Projects in Mexico aim to protect carbon-storing mangroves

By Luis Manuel Lopez

Villahermosa, Mexico, Feb 17 (EFE).- The climate crisis-triggered melting of polar ice caps would submerge up to 40 percent of the Yucatan Peninsula, according to a Mexican researcher in the southeastern state of Tabasco who is working with environmentalists to salvage the carbon-storing mangroves of that region.

A biologist at Juarez Autonomous University of Tabasco (UJAT), Carlos Manuel Burelo is investigating the mangrove swamps of the San Pedro Martir River, a waterway that flows from the Guatemala department of El Peten to the Tabasco municipality of Balancan.

He explained to Efe that when the Earth’s poles melted 125,000 years ago the level of the oceans rose as a result of that warming process, adding that the phenomenon could be repeated.

“If the mangroves of Balancan are 17 meters (56 feet) above sea level, imagine all the cities like Villahermosa (Tabasco’s capital), which is two meters above sea level (and) would be submerged,” the researcher told Efe.

“Cancun and Merida (capital of Yucatan state) as well. Between 30 percent and 40 percent (of the territory) would be lost. The Yucatan peninsula would be submerged, the same process that occurred with the mangroves of the San Pedro River,” he said.

The UJAT researcher said the melting of the polar ice caps would be a “catastrophe” that would also impact Mexico.

He also stressed that the climate crisis underscores the need to protect and preserve mangroves and wetlands, coastal habitats have become a target of attention for climate scientists, who recognize that this vegetation can play a crucial role in storing carbon while also shielding coastlines from worsening weather events and storm surge stemming from a warming planet.

Over the past 50 years, the wetlands of the San Pedro Martir River lost a vast amount of vegetation, devastation that environmentalists attribute to the Balancan-Tenosique Plan, a failed agricultural development project that razed 200,000 hectares (770 square miles) of forest to convert that land into farms for grain production.

Burelo currently is heading up a joint project between UJAT and the private sector to create community nurseries that help reforest and restore mangroves and wetlands.

Elsewhere, at a distance of 250 kilometers (155 miles) from Balancan in Lazaro Cardenas, a small rural settlement in the Tabasco municipality of Comalcalco, the local population has been carrying out mangrove monitoring, conservation and reforestation work for the past eight years at five nearby lagoons.

Over the past six years, that community also has been holding a mangrove and wetlands festival, a tribute to that ecosystem that is aimed at promoting its conservation and mitigating the climate crisis.

The festival’s centerpiece is a boat parade in which the contestants represent the flora and fauna of the local wetlands.

Don Jose de la Cruz, president of the monitoring council for the lagoons, said the project kicked off with a program for the sustainable use of red mangrove debris.

The man said that after six days of cooking the vegetable charcoal and then a cooling process, the fishermen obtain six tons of that product for the benefit of 50 families.

“At the same time, an area is cleaned and is reforested once again. That’s the job we do,” he told Efe.

Ursulo Galvan, a community in southeast Mexico that was destroyed 50 years ago by a large fire, is carrying out its own effort to recover mangrove swamps in the municipality of Jalpa de Mendez.

The work involves collecting seeds and carrying out monitoring missions to prevent clandestine logging and fires. They also monitor pests, reforest wetlands and take samples at different sites.

Thus far, 550 hectares of red, white and black mangroves have been restored, an effort that also has served to recover fauna such as deer, armadillos and the lowland paca (a large rodent).

“We all know one another in our community and carry out an arduous work. We train one another and have two fishing cooperatives. Everybody is all in on the idea that we can’t destroy our mangroves,” Josue Selvan Perez, president of Ursulo Galvan’s Ejidal Commissariat, told members of the media recently. EFE

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