Protecting coastal watersheds in Mexico yields many benefits
Mexico belongs to an elite club: it is one of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries, with some 12 percent of the world’s species found within its borders.
However the geography of this nature-rich land flanked by the Gulf of California and the Gulf of Mexico also makes it highly vulnerable to climate-linked disasters.
This is particularly true on its coasts, where watershed areas and their inhabitants face serious peril from increasingly severe hurricanes and storms, droughts, and forest fires.
Fortunately, the country’s defenses against deforestation, land degradation, and species loss in these sensitive ecosystems have been fortified by a collaborative initiative funded by the Global Environment Facility and led by the World Bank.
The goal of the project “Conservation of Coastal Watersheds in the Context of Changing Environments” was to promote the conservation of protected areas and support sustainable locally-run agroforestry through improved management of the coastal watersheds surrounding them.
The intervention was critically needed.
Without steps to counteract environmental damage, research suggested that Mexico’s coastal regions could lose 35 percent of their rainforest cover and 18 percent of their temperate forests, along with significant biodiversity.
From its earliest stages, the GEF-funded initiative promoted an inclusive approach to addressing deforestation and species loss.
Three government agencies – the National Commission for Protected Areas, the National Forestry Commission, the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change – worked closely together, from project design through to roll-out. The public-private partnership also included the privately run Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature.
They worked together to advance specific efforts to promote climate resilience, sustainable land use, and planet-friendly ways to earn a living, such as honey and pepper production, eco-friendly cattle ranching, and adventure tourism.
The project’s true measure of success, however, was the enormous engagement of local communities that could benefit from these changes in land use and livelihoods.
More than 16,000 coastal watershed inhabitants – 20 percent of them Indigenous – took part in workshops held over the four-year span of the project. These sessions bolstered knowledge and skills vital for resilience and, importantly, raised local understanding of the role nature plays in their community’s economic and physical well-being.
As they learned more, residents became increasingly proud of the wealth of nature in the river basins around them and committed to the project’s success. They were active participants in specific initiatives as well as the project’s monitoring work, which will feed into development of watershed action plans to inform future activities.
By every measure, the project met or exceeded its goals.
More than 1.75 million hectares of protected areas are now under sustainable management on Mexico’s coasts, with clear financial and strategic yardsticks, trained staff, necessary equipment and infrastructure, and diversified budgets that include national and international sources of investment. This is well ahead of the original one-million-hectare goal.
Teams also made major strides in promoting the sustainable management of nearby agricultural land and helping to equip inhabitants to weather future environmental challenges. The management strategies of 35,784 hectares of watersheds – nearly twice the target area – now include supportive green initiatives such as Payment for Ecosystem Services schemes.
Fundraising under the project’s auspices amassed more than $28 million for a permanent protected area endowment fund.
Finally, Mexico’s National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change developed and introduced Integrated Watershed Action Plans and innovative monitoring tools in six coastal basins: Tuxpan, Antigua, Jamapa, Baluarte, San Pedro, and Vallarta. Processes developed for these watersheds could potentially be rolled out to more.
The federal government has hailed the benefits delivered by this integrated approach to watershed management, which will be used as a template for work in other watersheds.
For more information about this project, please see this GEF Good Practice Brief.