Mexico creates North America's largest fully protected MPA

MPA News

By Juan E. Bezaury-Creel, Francisco Ursúa-Guerrero, César Sánchez-Ibarra, and David Gutiérrez-Carbonell

Editor's note: In November, the Mexican Government designated the 148,087-km² Revillagigedo National Park, which expanded an existing MPA around the four-island Revillagigedo archipelago, off Mexico’s Pacific coast. The prior smaller MPA had already been inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 2016; when inscribing it, UNESCO recommended the MPA’s expansion. The newly expanded protected area is closed to all fishing and other resource extraction, and to the building of hotels on the islands.

Juan E. Bezaury-Creel is with The Nature Conservancy’s Mexico and Northern Central America Program. Francisco Ursúa-Guerrero is from the Coalition for the Defense of the Seas of Mexico (CODEMAR). César Sánchez-Ibarra and David Gutiérrez-Carbonell are with Mexico’s National Protected Areas Commission (Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas, or CONANP).

The Revillagigedo National Park was designated by Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto on 27 November 2017, exactly one hundred years after the country´s first national park was created. Revillagigedo is now continental North America´s largest fully protected MPA, covering 148,087 km² – almost twice the size of Panama. No fishing activities, mining, or oil extraction will be allowed within the national park, and only strictly regulated marine tourism activities from liveaboards will be permitted.

This expansion substantially increased a prior MPA around Revillagigedo that had been 6222 km² in area.

Straddling the Mexican Pacific transition and the Southern Californian Pacific marine ecoregions (southwest of Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur), the national park includes Socorro, San Benedicto, Clarion, and Roca Partida islands and builds upon the recently created Deep Mexican Pacific Biosphere Reserve (see here and here). Revillagigedo National Park, together with the Revillagigedo polygon of the Deep Mexican Pacific Biosphere Reserve and the Eastern Pacific Rise polygon of the Hydrothermal Vents Sanctuary, jointly constitute the largest contiguous MPA unit in Mexico covering 355,634 km² – almost the size of Germany. Revillagigedo National Park includes the buffer zone designated on 17 July 2016 for the Revillagigedo Islands World Heritage Site, thus conforming with UNESCO’s recommendation to provide this area with a legal conservation status.

It is a biodiverse area. At least 366 fish species, 26 of which are endemic to the archipelago, can be found in these rich waters. Some of the world’s largest aggregations of pelagic species – including scalloped hammerhead shark, silvertip shark, and the giant manta – also occur here (in all, 22 species of elasmobranchs are present). Four species of marine turtles arrive to the islands’ beaches to nest, including leatherback, Pacific Ridley, hawksbill, and green. Coral communities include 25 species of hermatypic corals, mostly from the genus Pocillopora (cauliflower corals and brush corals), reaching over 20% rocky bottom coverage on some sites in Clarion and Socorro islands; a third of the coral species are endemic to the archipelago. Revillagigedo´s waters are used for feeding, reproduction, and transit by at least 27 species of marine mammals including dolphins, whales, beaked whales, and pinnipeds.

The role of the Revillagigedo archipelago in marine connectivity for the Eastern Tropical Pacific has been highlighted by a series of tagging and satellite tracking projects, with strong ecosystem linkages observed to Clipperton (France), Cocos (Costa Rica) and Malpelo (Colombia) islands, as well as Galápagos (Ecuador).

The Ministries of the Environment (SEMARNAT) and the National Protected Areas Commission (CONANP) carried out the required justifying studies and coordinated the designation of the national park, with the collaboration of the Navy (SEMAR) and Agriculture and Fisheries (SAGARPA). A large number of national and international research institutions, foundations, and NGOs – including, amongst others, CODEMAR (Coalition to Defend Mexican Seas), the Bertarelli Foundation, INECOL A.C., Endémicos Insulares, GECI, Mares Mexicanos, National Geographic-Pristine Seas, The Nature Conservancy, and The Pew Charitable Trusts – collaborated in this effort or provided their support for the creation of the national park.