Exploring diversity across Mexico's mangroves

It all started when a young Octavio Aburto, moved to La Paz in the Gulf of California to study marine biology. The laboratory he worked in, put the enthusiastic scientist in charge of cameras to take photo quadrants and video transects of the pristine reefs along the coastal areas, some 30 years ago. Little by little, the explorer in the making, started to capture the seascapes, both above and below the waterline, and the animals he encountered. He would visit his mother and show her the photos of the life he saw in the oceans and coastal areas he worked in. It was during this time that he had the opportunity to visit mangrove ecosystems for the first time, and when he dived in and snorkelled, he was amazed to see the beauty and life within the roots of the red mangrove. Since then Octavio has been collecting scientific research and taking photos of mangrove forests.

"When I saw that my images captured the attention of my mother, my family and friends, I realised that imagery could tell many stories, and especially stories of the science that I have been doing."

Acting as a nursery, mangroves play an important role in supporting Mexico’s fisheries. ©Octavio Aburto

The Aquarium of the World

After more snorkels in these coastal forests Octavio decided to do his PhD thesis on mangroves. This allowed him to visit almost all the mangroves in the Gulf of California, which is like an internal sea within the northwest of Mexico, and is one of the most impressive seas on the planet.

"Jacques Cousteau used to call it the aquarium of the world, and I think it is really that."

Mexico’s mangroves host several species of sea turtles who visit the mangroves for food and refuge. ©Octavio Aburto


The Gulf of California has many problems, but in the case of mangroves, they stretch right from the mouth of the gulf, to the northern areas, and Octavio visited many of these forests for samples, for stories, but also to capture the different mangroves found, and transitions between different habitats. In this region mangroves can be in direct contact with deserts, and not only cacti, but also sand dunes and all the way to these mangrove forests that are related to tropical jungles. So you are able to see these gradients, the biodiversity changing and how these forests interact with other ecosystems.

©Octavio Aburto
©Octavio Aburto

La Encrucijada: Tallest Mexican Mangroves

©Octavio Aburto

New research collected by the Global Mangrove Alliance shows that Mexico has the fourth largest area of mangroves in the world. There are mangroves in the northwest, but also in the Pacific area, the Mexican Caribbean and in the Gulf of Mexico. Each of these regions contain their own unique beauty and structure. This can be seen so clearly in the case of the red mangrove, growing up to 2 or 3 metres in the tropics, while in the Pacific region, in the biosphere reserve of La Encrucijada in Chiapas, the same species grows up to 40 metres high - a completely different world. Eleven major rivers flow into the biosphere reserve, forming both fresh and saline water lagoons, mangroves and tula swamps. The addition of deciduous and lowland forests, floating and underwater vegetation, palm trees and coastal dune vegetation, give the mangroves here a biological diversity and richness that attract crocodiles, anteaters, raccoons, jaguars, turtles and spider monkeys, and many other species that represent an incredible ecosystem. More than 300 bird species can also be found in the area, 100 of which are migratory, as the ecosystem is a vital wintering and breeding ground for them.

©Octavio Aburto
©Octavio Aburto

If you go to the Yucatan Peninsula, you can see the small mangrove trees because they don't have the same fresh water inputs like in Chiapas or Oaxaca. But the diversity of the Caribbean, you can see it in the clear waters, and discover and explore all the different flora and fauna. For example atolls, which is a stage for coral reefs, you see them with mangroves or even cenotes that also have mangroves around them. This attracts many crocodiles and species of snake. And in the Gulf of Mexico, you see other structures, other kind of species, like the flamingo where the pink contrasts against the green area of the mangroves.

“It's been a highlight travelling and studying the biodiversity in the different regions of Mexico” 

©Octavio Aburto
©Octavio Aburto


Each of these regions also has different problems associated with them, so it's critical to help in the conservation side also. In Chiapas and Oaxaca in the Pacific, palm agriculture is causing the biggest impact to the mangroves, in the northwest, shrimp farming, and in the Caribbean, the tourism industry, and in the Gulf of Mexico the oil industry is the one impacting very negatively on its mangroves.

"I think photography can play an important role in fighting against these drivers that affect our mangroves. By capturing more images and sharing them, we can make more people aware for action to be taken."

TAKE ACTIONS towards mangroves of Mexico


Read about the science, having a positive impact on conservation and policy in Mexico

Watch the chat we had with Octavio below