Mexico is home to the fourth richest biota in the world, locating it among the select group of the “megadiverse”: 17 countries that together harbor around 70% of all known species. In the biodiversity rankings, Mexico occupies eighth place in birds; fifth place in vascular plants and amphibians; third place in mammals and the top spot in reptiles.
However, Mexico is also among the countries where ecosystem destruction poses the gravest threat to biodiversity, and never more so than in the last few decades. By the mid 1990s, the country’s forest cover was down to almost half of what it once was, and by the start of this century its wooded land area had dropped below 40% of its original extension. Worst affected has been the vegetation associated to the topical rainforest, much of whose remaining mass has been left fragmented. Wetlands and aquatic systems have also suffered serious damage, to the extent that long river stretches have run dry and groundwater levels are in decline.
Hence the importance of the work done in these past years by the Directorate-General of Institutional Development and Promotion (DGDIP) belonging to Mexico’s National Commission for Protected Natural Areas (CONANP). The team, made up of 25 professionals under the leadership of Flavio Cházaro, have successfully placed Mexico in the world conservation vanguard by creating new protected areas for practically all the country’s existing ecosystems. As we write, Mexico has 171 protected areas, meaning in practice that almost 13% of its land area enjoys some degree of protection. It also occupies second place internationally by the number of sites included in the Ramsar Convention list of wetlands, and seventh place on the World Natural Heritage list of the planet’s most biodiverse areas.
Furthermore, the DGDIP’s efforts in building collaborative links with national and international organizations, both public and private, have done much to raise the country’s profile in main world conservation forums.
“The consolidation of the National System of Protected Natural Areas, especially from the year 2000 onwards, has helped familiarize society with these regions and to appreciate their value,” explains Cházaro. “The management of Protected Natural Areas (PNAs) has encouraged communities to come on board and make protection goals their own. People now have more information and are more environmentally aware, which translates as greater support for PNAs.”
Crucial to the DGDIP’s success was the decision to base its management on the principle of co-alignment with society, especially as regards the settled communities within PNAs who are also among the country’s most marginalized. Likewise their insistence on the idea of environmental protection as a wealth driver rather than a threat to economic growth.