Mangroves are considered unhealthy areas, filled with stagnant water and mosquito breeding, and of no value to society. To improve these areas, mangroves had to be demolished and turned into tourist developments or farms for aquaculture. This view is changing globally, as the ecological, economic, and even social, importance of these ecosystems has been proven. However, in Mexico we lost mangroves at a rate of 2% per year, so the conservation of this ecosystem is still a challenge.
The Gulf of California Marine Program has worked hard to demonstrate the economic benefit of these healthy ecosystems. In 2008, using a broad base of fisheries and geographic data, we estimated that the value of the services that mangroves provide to fisheries is around USD $37,500 annually per hectare. The mangroves in the Gulf of California maintain more than 26 high value fisheries including snappers, Mexican snook, milkfish, crab, mullets, mojarras and catfish, among many other commercially valuable species. We also found that 13 coastal regions of the Gulf of California produce an average of 11,500 tons of fish and crab annually from mangroves; creating an annual average of 19 million dollars for local fishermen.
In 2013 we studied another environmental service provided by mangroves and coastal lagoons, this time related to the habitat they provide for ducks and geese that migrate from Alaska to Mexico. In their migration route, these birds provide a significant economic benefit related to recreational activities carried out globally such as bird watching and the hunting industry. The economic importance of the latter activity in the US and Canada and its potential as a tool for wetland conservation motivated us to conduct a study, which concluded with an important result: every square kilometer of healthy coastal lagoons in Mexico generates over one thousand six hundred dollars in hunting rights in the United States. In addition, between three and six million dollars would also be available for the conservation of these habitats, depending on the willingness of hunters to protect them.
Today, the Gulf of California Marine Program is carrying out research to understand and quantify the environmental services of mangroves related to carbon uptake, a service that will be ever more important with climate change. We will soon show the results of this research.
Octavio Aburto has focused his research in the ecology and fisheries of reef fish in the Gulf of California. For 12 years, he has also worked in topics related to protected marine areas in the region. He coordinates various projects financed by national and international organizations and is head of a research group that includes undergraduate and graduate students from UABCS and Scripps who seek to identify the importance of coastal habitats (for example mangroves and kelp forests) for regional fisheries.