Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Akumal water quality program moves forward

From an article by Edith Sosa in the newsletter to Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA)

I would like to share with you three experiences that the Water Program had in 2008. First, we initiated the process for certification of Akumal Bay, which had many complications since results of the water quality samples, that were carried out over a six-month period, indicated that several points were above standards set for certification (which are the most stringent in the country). However, we are still in the process and concentrating on this project for next year. Another point was the review of sewage treatment in Akumal, both in the town and in the tourist zone, which we delivered to the authorities to be taken into account. Next year we hope that the State Committee on Potable Water and Sewage dedicates resources to provide sewage treatment to the rest of the town. Finally, we are participating in the development of the Ecological Zoning Plan of the Municipality of Solidaridad, which is in the environmental criteria development stage and, once approved, must be take n into account for new development construction in the area.

The importance of watershed conservation is emphasized in this process and key catchment areas have been identified, as well as the importance of aquifer protection in areas that are used for recreational tourism. It was a year with many activities and we thank you all for helping in this effort of protection. Without your support it would be very difficult to continue. I can only wish that you enjoy the holiday season and that next year we can work more closely together for a balance between development and nature.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Are the Moray Eels of Bonaire Really Dying?

From a post on the blog of Shifting Baselines:

This is rather distressing. It doesn't sound like there has been any sort of major, published, peer-reviewed, quantitative documentation of this yet. But that said, something is not right when so many sport divers not only count dozens of dead or dying eels (the diver on this blog itemized in detail 50 encounters with dead eels), but even posted video footage of one writhing in what looks to be the death throes.
Go to the blog post to see the video.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

2008 reef assessment: urgent action needed

From the abstract of Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2008 posted on Reef Base:

- The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS/MAR) region has received increasing recent attention as a priority for international conservation organizations to provide more research and conservation effort;
- Human and natural threats are continuing, resulting in declining reef condition;
- Live coral cover has declined greatly while chronic human stresses escalate, in parallel with environmental changes and natural events. Coral cover on some reefs has declined by more than 50%;
- A 2006 comprehensive survey of 326 representative reefs revealed regional coral cover averaging 11% (11% Belize, 7.5% Mexico Yucatan, and 14.4% Honduras & Guatemala combined); but some sites have higher cover;
- Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS) project found coral cover from 11–26% at 13 strategically selected sites from 2004–2005 (most/all within MPAs); 96 new surveys in 2007 to 2008 on shallow fore-reefs (2–5 m) in 6 Belize regions showed coral cover of 13%; total fish biomass had declined (average 49.8g per m2); coral and fish abundances are below the Caribbean average;
- Low coral cover indicates that reefs have not recovered from the 1998 bleaching and Hurricane Mitch;
- It is urgent to develop measures to increase reef resilience and lobby for stronger protection of reefs in good health.
The report includes this assessment of the reefs from Cancun south to Belize:

These reefs have suffered from intense fishing activity since the 1960s and increasing pressure from tourism since the mid 1970s. Reef patches at Punta Nizuc and El Garrafon at Isla Mujeres have already been affected by tourism-related activities and the damage appears to be spreading elsewhere to Akumal, Puerto Morelos, Mahahual and Cozumel. Shallow reefs at Cancun, Sian Ka’an and Chinchorro have been affected by boat damage. The reefs just off the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula and immediately westward (Punta Mosquito, Boca Nueva, Piedra Corrida) have very little (<2%) coral cover.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Good management of Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve

The The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) cited Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve for good practices in the protection and management of coral reefs:

In 1999 was developed the Reserve Management Plan, which includes the Financial Program, the Operative Program, the Management and Protection Program, the Public Use Program and the Administration Program, but the main issues are the Zonification and Administrative Rules.

In 2000 with the publication of the mentioned plan in the official paper of the country, the priority activities established in the programs will be executed.

For example, start the enforcement and surveillance program, which is supported by WWF with founds of the Packard Foundation and the Reserve with Federal funds. The objective of this program is to reduce the illegal fishing and to control the tourist activities, based in the zonification and the administrative rules. It is developed with the cooperation of the legal fishermen and the participation of diverse authorities (Navy Ministry and Communication and Transport Ministry and the Environment Ministry). The initial phase of eleven months is conducted by a team supported by two fast boats and a ultra light airplane.

Reasons for designation as "good practice"
- This Biosphere Reserve is a clear example of co-management.
- The elimination of use of nets and any type of compressed air for fishing.
- We will start a project with WWF to get the eco-certification for the fishing products
- The Management Plan has its own Financial Program

Results and lessons learned
The Management Plan was concerted as a result of the previous agreements and commitment with all the members of the Collegiate Advising Committee working since 1998. We understand co-participation implies co-management and compromise from all sectors involved in conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, so we get specific agreements with the different governmental and academic institutions and legal fisherman to develop some of the Programs and Components that are included in the Management Plan.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Stressed ecosystems trigger jellyfish swarms

Jellyfish occasionally "bloom" in the Mexican Caribbean and the wider basin. Here's a possible explanation from a story posted on Environmental News Service:

ARLINGTON, Virginia, December 16, 2008 (ENS) - Jellyfish blooms are ruining some of the world's most beautiful vacation spots, according to a new online report by the National Science Foundation on massive jellyfish swarms in U.S. waters and around the world.

At least 150 million people around the world are exposed to jellyfish every year, the report says. Swarms of stinging jellyfish and jellyfish-like animals are transforming many world-class fisheries and tourist destinations into "jellytoriums" that are intermittently jammed with the pulsating, gelatinous creatures.

This is happening in U.S. waters from Hawaii to the Chesapeake Bay, where 500,000 people are stung by jellyfish every year.

Another 200,000 people are stung every year in Florida, and 10,000 are stung in Australia by the deadly Portuguese man-of-war, according to the report.

These jellyfish explosions are generated by human activities, some scientists believe. Possible causes include pollution, climate change, introductions of non-native species, overfishing and the presence of artificial structures, such as oil and gas rigs.

Jellyfish swarms have damaged fisheries, fish farms, seabed mining operations, desalination plants and large ships, and they have disabled nuclear power plants by clogging intake pipes.

In the Gulf of Mexico's densest jellyfish swarms there are more jellyfish than there is water - 100 jellyfish can occupy each cubic meter of water.

"I'm often asked whether a single, overarching condition is triggering jellyfish swarms in diverse locations," says Monty Graham of Alabama's Dauphin Island Sea Lab on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico. Graham says the abnormally large, dense or frequent jellyfish swarms are "a symptom of an ecosystem that has been tipped off balance by environmental stresses."


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ocean sanctuaries won't save reefs

From an article by Carmelo Amalfi posted on ScienceAlert.com:

According to research presented at the recent Ecological Society of Australia conference in Sydney, marine reserves may help save fish species in the face of climate change but they will not protect the coral reefs that shelter them.

University of North Carolina marine ecologist John Bruno and his former graduate student Elizabeth Selig compared data collected from 8,540 coral reefs in the Indian, Caribbean and Pacific regions from 1987 to 2005.

They compared coral cover, sea surface temperatures and whether the reef was in a marine reserve or not.

“We found while coral loss was reduced in marine reserves, the rate of coral decline with warmer temperatures was just the same in marine reserves as in highly fished areas,” Professor Bruno said.

He believes the results should sound a warning bell for reef managers, who generally believe marine reserves will be more resilient to climate change.

“The biggest stresses put on coral reefs are ocean warming and disease outbreaks,” he said.

“The stresses are both regional and global in scale and local protection through marine reserves is unlikely to help these reefs resist such changes. Marine reserves are very important for protecting fish populations, maintaining coral reef food webs and protecting against anchor damage but they are unlikely to reduce coral losses due to ocean warming.”

Associate Professor Bruno found marine reserves which have been established for at least 15 years were more effective in reducing coral loss than reserves established recently for a shorter period of time.

Marine reserves were effective in protecting coral from overfishing and pollution but they did not slow the effects of global warming.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Domincan Republic: Carving up paradise, killing the reef

From an article by Elizabeth Eames Roebling posted on Inter Press News:

LAS TERRENAS, Dec 15 (IPS) - Located along white sand beaches on the north coast of the lush Samana peninsula, this is the latest Dominican boom town. Entering the town from across the high mountains, developers' signs are perched on the steep hills, with prices in dollars, promising a piece of paradise.

Inside the small village, crowded with motorbikes and SUVs, real estate agencies seem to be the major business. Empty new storefronts dot the sidewalks. New four-storey apartment buildings crowd along the beach front.

Twenty-five years ago, the small village of a few hundred people lived off of fishing. Now the estimated 30,000 residents, including more than 5,000 foreigners, predominantly French, wait for others to come and buy the land that was long ago bought from the original owners.

Charlie Simon, a local artist, says things are worse for him now than a few years ago. He is concerned about all the new construction and what it will mean for the future of the place.

"It is not such a good thing to build so many apartments. People come for a week or two and then lock the place up and leave. Or people come for the weekend from the capital, they come with their own food, with everything. These people, what do they bring? You don't need many people to work in an apartment. It is not business for a town. Fifty apartments will produce maybe five jobs. How much will they make each month, the maids, the gardeners, maybe RD 5,000 pesos a month? This is a benefit for the country? No."

Free Trade Zone earnings and tourism are currently the country's fastest-growing export sectors. So-called "real estate tourism" -- foreigners building vacation homes -- alone accounted for 1.5 billion dollars for 2007, and that number is expected to double within three years, according to the Dominican Association of Real Estate Tourism Companies.

Dr. Jose Bourget, a Dominican who teaches via the internet as a professor at the University of Maryland, settled in Las Terrenas with his family six years ago.

He shares Simon's concerns about development. "I think Las Terrenas has grown too much, too soon. That has had a tremendous impact on basic services and infrastructure, on water, roads. People were building any way they wanted, anywhere they wanted. Much of it was done by paying off officials," he told IPS.

"The damage cannot be undone. The corals are dying. The quality of the water is...well, there is no quality. We know that the underground water cannot be trusted because there are too many septic tanks. Now they have built a town sewage treatment plant, but they put the collection tanks right on the beach. Some of us have reservations about how well it will work. But the damage has been done. No one was thinking of how to control it when the place exploded," he said.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Study: Ineffective implementation of coastal resource management

From an article posted on UnderwaterTimes.com:

Washington, D.C> -- A first of its kind study, "Socioeconomic Conditions Along the World's Tropical Coasts: 2008," reports on the social and economic ramifications of healthy coral reefs in 27 tropical nations and points to the inability of coastal managers to effectively implement decades-old recommendations as a significant barrier to coral reef protection.

Issued as a parallel report to the quadrennial "Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2008" from the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and the International Coral Reef Initiative, researchers from the NOAA-coordinated Global Socioeconomic Monitoring Initiative, with funding from Conservation International, provide the first regional and global synthesis of socio-economic data looking at the importance of healthy coral reef for communities located along the world's tropical coasts. The study data was compiled from interviews with 14,000 households in 27 tropical coastline countries grouped into six broad geographical regions.

The study focuses on the dependence of coastal communities on fishing, the top three perceived threats to corals along the coasts, and how socio-economic data is being used in coastal ecosystem management.

In looking at nations located in the Caribbean, Central America, the Pacific, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Western Indian Ocean, the reports' editors repeatedly found three basic recommendations: 1) the need to develop alternative livelihoods for fishers; 2) the need to involve local community members in decision making processes for coastal and resource management; and 3) the need to improve education and awareness of the value of healthy coral ecosystems.

"None of these recommendations are new to coastal resource management," notes Christy Loper, the report's lead author and social science coordinator of NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program. "However, the fact that they are still emerging as the most important recommendations by dozens of communities indicates that coastal management efforts have not yet been able to effectively implement these site level recommendations in many parts of the world."

"The significance of this study can not be ignored," notes Kacky Andrews who directs the overall NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program. "While we strive to minimize human impacts to reefs, I think this study also points to the critical need to consider how those negative changes to the reefs impact humans as well. The goal here is sustainable use of resources. By listening to local communities we can better mitigate both human impacts on the reef as well as the effects of those negative changes on the community. We need both to happen if we are to be successful."


Friday, December 12, 2008

Even the coral reefs shook

From an article by Dalia Acosta on Inter Press Service:

GIBARA, Cuba, Dec 11 (IPS) - The years will pass and their children’s children will ask how much truth there was in their grandparents’ stories.

The family who watched the water reach their second-floor apartment, the woman who dreamt the day before that she was swimming in her own house, or the story that along the coast, even the coral reefs shook will all seem like legends.

Or maybe not. Perhaps the deafening roar of the winds of Hurricane Ike or the six-metre high storm surge it caused in September will become such common occurrences that governments, local communities and families will have to bear them in mind whenever they decide where or how to build homes.

"When the strength of the sea is capable of destroying in just a few hours what it has taken nature centuries to build up, you have to be scared of it," says architect Alberto Moya, who worked for years to preserve the cultural heritage of this small city located 775 km east of Havana. "And that is what happened all along the coast in Gibara," he tells IPS.

The seaside neighbourhood of "Caletones looks like a different planet. The sea swept everything away. Not even the beach is left. They say the reef itself was shaking," says Moya.

The Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment reported that in this area, the winds pushed the sea up to 1,000 metres inland, vegetation was damaged along a 25-km stretch of coastal land, large chunks of coral were torn up and washed onto shore, and dunes were destroyed.

On the nearly pristine small beach of Caletones, used as a holiday and recreational spot by residents from the small port town of Gibara, which is 17 km away, only a few solidly-built cabins constructed by government companies were left standing. Seven of the 11 coastal neighbourhoods in the area were simply wiped out as the hurricane hovered for hours over the northern coast of the province of Holguín.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fifth of corals dead: only emission cuts can save the rest, says IUCN

From a media release issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN):

The world has lost 19 percent of its coral reefs, according to the 2008 global update of the world’s reef status.

The report, released by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, of which IUCN is a member, shows if current trends in carbon dioxide emissions continue, many of the remaining reefs may be lost over the next 20 to 40 years. This will have alarming consequences for some 500 million people who depend on coral reefs for their livelihoods.

Climate change is considered the biggest threat to coral reefs today. The main climate threats, such as increasing sea surface temperatures and seawater acidification, are being exacerbated by other threats including overfishing, pollution and invasive species.

“If nothing changes, we are looking at a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide in less than 50 years,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Head of the IUCN Global Marine Programme, one of the organizations behind the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network. “As this carbon is absorbed, the oceans will become more acidic, which is seriously damaging a wide range of marine life from corals to plankton communities and from lobsters to seagrasses.”

Encouragingly, 45 percent of the world’s reefs are currently healthy. Another sign of hope is the ability of some corals to recover after major bleaching events, caused by warming waters, and to adapt to climate change threats.

However, the report shows that, globally, the downward trend of recent years has not been reversed. Major threats in the last four years, including the Indian Ocean tsunami, more occurances of bleaching, outbreaks of coral diseases and ever-heavier human pressures, have slowed or reversed recovery of some coral reefs after the 1998 mass bleaching event.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Conservation International (CI) launches BlueTubeTV

From BlueTubeTV, a site for CI's Marine Program videos:

Conservation International's Marine Program is committed to protecting the world's ocean and key marine regions. These areas possess critically important and threatened species. Strategy and innovation are two hallmarks of CI's marine program and our efforts rest firmly on CI's strategic pillars of science, partnership and human well-being. Today's efforts are generating exciting news and outcomes from the field. Blue Tube is just one of the many ways we are communicating those results to the world.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Florida's $5.5 billion reef economy at risk frrom climate change

From a media release issued by the Environmental Defense Fund:

(Sarasota, Florida- December 1, 2008) A comprehensive new analysis of business generated by Florida's coral reefs warns that more than 70,000 jobs and more than $5.5 billion in economic activity in the state are in grave jeopardy from climate change.

"A business-as-usual approach to climate change could mean a lot less business for Florida," said Jerry Karnas, Florida project director at Environmental Defense Fund, which commissioned the report, Corals and Climate Change: Florida's Natural Treasures at Risk.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Marine life responds instantaneously to Turks & Caicos artificial reef

From an Associated Press article posted on PR-inside.com:

PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos (AP) - Nearly 100 concrete orbs have been submerged in shallow waters off Grand Turk island to encourage coral growth, shelter small fish and enhance snorkeling, a government scientist said Sunday.

The hollow domes submerged in recent days have quickly attracted marine life off Governor's beach, a popular stretch of coastline in Grand Turk, said Lucy Wells, a marine biologist who does reef restoration work for the Turks and Caicos Islands.

"The response from marine life was instantaneous," said Wells, who works for the island chain's Environment and Coastal Resources Department.

In Turks and Caicos waters, shallow-water coral reefs have been harmed by pollution, overfishing and unusually high sea temperatures in 2005. But scientists say coral colonies off the British islands are in better shape than those of many neighboring islands.

In recent years, reef balls have been submerged in dozens of locations around the globe to help marine habitats.

The newly submerged reef balls, anchored to the sandy seabed and weighing some 300 pounds (136 kilograms) each, have holes that create currents and circulate nutrients to marine life. Small fish can hide from predators inside the 2-foot (65 centimeter) wide, 3-foot (1 meter) tall spheres. Larval coral was placed on the rough exteriors.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Holiday gifts to delight and support ocean causes

Nearly every conservation organization offers something special for the holidays; here's a very incomplete list of gift possibilities:

Adopt a turtle (Centro Ecológico Akumal)
Adopt a dolphin (World Wildlife Fund)
Adopt a hammerhead shark (Oceana)
Tree ornaments and other gifts (Sea Turtle Survival League)
CORAL calendar (Coral Reef Alliance)
Sea Turtle Note Cards (SeaTurtle.org)


Thursday, December 4, 2008

15th anniversary for Centro Ecológico Akumal

An e-mail from Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA):

As we celebrate our 15-year anniversary as a conservation organization and reflect on our goals for this year, we are pleased that we've achieved quite a lot, and understand that we still have more to do to make Akumal a truly ecological destination. Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA) has been working hard to establish a community program to manage our incredible bays in a more sustainable way and to develop a strategy to improve ground-water quality.

Based on two years of water quality studies and participation in regional wastewater management events, we have been able to form alliances with the municipal and state water authorities to begin to address the serious issue of wastewater treatment in Akumal. We are now able to address details for improved sewage treatment along the coast, and thus for reduced contaminants reaching the sea and choking off the reef.

Likewise, CEA has been able to facilitate the creation of a Community-based Management Plan for Akumal's bays, uniting such diverse actors as the local independent operators, dive shops and hotels, as well as outside tour operators. They all use the natural wealth of our bays, and are now working together to run and fund a program that seeks to balance economic benefit and environmental protection, with a focus on taking care of our resident sea turtles. Numerous workshops and meetings were held with all the actors, based on studies of both the sea turtles' and human activities in the bay. We were able to get stakeholders to understand their impact on and responsibility for the wildlife found in Akumal Bay. The program is now operating and it serves as a great example of a local initiative for sustainable tourism. We are excited about the positive results in the bay as tours and boats accept new operating rules aimed at human safety and wildlife protection.

In addition, our ongoing sea turtle protection was also very successful, with almost 300 nests protected and over 26,000 hatchlings able to reach the sea this year. This good hatchling rate is due in grand part to the cooperation CEA received from hotels and tourists each night as turtles nested or nests hatched.

Our challenge now is to build on these positive results, to protect and manage better all of Akumal. As tourism development grows in the region, we must be ready to serve as a model of what CAN be done to lessen the destruction of this beautiful area—demonstrating ways to treat wastewater, to manage beaches and bays, and to unite people for our future. CEA still has more to do, getting the government to improve enforcement of existing environmental laws, working with the local community to integrate our efforts, and sharing our goals and experiences with the global community. We look forward to concrete achievements in regional wastewater treatment and bay protection for all of Akumal.

We are grateful for all of the support we have received from so many people throughout the year and we are certain that, with your help, we will be able to report greater achievements next year. If you have not yet joined CEA with a new or renewed membership, or made a donation, please consider doing so before the end of this tax year. Please click here to explore your tax-deductible donation options.

Please join us to make 2009 a year of restoration of this paradise: cleaner ground-water, growing corals, and healthy sea turtles.

We are very thankful for your donations and we wish you a peaceful holiday season.

Best regards,

Paul Sánchez-Navarro


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Changes in Land Use, Changes in Climate

From an articleby Emilio Godoy posted on IPS News:

MEXICO CITY, Dec 2 (Tierramérica) - The countries of Latin America have failed to design integrated policies to control the processes of changes in land use, one of the causes of climate change. The region produces 12 percent of the world's emissions of greenhouse gases, which are driving up the planet’s average temperatures and changing the climate around the globe.

Half of the emissions are the result of deforestation, with Brazil and Mexico leading the region in terms of climate-changing pollutants.

"Latin America needs regional integration to combat deforestation," Brazilian Senator Renato Casagrande told Tierramérica.

Change in land use was one of the main issues taken up by 77 lawmakers from across the region at a meeting of the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE) that ended Nov. 23 in the Mexican capital.

The event, sponsored by the Mexican Congress, the World Bank, the Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development (COM+) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), marked the launch of the International Commission on Land Use Change and Ecosystems.

"We hope that the Commission provides a clear set of measures that national parliaments can adopt through regulations, fiscal incentives or laws," said Casagrande. "That way we can advance towards an economic system that foments a sustainable use of the land."

In their 16-point declaration, the lawmakers stated that deforestation should be a priority in environmental action plans, especially considering the effective and low-cost opportunities associated with the measures and the important parallel benefits for local communities and biodiversity.
Not only does deforestation contribute to climate change, but deforested land can smother the ocean wtih eroded silt, as decribed in an entry on Mongabay.com:
As the suspended particles reach the ocean, the water becomes cloudy, causing regional declines in coral reefs, and affecting coastal fisheries. The loss of coral reefs worldwide, often labeled the rainforests of the sea, is especially distressing to scientists because of their tremendous diversity and the important services they provide. Coastal fisheries are affected not just by the loss of coral reefs and their communities, but by the damage inflicted on mangrove forests by heavy siltation.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

No place like home: new theory for how salmon, sea turtles find their birthplace

From an article on Science Daily:

How marine animals find their way back to their birthplace to reproduce after migrating across thousands of miles of open ocean has mystified scientists for more than a century. But marine biologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill think they might finally have unraveled the secret.

At the beginning of their lives, salmon and sea turtles may read the magnetic field of their home area and "imprint" on it, according to a new theory in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Earth's magnetic field varies predictably across the globe, with every oceanic region having a slightly different magnetic signature. By noting the unique "magnetic address" of their birthplace and remembering it, animals may be able to distinguish this location from all others when they are fully grown and ready to return years later, researchers propose.

Previous studies have shown that young salmon and sea turtles can detect the Earth's magnetic field and use it to sense direction during their first migration away from their birthplace to the far-flung regions where they spend the initial years of their lives.

The new study seeks to explain the more difficult navigational task accomplished by adult animals that return to reproduce in the same area where they themselves began life, a process scientists refer to as natal homing.

"What we are proposing is that natal homing can be explained in terms of animals learning the unique magnetic signature of their home area early in life and then retaining that information," said Kenneth Lohmann, Ph.D., professor of biology in the UNC College of Arts and Sciences and the first author of the study.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Manatees become conservation symbol for communities in Chiapas

From an article posted on Mongabay.com:

Local conservation efforts are helping protect endangered manatees in Chiapas, Mexico, report researchers writing in the December issue of Tropical Conservation Science.

Conducting surveys of local communities and recording manatee sightings in the Catazajá wetlands of northeast Chiapas, Jenner Rodas-Trejo and colleagues mapped the progress on conservation efforts in an ecosystem that is increasingly rare in Mexico due to transformation for cattle ranching, oil exploration, and human settlement. The researchers found hopeful signs that locals are changing practices harmful to the marine mammal and even actively promoting conservation of the species. The new sentiment is reflected by the elevation of the manatee as a community symbol.

"Since 2001, we have gradually involved the local communities in the conservation of manatees and the wetland ecosystem. Local people participation has been gradual and more recently accelerated," write the authors. "While still in progress, tangible outcomes of community involvement in conservation are the following: protection by the local community of manatee preferred gathering areas in the wetland is gaining strength, hunting of manatees is now almost non existent, local people trained by us now assist in keeping track of manatee sightings and local community members actively become involved in the rescue of stranded individuals. Importantly, the manatee has now become the animal emblem for the communities in the study area. A manatee festival is held once a year, with intensive participation by local inhabitants, including adults of all ages and school children."

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Ed Blume, a volunteer for Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA), moderates the blog. Anyone wishing to post can contact Ed at ed@ceakumal.org.

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