This is Part 5 of a six-part series by Lisa Hayden, climate change writer for The Nature Conservancy, based on her recent trip to Mexico. See the rest of the Mexico Diary here.
Our drive through the jungle of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve on our way to the fishing village of Punta Allen was marked with memorable moments: The climb up the rickety wooden fire watch ladder to view the sea above the expanse of lowland forest; a mama crocodile floating coyly nearby her baby in the shallows of mangrove swamps; a butterfly with red-tipped wings that refused to hover within the frame of my video camera; the flat tire on the bumpy forest road, expertly changed by our host; blue sponges clinging to the red underwater roots of tangled mangroves in a maze of waterways between islands.
On our boat ride to the fishing village, we saw flocks of nesting pelicans, pink spoonbills and herons, sharing the mangroves. We bobbed in swells under darkening skies as the wind picked up at sunset – too cold to snorkel – watching the line of white surf crash over Punta Allen’s view of the Mesoamerican Reef, a living wall of coral just beneath the surface of the sea.
That night we heard the stories of fishermen who have struggled to maintain their way of life as fish populations drop and development up the coast pollutes the sea and degrades the reef, so important to the health of marine life.
There are hopeful stories, too, such as the fisherman who has now found part-time work as a park ranger with the protected areas commission. His leadership skills emerged in community meetings of fellow fishermen, who have agreed to no-take zones to allow the lobster populations to rebound.
One fisherman narrated for us the mural in the Punta Allen cultural center that shows in pictures the history of the village and its people who earn their living from the forests and the ocean.
Each day seemed to last a week, but then it was all over too quickly, and I was on another plane, looking down over the Cancun hotel strip, perched upon a transparent turquoise sea.
(photo: Fisherman in Punta Allen, by Lisa Hayden.)
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