Sea of Cortez

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A look at efforts underway to protect the rich biodiversity in the area along the Sea of Cortez.

Jose Cardenas: The national parks system is arguably one of this country's most important public programs. What began as a radical idea has become a cohesive park system with a mission to make the parks accessible to all and to preserve them for future generations. The US is not alone in this effort. Luis Carrion reports efforts are underway to protect the biodiversity along the Sea of Cortez.

Luis Carrion: The national parks system in the U.S. is arguably one of this country's most important public programs. What began as a radical idea has become a cohesive park system to make the parks accessible to all and preserve them for future generations. However, it's important to note that the U.S. is not alone to preserve our national and cultural legacy of the plant. Here, in the sea of Cortez, efforts are underway to preserve the region.

Susan Anderson: When I started working, there was no park system and since then, the park system has increased staff, they've -- it's like the Teddy Roosevelt era of Mexico. They've decreed millions of acres, protected areas, and they've increased the budget. Here's a great example.

Luis Carrion: Susan is with the nature conservancy. She's been instrumental in developing Mexico's conservancy program along the sea of Cortez.

Susan Anderson: I think one the big differences between U.S. parks systems and Mexican is there's not a single park in Mexico that doesn't have people living in it. And Mexico adopted the man in the biosphere approach to protected areas where they believe people can live sustainably at the same time as protecting biological diversity and not take people off of protected areas.

Luis Bourillon: Around this island, one of the adventures that the family has is they've been the guardians of the waters surrounding this island. They patrol their own fishing areas and prevent the access of foreign fishermen and big boats and been taking care of the waters around here, so there's good fishing and diving. You can still see large animals.

Luis Carrion: Luis Burrion is the executive director of COBI, which stands for community and biodviersity. Burrion carries out work in community conservation of sustainable small-scale fisheries, Marine protected areas and economic conservation and here he's working with local fishermen.

Luis Bourillon: And the other big element that I think needs to happen is to assign ownership rights to fishermen to have legal ownership over the waters that they use. So they gain responsibility to really have sustainable fisheries on their areas they fish. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense to invest in conservation. If you're leaving, for example, a lobster because you're conscious about the need for the lobster to reproduce, you have no certainty that somebody else is going to pick it up, you don't do it.

Luis Carrion: Giving the local residents an understanding of the importance for developing sustainable fishing practices and helping them take ownership of the conservation efforts, these are key to preserving this rich bioregion.

Luis Bourillon: I'm very optimistic. I think a big element in all of this shift is for the government to recognize that the best stewards for the fisheries are the fishermen. That the best managers are the fishermen. Especially for communities like this, they don't have anything else. They don't have other industries. If they over-exploit the sea, they're history. They have to move somewhere else. But if they are good stewards of the resource, they're also sustainable communities. So sustainable human communities depend on sustainable fisheries. There's a big link, a big connection.

Luis Carrion: The link between humans, the communities and the relationship with the natural environment. This is the model that is used to develop the national parks in this area and for Susan Anderson and the nature conservancy, it's clear that humans play an important role in conservation efforts.

Susan Anderson: In working with fishing communities, they're smart. They can tell when their fish stock are increasing, so in several cases our partner, COBI, is working with communities on setting aside their own areas is they monitor. So they see the increased number of fish within the protected area and outside of the protected area and they see how their own fishing improves.

Luis Carrion: Anderson has spent years in northern Mexico along the Sea of Cortez and seen many changes. Now, in spite of the difficult challenges faced by conservationists, she sees a future in the partnerships being developed.

Susan Anderson: Humans are solution finders and we're a lot more clever now than we were even 10 years ago in finding ways to be compatible with human use and the protection of nature.

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