Human Impacts on Ancient Marine Ecosystems: A Global Perspective

By Torben C. Rick; Jon M. Erlandson | Go to book overview

5
Long-Term Effects of Human Predation
on Marine Ecosystems in Guerrero, Mexico

Douglas J. Kennett, Barbara Voorhies, Thomas A. Wake, and Natalia Martínez

COASTAL AND MARINE ecosystems have long played a central role in the economies of people inhabiting Mexico, where today they are of paramount importance in the modern economy. Twenty-nine percent of the country’s 107 million people live in coastal settings, with annual capture rates of fish rising from ~.4 to 1.2 million metric tons since the 1970s (Earthtrends 2006). Increasing populations in coastal areas coupled with technological advancements and the expansion of Mexico’s fishing fleet contribute to concerns regarding long-term effects on these ecosystems. A new government agency, the Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca y Alimentación (SAGARPA1), was created in 2000 to establish better linkage between fishery production and environmental issues, with the idea of creating a more sustainable fishery. These concerns in Mexico occur within the broader context of a global fisheries “crisis” signaled by industrial fishing declines caused by overfishing (Pauly and Christensen 1995; Pauly et al. 1998, 2000).

In this chapter, we explore the long history of human use of coastal and marine ecosystems in the Mexican state of Guerrero (Figure 5.1) using the archaeological and historical records available for the region. The primary aim of this work is to (1) begin creating a historical and environmental framework to improve our understanding of the complex relationship between people and marine ecosystems; (2) provide an ecological baseline for future remediation of coastal and marine habitats in this region; and (3) establish a general approach that incorporates archaeological and historical data to put the modern exploitation of fisheries into perspective, an approach that can be applied elsewhere in Mesoamerica—the area encompassing the modern countries of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, and parts of Nicaragua.

Historical use and transformation of marine ecosystems in Mexico cannot be separated from the demographic, economic, and environmental effects of developing agricultural systems during the last 10,000 years. At the time of European contact, much of the Mesoamerican landscape was altered and transformed by these long-standing agrarian

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