Coastal communities find a natural haven in mangroves

Protecting and restoring coastal forest ecosystems in Mexico

Pedro Alfonso Lopez Gonzalez holds a string of oysters on a sunny day

“We need this whole ecosystem to support our business,” says Pedro Alfonso López González, president of a fishing and oyster farming cooperative in Boca de Camichín, a small town on Mexico’s west coast. It’s a refrain heard often along the country’s coastline as communities rely on healthy mangrove forest ecosystems that help sustain abundant sea life and clean, reliable fresh water for their income and everyday needs.

In his role at the cooperative, Alfonso works with oyster farmers as they navigate personal, business, and ecological challenges. Together, they collaborate to develop resilient business models, and advocate for a healthy mangrove environment that sustains them all.

Below are just some of the dedicated people WWF is working with or are key stakeholders to protect and restore mangroves on the Yucatan Peninsula and the Pacific coast in Nayarit.

An egret takes flight near Boca de Camichín, a small town within the Marismas National Biosphere Reserve on the coast of Nayarit, Mexico. This healthy mangrove ecosystem supports an abundance of birds, jaguars, and other wildlife, as well as community fishing, oyster farming, and ecotourism.

Pedro Alfonso López González, president of a fishing and oyster farming cooperative called Ostricamichín, demonstrates the oyster farming process outside Boca de Camichín. The 176-member strong group is working to expand the oyster market and to protect the mangrove-lined river where the oysters grow.

Smoked local oysters from Ostricamichín anchor a meal at a locally owned seafood restaurant in Boca de Camichín. New offerings like smoked oysters give local farmers a chance to expand the market for their products beyond local areas where the oysters are sold fresh.

Víctor Vázquez Morán, who leads the Marismas National Biosphere Reserve for Mexico’s National Commission of Protected Areas, stands atop an observation tower near the southeastern border of the reserve. The commission works to monitor, protect, and restore Mexico’s protected areas, including Marismas Nacionales. Vázquez and his team work with 22 fishing cooperatives to ensure that mangrove and ecosystem restoration “incorporates the needs of, and implications for, community members first.”

Sandy Marrufo loves night-fishing for spider crabs in the mangroves. Used as bait for octopus fishing in the coastal town of San Felipe, Yucatán, the crabs live within mangrove forests and only come out at night. Marrufo fishes with other members of an all-female fishing cooperative, who are exploring mangrove-dependent tourism opportunities as well.

“All of this is carbon,” says Dr. Jorge Herrera, a mangrove restoration expert with the Center for Research and Advanced Studies at Mexico's National Polytechnic Institute who works with WWF, as he spreads his hands over leaves, roots, and sodden soil in a stand of healthy mangroves. Protecting and restoring mangroves is much more about water flows than it is planting seedlings, he says, and focuses much of his work on restoring the natural hydrological processes that underpin a healthy ecosystem.

As part of a larger project gathering insights and priorities from local communities, a WWF staffer interviews Guadalupe Nuñez, who works at a nursery that supplies seedlings used in restoration and reforestation projects in Dzilam, a large town on the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Of her hometown, Nuñez says “It’s a healthy place with nice weather. And if you live near the mangroves, it’s not too hot.”

Tour guide Julio Mata (front), prepares for a whale shark tour at the office of Ecomata, a family-run ecotourism operation in Boca de Camichín, Nayarit, Mexico. The company is a full-family affair—Julio’s son and nephew Rafael and Roberto both work for the company, and family members also fish, farm oysters, and support biodiversity monitoring in Marismas reserve.

A lone mangrove tree just off the coast of San Felipe, a bright, tourist-friendly town on the north coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. San Felipe, like much of the Yucatan coast, has a mix of sandy beaches, concrete seawalls fortified against encroaching waves, and healthy stands of mangroves.