Cabo Pulmo, Baja, Mexico: world’s most robust marine reserve?

administrator . Industry, Conservation, and Legislation 1752

Cabo Pulmo, a protected marine reserve on the southeastern tip of the Baja Peninsula, is the location of the oldest of only three coral reefs on the west coast of North America. The reef, estimated to be 20,000 years old, is the northernmost coral reef in the eastern Pacific.

About six months ago, Scripps Institute of Oceanography called Cabo Pulmo the “World’s Most Robust Marine Reserve,” citing a journal article authored by Scripps biologists and others that determined that the biomass (at least fish biomass) increased 460 percent between 1999 and 2009.  The reserve’s no-take restrictions were implemented in 1995 and have received strong local support and enforcement.

“The study’s results are surprising in several ways,” said Octavio Aburto-Oropeza, a Scripps postdoctoral researcher, World Wildlife Fund Kathryn Fuller fellow and lead author of the study. “A biomass increase of 463 percent in a reserve as large as Cabo Pulmo (71 square kilometers) represents tons of new fish produced every year. No other marine reserve in the world has shown such a fish recovery.”

One recent newspaper article also reported on the success of the reserve.

Some, however, are arguing that such success is only temporary, as the Mexican government has authorized the construction of three large-scale resorts.  This article by the AIDA raises concerns that sedimentation and pollution, in addition to other impacts, caused by planned development will offset the evident recovery of this particular ecosystem.

How this reef area fares over the next few years will be a good indicator of whether development and reef systems can co-exist.  I remain convinced that it can be done, but it requires significant remediation of development generated stressors, and consistent enforcement of regulations.  Whether Mexico is up to the task, we can only hope and see.

Murray W. Camp