NatGeo and Mexico Team Up to Create New Marine Protected Area, Islas Marías

Image: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Deep-Sea Symphony: Exploring the Musicians Seamounts, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

The Mexican government, Mares Mexicanos, and the National Geographic Pristine Seas project have announced a new fully protected marine area: the Islas Marías Biosphere Reserve. The reserve will cover 6,413 square kilometers, an area about the size of Delaware, and bans all fishing, mining, drilling, and other extractive activities. The coalition says that the protections will ensure that the region’s reefs and endemic species thrive for years to come.

Why This Matters: Atmospheric CO2 levels are at an all-time high, and the world is running out of time to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Environmental experts say that doling out swift and comprehensive protections for the world’s oceans will be crucial to successfully halting climate change as oceans remove almost a third of all global CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.

Still, only 5% of the world’s oceans are currently protected, and the levels of protections greatly vary. This new reserve brings the National Geographic Pristine Seas project’s total protected area to over 6.5 million square kilometers and brings the world one step closer to protecting 30% of the world’s waters by 2030.

Islas Marías

The Islas Marías Biosphere Reserve is the National Geographic Pristine Seas project’s twenty-fourth marine protected area (MPA). It encompasses a Mexican archipelago of four volcanic islands between the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean. The region is home to some of the last remaining healthy coral reefs in Mexico’s marine protected areas in the Gulf of California. The archipelago was previously declared a reserve by the Mexican government but was still open to fishing activity. Now, all fishing, mining, drilling, and other extractive practices will be banned, and the region will have full protections. “This newly protected area is an opportunity to secure the biodiversity of a pristine ecosystem and properly ensure its survival,” said Octavio Aburto, a National Geographic Explorer and co-founder of Mares Mexicanos.

Pristine Seas supported the project through grant funding and has deployed the National Geographic Society’s deep-sea camera system to observe the region’s rich biodiversity. Enric Sala, a National Geographic Explorer in Residence and founder of Pristine Seas, says that he and his team are proud to be a part of the effort. “Thanks to our partners Mares Mexicanos and their leadership, we were able to support the creation of this new marine reserve and to continue making progress towards our goal of protecting 30 percent of our ocean by 2030,” he said.

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