On 7 December 2016, during the 13th Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP13) held in Cancún, the Mexican Government designated three new MPAs totaling 647,015 km2. All three sites are multiple-use biosphere reserves, with some zones that are strictly protected (no-take) and others that are sustainably managed.
The Deep Mexican Pacific Biosphere Reserve is a 577,862-km2 deep-sea multi-use MPA, designated from 800 meters below the sea surface to the sea floor in Mexico’s Pacific waters. Designed to protect fragile seabed ecosystems, this biosphere reserve is currently Mexico´s largest protected area and the 12th-largest MPA worldwide. Mining and fishing will not be allowed in the MPA’s 15 strictly protected core zones that cover 187,771 km2. In the MPA’s 390,091 km2 of buffer zones, no mining and only fishing activities that do not use bottom-trawling gear will be permitted. (In the waters above this MPA, a Mysticeti and Odontoceti Refuge Area, designated in 2002, protects all large whales in Mexico´s EEZ, while the economically important tuna fishery is managed by the National Fisheries Commission [CONAPESCA] within the framework of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission [IATTC].)
This MPA protects the Tehuantepec Trench (Mexico´s deepest point at 6721 meters below sea level); Mexico´s highest concentration of seamounts, including the Mathematicians Seamounts; the lower reaches of the Banderas, Petacalco-Lázaro Cárdenas, and Ometepec grand marine canyons; the geologically active East Pacific Rise, where new marine floor is constantly created by the presence of hydrothermal vents; and deep sea habitats surrounding the core and buffer areas of the Revillagigedo Archipelago, already included on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
New MPAs in a time of budgetary constraints
Concerns have been voiced that more than tripling Mexico´s protected area coverage at a time of serious budgetary constraints for management will drain resources for existing protected areas. Some have suggested this indicates these MPAs were created only in order for Mexico to meet Aichi Target 11.
However, while the national budgetary crisis is certainly real and worrisome, it should be noted that only the Baja California Pacific Islands and the coastal portion of the Mexican Caribbean biosphere reserves will require immediate on-the-water management efforts. Currently protecting the deep-sea portions of them will only require focusing existing surveillance activities of the EEZ by the Mexican Navy and a relatively small increase in administrative tasks — since no public or private stakeholders currently use resources from these deep zones. Precisely this situation is what makes their establishment more than timely. Why wait for conflicts to emerge in order to create MPAs?
It is encouraging to see Mexico adopt measures that will protect the deep ocean. These measures are implementing United Nations General Assembly resolutions on deep-sea protection, such as Resolution 61/105, and support similar measures taken by the European Union, individual countries, and regional fisheries management organizations around the world.