- Mexico recently announced 20 new protected areas covering roughly 2.3 million hectares (5.7 million acres) across the country.
- The protected areas, which include national parks, sanctuaries and flora and fauna protection areas, are located in the states of Quintana Roo, Oaxaca, Zacatecas, Chiapas and eight others, as well as the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf of California.
- Mexico’s environmental agencies under the Obrador administration have been subjected to consistent cuts in funding since 2016, raising concerns among experts that the departments will not have the personnel or resources to protect the country’s 225 protected areas.
Mexico’s government recently announced the creation of 20 new protected areas across 12 states and two coastal areas in the country, covering roughly 2.3 million hectares (5.7 million acres). This follows a series of budget cuts to the nation’s environmental agencies.
Officials introduced four new national parks, four “flora and fauna protection areas,” seven sanctuaries, two biosphere reserves and three “natural resources protection areas” under the protection of the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas (CONANP).
“This is a commendable step toward biodiversity conservation and environmental protection,” said Gina Chacón, director of the Wildland Network’s public policy program in Mexico. She told Mongabay these new areas will help preserve the country’s rich ecosystems, foster sustainable practices and protect a broad range of important species and habitats. Though some environmental and Indigenous groups are wary the budget cuts could hinder efforts to conserve these areas.
The newly protected areas will preserve habitat and ecologically important marine areas for various species, including whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), Mexican prairie dogs (Cynomys mexicanus) and jaguars (Panthera onca). They will also help safeguard ecologically important coral reefs and areas of cultural significance to Indigenous communities.
Bajos del Norte, a new national park in the Gulf of Mexico, is the largest new protected area, covering 1,304,114 hectares (3,222,535 acres), almost nine times the size of Mexico City. The area is important to the more than 3,000 families that belong to fishing communities on the Yucatán coast. It is also one of the main grouper fish (Epinephelinae) reproduction sites in the Gulf of Mexico and will safeguard threatened species, such as the rocky star coral (Orbicella annularis) and the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).
Joaquín Núñez Medrano, the secretary of the UEFAHG or Union of Forestry and Agricultural Ejidos Hermenegildo Galeana A.C. (Unión de Ejidos Forestales y Agropecuarios Hermenegildo Galeana), lives in an ejido — a type of communally owned land used for agriculture and forestry purposes — called Cordòn Grande in Sierra Grande of Guerrero, along the Pacific Coast. For more than 10 years, Medrano’s community has monitored species such as the jaguar and sustainably managed the ejido’s natural resources, without government assistance.
But now, the ejido has been designated a protected area in this latest round of decrees, as it falls inside part of the new Sierra Tecuani reserve. “The goal is to strengthen what we have already been doing but with support to do it much better,” he told Mongabay.
The second- and third-largest newly protected areas are Sierra Tecuani, a 348,140-hectare (860,272-acre) biosphere reserve threatened by illegal logging, forest fires and land use changes, and the Semidesierto Zacatecas Flora and Fauna Protection Area, which is important for the recovery of the Mexican prairie dog.
The state of Oaxaca is where the government created the most new protected areas, numbering three: the 90-hectare (222-acre) Playa Morro Ayuta Sanctuary, the 56-hectare (138-acre) Barra de la Cruz-Playa Grande Sanctuary and the 261-hectare (645-acre) Playa Cahuitán Sanctuary. Other protected areas were created in the states of Quintana Roo, Veracruz, Campeche, Nayarit, Zacatecas, Chiapas, Colima, Durango, Jalisco, Chihuahua, Guerrero and the State of Mexico.
Decrees but little funding
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has protected more areas than any previous administration, with a total of 43 new areas across 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres). But Mexico’s Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), which works to safeguard the environment, has become severely cash-strapped throughout his six-year term.
SEMARNAT is one of many sectors in Mexico undergoing funding cuts. In recent years, Obrador’s government has implemented a series of strict austerity measures to free up more money for other areas like pensions and wages, boosting the leader’s popularity among citizens, particularly the working-class. Judicial workers, health services and academia have also had their budgets slashed in 2024.
The new budget cuts funding for the environmental department by 9 million pesos (about $520,000) or 11.4%, according to a recent report by the Noroeste Civil Society for Environmental Sustainability (NOSSA). With this new budget, the administration has allocated 35% less to the department than its predecessor in the last six years.
Juan Bezaury-Creel, the director of the organization Fundación BD BioDiversidad Mexicana, said a protected area is better than no protected area because, once a decree is formalized, the government has a duty to protect it. However, this puts “huge pressure on existing personnel because they have to take care of more surface area with less resources,” he told Mongabay.
“The personnel from CONANP are heroic,” he said. “They are putting their lives on the line many times with little budget and little help.”
NOSSA’s report revealed that approximately 10.7 pesos ($0.63) per hectare has been allocated to care for Mexico’s 225 protected areas in 2024. “If there is no money, no personnel and no material resources to take care of these areas, it is not clear how, in practice, they are really going to be conserved,” said Gustavo Alanis-Ortega, executive director of the Mexican Environmental Law Center. “They will be completely neglected.”
Another department that has been badly hit by budget cuts in the last six years is the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection, which is responsible for the inspection and monitoring of compliance with environmental protection laws. Its budget increased by 8% in 2024, though this leaves it with almost 30% fewer resources than in 2016, when President Obrador first took office.
“To do its job of verifying if these decrees are being respected, for example, it will be very difficult because it will not have the personnel or material resources needed to ensure that the decrees are being respected,” Alanis-Ortega said.
According to Gustavo Sánchez, secretary of the Board of Directors of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests and president of the Mexican Network of Peasant Forestry Organizations, without the financial resources, “many of the provisions of the decrees cannot be fulfilled.”
While many institutions suffer from the impact of these budget cuts, the state-owned energy company Pemex has received billions of dollars of support from the government to help pay back its mounting debt and finance its new refinery. Sánchez told Mongabay the government has prioritized the construction of large-scale development projects, such as the controversial Maya Train, over the protection of the environment and the Indigenous and local communities who care for it.
This is echoed by Fidencio Sánchez Atanacio, UEFAHG president, whose ejido in El Balcón has also been designated a protected area in the latest round of decrees. “We are going to make use of all the possibilities available to continue our work and, above all, not lose sight of the main objective, which is the conservation of the environment.”
Officials from Mexico’s environmental protection departments, including SEMARNAT and CONANP, did not comment on the budget cuts and the impacts on Indigenous and local communities
Banner image: The new 348,140-hectare (860,272-acre) Sierra Tecuani Biosphere Reserve in the Mexican state of Guerrero. Image by Joaquín Núñez Medrano.
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