Division of Bird Habitat Conservation

Birdscapes: News from International Habitat Conservation Partnerships

Project Profiles - Mexico

La Laguna Flamingos Alive and Recovering
by Eric Gustafson, Conservation Mexico, A.C.

The Soto la Marina River empties into the Gulf of Mexico almost on the Tropic of Cancer. A system of lagoons - known as La Laguna Flamingos - sits at the mouth of the Soto La Marina River, which is located approximately 150 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border in the State of Tamaulipas. Four rivers flow across central Tamaulipas and join together at "Las Adjuntas" to form the Soto la Marina.

Previously, La Laguna possessed a rich variety of flora and fauna. In the late 1970s, the Mexican government built two dams on the river that kept water from the area's lagoons. With the termination of a constant water supply and the subsequent, substantial deforestation for cattle ranching, much of the plant and animal life in La Laguna vanished.

Deforestation caused ambient temperatures to rise, and rainfall reduced significantly. Precipitation was no longer adequate to fully replenish La Laguna's water supply. The lakes became saline basins and no longer supported many species of fish, shellfish, and birds. Furthermore, the land ceased to act as a natural filter for waters entering the gulf.

Recently, a partnership began transforming this ecological tragedy into a sustainable development success story. It plans to restore La Laguna through a multi-phased project. Partners received a $282,050 North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant to which they added $414,600 to achieve their goal.

The partnership worked with the Mexican National Water Commission and the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Fishing for more than 2 years to obtain the necessary permits for the project. Restoration work includes installation of a water pumping system, excavation of 25,000 feet of canals and ditches, construction of dikes, bridges, and cattle-exclusion fences, and reforestation on thousands of acres.

The project seeks to simultaneously revitalize a distressed ecosytem and create sufficient economic growth to make recovery self-sustaining. The project's environmental benefits include the restoration of the original 3,300 acres of coastal habitats, the protection of habitats that are home to five of the seven North American feline species and four species of turtles, regional adoption of environmentally sound fish and shellfish farming techniques, and preservation of habitats for several endangered species, endemic birds, colonial waterbirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl.

However, the restoration project effects more than beautification and revitalization of the land. Economic and societal benefits include increased local employment, opportunities in fish and shellfish harvesting, and ecotourism.

La Laguna restoration exemplifies the core principles of sustainable development in biodiversity. Partners look to use La Laguna as the gateway to similar programs in the Americas. All it takes are dedicated partnerships without national borders.

For more information, contact Eric Gustafson, President, Conservation Mexico, A.C., Arbol 182, Santa Engracia, Garza Garcia, Nuevo León, 66267, (528) 356-9331, gustafson@as-llc.com, www.technet.net.mx/CMAC/index.html.

La Laguna Flamingos Partners

State of Tamaulipas
University of Houston-Clear Lake
Conservation Mexico
U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce - Monterrey Business Council for Sustainable Development
Environmental Defense Fund
Patronato Laguna Guerrero

Planning a Better Future for San Quintín Bay
by Laura Martínez Ríos, Pro Esteros

San Quintín Bay is not only one of the most important coastal wetlands in the state of Baja California, but also it is recognized as a wetland of national priority by the Mexican Government. The bay's ecosystem is extremely productive and supports a great number of endemic species. It also functions as a critical nursery for aquatic species and provides habitat, food, and shelter for thousands of migratory birds, particularly Pacific black brant and shorebirds.

The bay's biological wealth likewise brings prosperity to some sectors of the local economy. As one of the peninsula's most beautiful bays, San Quintín has been attracting an increasing number of tourists. Unfortunately, with this boon to the economy comes an increasing amount of disturbance to the Bay's natural resources.

In addition, daily pressures from an ever-growing urban population have caused habitat degradation, or in some cases destruction. Concerned residents and local organizations recently decided it was time to improve the outlook of the Bay's future and find a balance between their needs and the need to conserve natural resources.

Conserving complete habitats is the key to maintaining biodiversity, but in many places that is no longer an option because habitats have been fragmented and converted to other land uses. To help achieve a balance between conservation and land-use needs, future conservation actions and/or land-use planning decisions should be based on reliable ecological information.

In March 1998, Pro Esteros received a $23,060 North American Wetlands Conservation Act (Act) grant to gather crucial baseline information about the bay to support long-term land-use planning in the area. Pro Esteros, the Packard Foundation, and the Municipality of Ensenada added $24,632 to advance the Base Study for a Land-use Plan for San Quintín Bay, Baja California Project. Partners inventoried natural, social, economic, and cultural resources, and delineated several different environmental units within the area. They also identified various types of land use, such as agriculture, industry, aquaculture, tourism, fisheries, and urban development and assessed the effects of each on the natural environment.

The project revealed that aquaculture, fisheries, and ecotourism are the three most economically productive activities in the bay, but they are also the most detrimental to the natural ecosystem given their current mode of operation.

In March 2000, Pro Esteros received a $17,903 Act grant for a follow-up project: Management Plans for Aquaculture, Fisheries, and Ecotourism in San Quintín Bay. Pro Esteros, the Municipality of Ensenada, and an anonymous donor matched grant funds with $17,903. Partners of this project are working with local communities to develop management plans for the various land uses affecting the Bay's ecosystem. Together they are planning a better future for both the people and wildlife of San Quintín Bay.

For more information, contact Laura Martínez Ríos, Pro Esteros, Avenida Ruíz #1692 Centro, Ensenada, Baja California, México, C.P.22800, (6) 178-0162 or -6050, proester@telnor.net, www.proesteros.org.

On the Road to Sustainability in the Laguna Madre
By Sergio Medellín Morales, Pronatura Noreste, A.C.

In the State of Tamaulipas lies one of the richest, most biologically diverse ecosystems in northeast Mexico—the Laguna Madre. However, alongside this abundance of natural riches exist some of the most economically impoverished communities in the region.

The Laguna Madre bears no legal protection and, to date, more than 90 percent of the vegetation to the north of the laguna has been cleared for agriculture. Three decades of intensive agrochemical use has led to soil and water contamination as well as bio-accumulation of chemicals in wildlife species. Within the last decade, industrial development, especially maquiladoras, has accelerated in this area, and runoff from these small industrial plants have been contaminating the tributaries and canals that feed into the laguna.

Just about 2 years ago, Pronatura Noreste, A.C., in coordination with the Texas Center for Policy Studies and with the support of local residents, began to turn things around. They launched a participatory community development program designed to empower local communities of the laguna to become the principle conservationists and stewards of this grand, biologically diverse wetland ecosystem.

The majority of the nearly 20,000 residents of this area is concentrated in the communities of El Mezquital, Las Higuerillas, Carboneras, Enrramadas, and La Pesca—each with their own challenges and goals. Through a participatory process, community members and other partners selected local priority areas for conservation and outlined informal environmental education activities specific to their needs. In general, this community conservation and development program is helping to organize local land and resource users and build their capacity to implement conservation and development efforts in the laguna.

Together, local people, Pronatura Noreste, and other partners have embarked on a road to sustainability by developing strategies that will allow for the conservation of the laguna's biodiversity and natural resources while improving the quality of life for its inhabitants. Ecotourism, bird-watching, sport fishing, crop diversification, improvements in sanitation, protection of potable water sources, and promotion of fair commerce are now incorporated into the projects being carried out in the Laguna Madre region.

For more information, contact Sergio Medellín Morales, Pronatura Noreste, A.C., Alfonso Reyes 201-A, Colonia Contry, Monterrey, Nuevo León, México 64860, (528) 358-1198 extension.28, smedellin@pronaturane.org, www.pronatura.org.mx.