treatment is performed by a series of conventional processes, with an additional chemical process during the rainy season. Treated waters from this plant are already being used in agriculture without any additional cleaning steps. The plant is self-sufficient in terms of energy usage, since it converts the methane offgas from the wastewater sludge into electrical energy.

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Aug 232014
 

Mangrove swamps have an undeserved reputation for being impenetrable thickets harboring noxious insects and reptiles. But they also have considerable value, in terms of both ecology and economics, as this case study of the Marismas Nacionales mangroves on the west coast of Mexico will demonstrate.

Map showing location of Marismas Nacionales

Map showing location of Marismas Nacionales

The Teacapán-Agua Brava-Marismas Nacionales Lagoon System extends northwards along Mexico’s Pacific Coast from San Blas in Nayarit to the southern part of Sinaloa. It is one of Mexico’s largest areas of mangroves. The total area of mangroves in the Marismas Nacionales is estimated at 58,100 hectares (224.3 square miles). Four species of mangroves are found here:

  • black mangrove (Avicennia germinans)
  • white mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa)
  • red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle)
  • button mangrove (Conocarpus erectus)

Mangroves in Mexico are estimated to be disappearing at a rate of at least 2% per year, though the available evidence suggests that the Marismas Nacionales mangroves are relatively undisturbed.

A 2012 study, undertaken by a group of Stanford Students for the Ocean Innovations Environmental Defense Fund considered the ecosystem services provided by Mexico’s largest area of mangroves, the Teacapán-Agua Brava-Marismas Nacionales Lagoon System of Nayarit and southern Sinaloa and attempted to calculate the mangroves’ carbon sequestration potential.

The ecosystem services considered included:

  • fisheries for shrimp, mollusk, fish and crustaceans.,
  • aquaculture (primarily shrimp), forestry (charcoal, firewood, wood and roofing materials),
  • agriculture,
  • coastal protection (mangrove roots help bind unstable coasts, preventing erosion and providing a natural barrier against hurricanes),
  • habitat for other species (breeding, shelter and feeding places for fish, crustaceans and birds) and
  • ecotourism (as in Mexcaltitán)
Mezcatitlán

Mezcatitlán, island settlement in Nayarit

The report tries to quantify the value of each of these services. For example, it finds that the total annual revenue brought in by coastal fisheries alone around Marismas Nacionales (including shrimp, catfish, crabs and sharks) almost certainly exceeds $10.8 million.

In terms of carbon storage, the study took into account the carbon sequestered in the form of biomass (as a result of photosynthesis) as well as the carbon exported from the ecosystem via processes such as respiration, sediment burial and mineralization. The total Net Ecosystem Production (NEP) of carbon in the Marismas Nacionales was calculated to be 8 metric tons of carbon/ha/yr or about 470,000 metric tons/yr for the entire area.

Reference:

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Aug 202014
 

Wildlife groups from around the world are urging the Mexican government to take urgent action to prevent the extinction of the “little sea cow”, the world’s smallest porpoise, known in Spanish as the vaquita marina, currently the most endangered cetacean in the world.

This particular porpoise is only found in the upper sections of the Sea of Cortés (Gulf of California), and fewer than 100 are thought to exist.

Scientists say that gill-net fishing must be eliminated in the little sea cow’s native habitat for its population to have any hope of recovering to a sustainable level. Mature females will usually only give birth to one calf every two years. Even with a total ban, it would therefore take several years for natural increase to boost the population. In the port of El Golfo de Santa Clara studies have suggested that gillnet fishing is responsible for approximately 39 vaquita deaths a year.

Map of sightings and acoustic detection spots. Adapted from North American Conservation Action Plan for the vaquita

Map of sightings and acoustic detection spots. Adapted from North American Conservation Action Plan for the vaquita

According to Jo Tuckman, writing in The Guardian, environmental groups blame the decline of the popoise population on a “booming illegal trade in the totoaba fish (mistakenly called “toboada” in The Guardian), driven by Chinese demand for its swim bladder, which is believed to have medicinal properties.” Chinese fishermen are alleged to have overfished a similar fish in their own waters, leading to a sharp increase in demand for imports of totoaba. Fishermen in the Sea of Cortés are reported to have been offered more than $4,000 for the single bladder (which weighs 500 grams) of a mature fish.

There have been numerous reported instances of illegal cross-border trade in totoaba bladders, including, Man Admits to Smuggling Swim Bladders of Endangered Fish. The fish has been listed as “endangered” since 1979 under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Between February and May 2013, border inspectors in Calexico, Arizona, seized the swim bladders of more than 500 endangered Totoaba.

In 2008, Mexico, the USA and Canada launched the North American Conservation Action Plan (NACAP) for the vaquita, under the jurisdiction of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), a NAFTA environmental organization. Mexico has also established a program known as PACE-VAQUITA, which compensates fishermen who choose one of three alternatives to commercial fishing: rent-out (payments to avoid fishing in specific areas which are known to have resident vaquitas), switch-out (compensation and inducement to switch technology to vaquita-safe methods), and buy-out (compensation for permanently relinquishing their fishing permits and gear).

Clearly, these efforts have not yet paid off and more stringent controls and enforcement are desperately needed if the vaquita marina is to be brought back from the brink of extinction.

Want to read more?

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Aug 182014
 

Updated post: There are at least seven cable cars (teleféricos) operating in Mexico, as well as one whose construction was so controversial it was halted earlier this year:

  • Durango City, Durango
  • Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre), Chihuahua
  • García Caves (Grutas de García), Nuevo León
  • Zacatecas City, Zacatecas
  • Hotel Montetaxco, Taxco, Guerrero
  • Hotel Vida en el Lago, Tepecoacuilco, Guerrero
  • Orizaba, Veracruz
  • Puebla City, Puebla (currently halted)

All these cable cars are primarily designed for sightseeing and tourism, rather than as a means of regular transport for local inhabitants.

Durango City

The Durango teleférico, inaugurated in 2010, is 750 meters long. It links Cerro del Calvario in the historic center of the city with the viewpoint of Cerro de Los Remedios. It cost about $70 million to build and its two gondola cars can carry up to 5000 people a day. Parts of the ride are some 80 meters above the city. The system was built by a Swiss firm and is one of only a handful of cable cars that start from a historic city center anywhere in the world. (The Zacatecas City cable car is another).

Copper Canyon (Barracas del Cobre) in the state of Chihuahua

The Copper Canyon teleférico starts alongside Divisadero railway station in Mexico’s famous Copper Canyon region, and runs 2.8 km across a section of canyon, up to 400 meters above the ground level. Inaugurated in 2010, it is the longeset cable car in Mexico, cost $25 million and can carry 500 passengers an hour, using two cabins (one traveling in each direction), each able to hold 60 people. It is a 10-minute ride each way to the Mesa de Bacajipare, a viewpoint which offers a magnificent view of several canyons.

García Caves (Grutas de García) in Nuevo León

The Garcia Caves are located in the Cumbres de Monterrey National Park, 9 km from the small town of García, and about 30 km from the city of Monterrey. The caves are deep inside the imposing Cerro del Fraile, a mountain whose summit rises to an elevation of 1080 meters above sea level, more than 700 meters above the main access road. The entrance to the caves is usually accessed via a short ride on the 625-meter teleférico, which was built to replace a funicular railway.

zacatecas-teleferico

Zacatecas City

The Zacatecas teleférico, opened in 1979, is 650 meters long and links the Cerro del Grillo, near the entrance to the El Eden mine on the edge of the city’s historic center, with the Cerro de la Bufa. It carries 300,000 people a year high over the city, affording splendid views of church domes, homes, narrow streets and plazas during a trip that lasts about ten minutes. On top of Cerro de la Bufa is an equestrian statue of General Doroteo Arango (aka “Pancho” Villa), commemorating 23 June 1914, when he and his troops successfully captured the city after a nine-hour battle.

La Bufa is also the setting for a curious children’s New Year legend involving a giant cave housing a great palace with silver floors, gold walls, and lights of precious stones. This palace is inhabited by thousands of gnomes, whose job is to look after the future “New Years”. Each December the gnomes choose which “New Year” will be given to the world outside… (For the full story, see chapter 21 of my Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury)

Hotel Montetaxco, in Taxco, Guerrero

This hotel teleférico is a convenient link between the hotel, set high above the city, and the downtown area of this important tourist destination, best known for its silver workshops.

Hotel Vida en el Lago, in Tepecoacuilco, Guerrero

A second hotel in Guerrero also has its own teleférico, running from the hotel to a viewpoint atop the Cerro del Titicuilchi.

Orizaba, Veracruz

Cable car in Orizaba, Mexico

A 950-meter-long cable car, using 6-person cabins (see image), began operations in the city of Orizaba in Veracruz in December 2013. The cable car goes from Pichucalco Park, next to the City Hall in downtown Orizaba, to the summit of Cerro del Borrego. which overlooks the city. The 8-minute ride affords outstanding views over the city center.

Puebla City (construction resumed)

Construction of a teleférico in the city of Puebla, in central Mexico, had been halted in 2013, amidst considerable controversy about its route and the demolition of a protected, historic building (the Casona de Torno) in this UNESCO World Heritage city. (For details, see here and here). The proposed route was 2 kilometers long and linked the historic center of Puebla with a nearby hill, home to the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. In 1862, these forts were the site of the famous Battle of Puebla, at which Mexican forces proved victorious over the French, a victory celebrated each year on 5 May (Cinco de Mayo).

It had originally been hoped to inaugurate the Puebla City cable car in March 2013, in time for Mexico’s 2013 Tourist Tianguis, the largest tourism trade fair in Latin America, but this was not to happen. Instead, authorities boarded up the partially-completed structures (3 metal towers and 2 concrete bases) to completely hide them from public view.

Construction has now resumed, but only of a 600-meter-long stretch which will cost $11 million to build. This section is due to be completed by CEMS Constructora by December 2014. The contract includes the landscaping of a park and the construction of two towers, including one  in Centro Expositor, the city’s main exhibition center.

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Aug 162014
 

Tourism associated with rivers and lakes

So far as tourism is concerned, Lake Chapala is far more important than the other bodies of water within the basin. Only limited recreational activities are practiced in the various man-made reservoirs and in lakes Yuriria and Cuitzeo. Tourism is locally important in Zirahuén the most pristine of the basins lakes, but its small area restricts development prospects. Tourism, including ecotourism, is also locally important in Lake Pátzcuaro, with pronounced seasonal peaks corresponding to school vacations and the annual Night of the Dead. Surprisingly, there are no specialized ecotourism services at Lake Chapala.

Lerma-Chapala Basin

Lerma-Chapala Basin. Cartography: Tony Burton/Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved

The map shows areas of soil degradation in the Lerma-Chapala basin, as well as the locations where agriculture is a major source of water contamination. The environmental impacts of tourism in the basin are concentrated in the major cities such as Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende and León, as well as in the smaller communities where tourism is of particular importance, such as Chapala and Pátzcuaro.

The lakes in the basin, especially Chapala, have always had more significance than the rivers for recreation and tourism activities. In the nineteenth century, sail canoes plied the waters of Lake Chapala. Fluctuating lake levels since the 1950s have prevented any concerted effort to establish modern water sports (yachting, water-skiing, windsurfing) on the lake, though casual users can be seen sporadically, mainly at weekends and during school holidays. Recreational fishing is virtually non-existent in the basin. Boatmen and fishermen often have conflicting demands.

Potential for ecotourism

Environmental degradation throughout the basin has reduced the number of potential ecotourism locations. The few remaining natural habitats are in urgent need of effective conservation. None of the few small areas of the basin currently protected at a federal level is associated directly with the River Lerma or Lake Chapala. Several tourism hot spots are under extreme pressure, operating at close to carrying capacity (defined as the maximum number of visitors they can handle without adverse environmental impacts). They include the Monarch butterfly reserves, Lake Camécuaro National Park, and the island of Janitzio in Lake Pátzcuaro. Well managed tourism could help finance habitat restoration and protection. Successful planning will require considerable local participation.

Lovers of flora and fauna want to see native and endemic species, rather than imported exotics. Bird-watching is one of the fastest growing recreational activities in the U.S., a huge niche tourism market in a wildlife watching industry worth 10 billion dollars in North America (Stap, 2002). In the basin, bird-watchers have the opportunity to see several endemics, as well as spectacular flocks of the White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), which can be better viewed on the relatively undeveloped southern shore of Lake Chapala than in its breeding grounds far to the north.

The development of horse-back riding, hiking and walking trails holds considerable potential for the future. Niche markets, such as cultural, shopping and eco-tours could all be further developed. Most tourists prefer a mix of experiences; the basin offers numerous, varied tourism possibilities.

Historically, hunting was an important activity in certain areas, particularly in the marshes at the eastern end of Lake Chapala (the ciénega). One ecological issue here, aside from any need to manage wildlife numbers, is the gradual decomposition of the lead-rich cartridges used a century ago. While this needs further study, this is gradually leaching lead into the environment, but is not the only source of the elevated levels of lead that have been reported in fish and lirio samples (Jay & Ford in Hansen & Van Afferden, 127). Careful monitoring is needed to ensure that no health risk is posed to humans.

Tourism exacerbates existing demands for limited supplies of water. This needs to be recognized in tourist-oriented cities such as San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and Pátzcuaro. Some recreational and tourism developments are more water demanding than others. Large expanses of grass cause high losses of water through evapo-transpiration especially during the dry season when watering is needed if grass is to be kept green. However, in the rainy season, grass promotes higher infiltration rates, enhancing groundwater recharge. Pressure from public and private gardens for water could be significantly reduced by xeriscaping.

Management is also needed to ensure that chemicals used in gardens, hotel grounds, and hotels do not cause pollution. The misuse of fertilizers and pesticides can have serious deleterious environmental effects. Overfertilization, for example, can increase nitrogen and phosphorus loads on watercourses, promoting eutrophication.

Golf can be one of the least environmentally sound of all recreational activities (Elkington & Hailes 1992). Constructing a golf course may involve habitat destruction and loss of wildlife; its maintenance may require copious quantities of water and agro-chemicals. A single course may use 330,000 cubic meters of water a year, as much as 4,500 people (Walsh, 2004) Aside from the ethical issue of whether water should be allocated to the playgrounds of the rich while the poor go without, golf courses can greatly reduce water consumption with careful design and management. Of Mexico’s 200+ golf courses, at least 23 are located in the basin. Several were built in the past twenty years. Several others are still in the planning stages. More golf courses may attract more retirees and tourists, but decision makers need to consider the possible social and environmental effects of constructing more courses.

References:

  • Hansen, Anne M. & van Afferden, Manfred (ed). The Lerma-Lake Chapala Watershed: Evaluation and Management. New York: Kluwer Academic / Plenum Publishers. 2001.
  • Elkington, John & Julia Hailes. Holidays that don’t cost the earth. The guide to greener holidays. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd. 1992.
  • Stap, Don. “Great Florida Birding Trail” in Audubon Magazine September, 2002.
  • Walsh, J. “War over water”. Golf Course News, October 2004. G.I.Media. 2004

Source:

This post is based on my contribution (on tourism) to the Atlas de la cuenca Lerma-Chapala, construyendo una visión conjunta, published by Semarnat-UNAM-IE, Mexico, in 2006. (The link is to a low-resolution pdf of the entire atlas).

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Aug 142014
 

The National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad, CONABIO), has identified 81 distinct areas in Mexico that have mangroves with “biological significance and in need of varying degrees of ecological rehabilitation” (see summary map). These regions are distributed as follows:

  • 10 on the northern Pacific Coast
  • 6 on the central Pacific Coast
  • 13 on the southern Pacific Coast
  • 27 on the Gulf of Mexico and
  • 25 on the Yucatán Peninsula.

A national inventory has now been compiled by CONABIO. All areas have been surveyed and preliminary descriptions published including details of their location, size, physical characteristics, socioeconomic conditions, local uses of mangrove, biological details, including vegetation structure, and an assessment of local impacts and risks, management and existing conservation measures.

Map of distribution of mangroves in MexicoThe areas of mangroves have been mapped at a scale of 1:50,000 and satellite photos from 2005-2006 have been used in conjunction with fieldwork to calculate the areas of mangroves. The final map is believed to be more than 90% accurate, a reasonable baseline for future comparisons. CONABIO is planning to resurvey the mangrove areas every 5 years following the same methodology.

According to preliminary comparisons with previous attempts to quantify the extent of mangroves in Mexico (the subject of a future post), the loss of mangroves was greatest in the period 1970-1980, and in 2000-2005, but then diminished in the period 2005-2010.

Between 2005 and 2010, the states where mangrove loss remained high (as a percentage of the total area of mangroves in the state) included Chiapas, Baja Californa Sur and Sonora. However, the states losing the largest areas of mangroves in absolute terms were Quintana Roo, Campeche and Nayarit. Jalisco has the unfortunate distinction of being the state where coastal mangrove loss was highest (in terms of the proportion of its total coastline length bordered by mangroves).

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Aug 112014
 

Earlier this year, a slew of press reports discussed the possibility of a Mexico-USA high speed rail link from the industrial powerhouse of Monterrey in Nuevo León state to San Antonio in Texas. (For one example, see Fast train to Monterrey on the horizon).

The reports say that Mexican transport officials and their U.S. counterparts believe that this international high speed rail link could be in operation within a decade. The new line would move passengers between the two cities in about two hours, saving almost three hours compared to highway travel.

Route of proposed high speed train from Monterrey to San Antonio. Credit: Daily Mail.

Route of proposed high speed train from Monterrey to San Antonio. Credit: Daily Mail.

A key part of the plan would be a system to pre-clear U.S. Customs which sometimes delays northbound motorists at border crossings for several hours. (Such a pre-clearance system would be analogous to that already operating in several Canadian airports, where U.S.-bound passengers clear U.S. immigration and customs prior to boarding their flights).

Mexican officials have already secured the rights of way for the rail line from Monterrey to the U.S. border and say that this section of the line, likely to cost around 1.5 billion dollars, could be up and running as early as 2018. The U.S. section, from the border northwards, is unlikely to be completed before 2022 at the earliest, though a $5.6 million study of potential high-speed rail lines stretching from Laredo to Oklahoma City is already underway.

The first high speed rail links in North America are likely to be in Mexico, where planning is well advanced and the first construction contracts are being awarded for building high speed links from Mexico City to Toluca and Querétaro. Plans for a high speed train in the Yucatán Peninsula have also been announced.

For more details of the Mexico City-Toluca high speed rail project, see Plans to improve the Mexico City-Toluca transport corridor.

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