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Revista mexicana de ciencias agrícolas

versión impresa ISSN 2007-0934

Rev. Mex. Cienc. Agríc vol.7 spe 14 Texcoco feb./mar. 2016



Legislative controversy in mangrove protection: Tabasco’s case, Mexico

Gloria Isela Hernández Melchor1 

Ángel Sol Sánchez2  § 

Octavio Ruíz Rosado1 

Juan Ignacio Valdez Hernández3 

1Colegio de Postgraduados-Campus Veracruz. Carretera Xalapa-Veracruz, km 88.5, predio Tepetates, Veracruz. (

2Colegio de Postgraduados-Campus Tabasco. Periférico Carlos A. Molina carretera Cárdenas-Huimanguillo, km 3.

3Colegio de Postgraduados-Campus Montecillo. Carretera México-Texcoco km 36.5. Montecillo, Estado de México.


This study was conducted in order to analyze and contrast the legislative dynamic between social welfare and protection on natural resources and its impact on mangroves from Tabasco coast. Seven laws were identified regarding to the use and management of the natural resources, five of these laws are related to guarantee social welfare and the remaining two are focused on the protection and preservation of natural resources. These laws were grouped according to their functionality and application: a) social welfare, promote economic development, land and water use, agriculture, livestock, forestry and their establishment of human settlements and public works; and b) protection of natural resources: aimed to the protection, restoration, and conservation of natural resources. In the legislative analysis was found that there is a priority to social welfare, and to a lesser extent the protection of natural resources. A consequence of this legal helplessness of natural resource is reflected in the reduction of adult mangrove areas and in early stages of development due to oil spill from three oil fields. Despite the problems that mangrove has, during the period from 2005 to 2009 there has been use by management programs in some location at the Ejido Francisco Trujillo Gurría and the locality La Solución Somos Todos.

Keywords: land use changes; legislative controversies; mangrove; natural resources


El presente estudio se desarrolló con el objetivo de analizar y contrastar la dinámica legislativa entre el bienestar social y la protección de los recursos naturales y sus repercusiones en los manglares de la costa de Tabasco. Se identificaron siete leyes relativas al uso, manejo y aprovechamiento de los recursos naturales, de las cuales cinco están referidas a procurar el bienestar social, y las dos restantes están enfocadas a la protección de los recursos naturales y su permanencia en el medio. Estas leyes fueron agrupadas de acuerdo a su funcionalidad y aplicación: a) bienestar social; que promueven el desarrollo económico, el aprovechamiento del suelo y del agua, la agricultura, la ganadería, la silvicultura y el establecimiento de asentamiento humanos y obras públicas; y b) protección de recursos naturales: encaminadas a la protección, recuperación y conservación de los recursos naturales. En el análisis de las leyes se encontró que existe una priorización hacia el bienestar social, y en menor medida la protección de los recursos naturales. Una de las consecuencias de este desamparo legal de los recursos naturales se ha visto reflejada en la reducción en superficie del manglar adulto y en etapas tempranas de desarrollo debido a la contaminación por derrame de hidrocarburos en tres campos petroleros. A pesar de los problemas que el manglar presenta, durante el periodo 2005 a 2009 ha habido aprovechamiento mediante programas de manejo en algunas comunidades como: el ejido Francisco Trujillo Gurria y la localidad La Solución Somos Todos.

Palabras clave: cambio uso de suelo,controversias legislativas; manglar; recursos naturales


Globally, Mexico is considered one of the mega diverse countries; such concept applies to a very small number of countries containing an extraordinary percentage of the planet's biological diversity. Biodiversity is important because it maintains ecological balance and the vital functions of species, including humans, for the support they provide in terms of raw materials for production processes or goods for direct consumption and environmental services (Figueroa, 2005).

Like other ecosystems, mangroves are part of the biological diversity from Mexico. Its importance is that it is a dynamic ecosystem that offers ecological and economic benefits; directly represent the source of income for coastal communities, most of which are in high marginalization, whose main activity is fishing. Likewise, there are indirect services such as coastal protection, carbon sequestration, natural filters, bird nesting area, shelter for spawning, lay eggs and development of aquatic species, among others.

However, mangroves area in Mexico is reduced at an annual rate of 2% for the Pacific slope, and 2.8% for the Gulf of Mexico (Zaragoza et al., 2005); from 1980 to 2009, 353 943 ha were lost (FAO, 2007; CONABIO, 2009). One of the main reasons for the loss of mangroves is the application of productivist economic policies aimed at obtaining short-term gains (Calderón et al., 2009). The consequences of vegetation loss are decrease of biodiversity, deterioration of environmental services and therefore, the reduction of human welfare, contradicting that specified in the Constitution of the United Mexican States regarding individual guarantees on the enjoyment of an adequate environment for the development and welfare of people (Zamorano, 2009).

In 2009 CONAFOR reported that the state of Tabasco host 5.07% (38982.10 ha) of mangrove area nationwide, which is distributed in six municipalities of which Cardenas and Paraiso account for 72%; the species are Rhizophora mangle L. (red mangrove), Laguncularia racemosa (L.) Gaertn. F., (white mangrove), Avicennia germinans L. (black mangrove) and Conocarpus erectus L. (button mangrove). This surface has been fragmented by activities such as oil industry, agricultural expansion, cattle, opening roads, urbanization and overexploitation of wood.

Given this scenario, it is urgent to establish measures addressed to the protection, restoration and conservation of mangroves in a sustainable manner; that is, that the socio-economic activities have to be carried out without endangering the ecosystem and its many functions. According to the Constitution of the United Mexican States, it corresponds to the nation the management of natural resources by seeking to ensure their protection and welfare (DOF, 1917); in this sense laws, rules and regulations have been derived at federal, state and municipal level in order to implement these regulations. However, the continued reduction of mangrove areas reflect that legislative application for the protection of this ecosystem has not occurred efficiently, but instead increasingly threatens their survival.

Considering that the regulations constitutes the framework from which the different interventions on mangrove ecosystems should be developed and therefore its knowledge allows creating an essential base for the environmental manager (Uribe and Urrego, 2009). So this article is to analyze and contrast the legislative dynamic between social welfare and protection of mangroves from the coast of Tabasco.


A literature and documentary review of the legislative framework was carried out using the content analysis technique through a theoretical purposive sampling (Andreu, 2002). It began with the Mexican Constitution, for being the Supreme Law of which all Mexicans laws derive which was enacted in 1917 and entered in force the same year and remains in force until today even with the changes that have been made over time (DOF, 2013).

The analysis of documentary information was conducted on three categories according to the main purpose: 1) laws that lead to social welfare; 2) laws aimed at protecting natural resources; and 3) planning, analysis and interpretation of the legislative implementation in the state of Tabasco. The first category is considered a suitable as starting point for a better interpretation on legislative application that tends to achieve social welfare, but in turn puts at risk mangrove area; and in the second category combined and analyzed the laws that contemplate to protect, conserve and restore natural resources.

In the analysis of legislative implementation analysis, were taken as reference the history of socio-economic activities that have been made on the coast of Tabasco and that have led to the deterioration of the mangroves.


Within the sections of the Mexican Constitution (DOF, 2013), it establishes that the Nation owns the lands and waters within the boundaries of the country, which has the power to transfer possession of the same to private persons, noting that "the necessary measures will be ruled for the promotion of agriculture, livestock, forestry and other economic activities in rural areas" (chapter 1, article 27). That is why mangroves have owners whether shared land, private, federal or common use; who are free to dispose of land use according to economic needs and regardless their productive potential. So in any discussion on the fate of the land and natural resources in Mexico, it cannot be forgotten that legal and legitimate owners in most cases are agrarian settlements (Madrid, 2011).

Madrid et al. (2009) mention that there is no type of property in which the sustainable use of resources is ensured, but rather, the success of forest management depends on many factors and contexts in which are develop. In this sense in most coastal communities from Tabasco are in high marginalization, situation that leads to mangrove exploitation for timber, firewood and charcoal, and land use change, replacing mangrove areas by coconut plantations, grasslands and agricultural crops allowing them to obtain short-term income.

The Constitution also states that will encourage and protect economic activity carried out by individuals and shall provide the conditions for the development of the private sector to contribute to national economic development (title I, chapter 1, article 25, paragraph 8). Thus from 1974 Tabasco joined the intensive extraction of hydrocarbons, building constructions for drilling, extraction, driving, processing and storage. In such process the low and floodplains were visualized as obstacle for oil development (Zavala, 1988).

In 1988 it was found that in Tabasco mangrove distribution, from the Chicozapote River to the lagoon the Yucateco, was interrupted by areas that were completely removed to establish cultivation areas, grazing areas, and areas for petroleum activities (Gallegos and Botello, 1988).

While oil has generated economic benefits at local, state and national level, through employment generation and road infrastructure; it has also caused disturbances on soil, water, flora and fauna. Such is the case of contamination with Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in the Mecoacán Lagoon, which affected both aquatic fauna in larval stages as mangrove seedlings in juvenile stage (Díaz-González et al., 1994). It has also been identified mangrove soils with oily and viscous crusts at a depth of 10 cm (Adams, 1999).

Hydrocarbon spills are continuous and therefore soil contamination leads to suffocation and death in mangrove seedlings, or tree death by poisoning (García-López et al., 2006; Olguín et al., 2007). Similarly, waste derived from the mobilization of crude oil are destined to the coastal lagoon ecosystems Carmen-Pajonal-Machona, Mecoacan, and Tonala River modifying the physico-chemical properties of water, and limiting the natural regeneration of the ecosystem (Jacott et al., 2011).

However, despite pollution problems caused by oil activities, it continues authorizing exploration and production. In 2008, in the buffer zone of the biosphere reserve "Pantanos de Centla" vast colonies of white, red and black mangrove were removed to place oil pipeline and extract hydrocarbons; according to the decisive authorization, the project was required given the need for a mean to handle production of hydrocarbons (González, 2008). However, in 2009 was confirmed the deforestation in nearly two hectares of mangrove resulting in coastal erosion; determining that the laying of the oil pipeline affected black and white mangrove shoots which led to imminent risk of ecological imbalance, since reforestation was not performed (Marí, 2009).

Although oil activities are carried out in the coastal area of Tabasco, settled communities along this area are at high marginalization, over 10% are illiterate, over 65% are over 15 years old with basic education incomplete, and approximately 30% of the population is not entitled to health services (CONAPO, 2010). That is, that while it has promoted economic development of the country through oil activities, marginalization rates from CONAPO reflect that such development has not reached coastal communities, which are the most vulnerable to degradation processes of natural resources that occur during exploration and oil and gas extraction, causing a migration process from the countryside to the city in search of better economic opportunities, increasing urban poverty and the invasion of unsuitable areas for human settlements.

Derived from the regulation of the Constitution, seven laws have been generated, of which five promote economic and social welfare activities, same that lead to land use change, which are: a) land law; 2) human settlement law; 3) national water law; 4) sustainable rural development law; and 5) General Law of Sustainable Forestry Development; and two more laws that regulate the conservation and protection of natural resources, these laws are: 1) General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection; and 2) general law of wildlife.

Laws that lead to social welfare

In compliance with Article 27 from the Constitution, the Official Gazette published the Agrarian Law (DOF, 2012), in which states that "the agricultural settlement or ejidos have legal personality and its own assets and own of land that has been given to them or which were acquired by any other title (title III, chapter I, article 9). From plot allocation, it is the ejidatario (farmer) right to use and enjoyment of the same, in terms of this Law (third title, chapter II, 3rd section, article 62)". One of the objectives of the reform to article 27 of the Constitution was to undo the smallholding; however, there is a continuing fragmentation of field surface, so it continues the forest removal for agriculture, without recognizing that it does not have this vocation; low yields obtained invariably lead to abandonment and consequent loss of important natural resources (Robles, 2008).

Such is the case of mangrove areas, where landowners are in the need to fit their small areas to establish pastures allowing them to complement their salary, giving rise to land use change without considering the low potential production of the same. Garcia (2008) states that deforestation, subsequent drying of groundwater, soil erosion, and overall, the imbalance of ecosystems are some of the consequences of the smallholding.

In addition to the above and considering that population growth demand residential areas and farmland, it is expected to continue with land fragmentation, either inherited or to sell them, and thus the loss of mangrove areas, which implies increasing the vulnerability of coastal areas against climate change.

In this regard and in order to set ground rules for planning and regulate territorial ordinance of human settlements, rise up the Law on Human Settlements (DOF, 2012), which states that it will tend to improve the level and quality of life in urban and rural populations, by linking regional and urban development with social welfare and sustainable socio-economic development, harmonizing the relationship of cities and countryside, and equitably distributing the benefits and burdens of urbanization" (chapter I, article 3, fraction I and II).

However, in Tabasco it has provided land to the population, which has followed a reverse process or attached to the legislative regulation, in response to a slow process of land distribution. As an example it can be mention some common land that are located on the coast and that host mangrove areas: El Alacran, El Sinaloa, El Golpe, and Las Coloradas, from the municipality of Cárdenas; where land allocation decree came after occupation; i.e. there was no prior authorization or permission for land use, as often happens in many occupied lands; according to the statement by children of founders, at the beginning were a few people who settled in the area and organized to request for land allocation to the Governor in turn.

To regulate the exploitation of water, its use or exploitation, distribution and control, as well as preserving its volume and quality, the National Water Law (DOF, 2012) is established, which states that it is of public usefulness the restoration of ecological balance linked with water" (title II, chapter II, article 7, section V). It also mentions that water planning is mandatory for integrated water resources management, conservation of natural resources, ecosystems and the environment (title III, chapter one, section 2a, Article 15), and in the case of wetlands that are affected, the National Water Commission (CONAGUA) shall have the responsibility to promote and, where appropriate, take the necessary actions and measures to rehabilitate or restore, and set a natural surrounding or protective perimeter of wetland , in order to preserve their hydrological conditions and the ecosystem" (title 7, chapter I, article 86 bis 1, section IV). In contrast to the above it is established that may be granted permits to drain wetlands areas in the case of national waters and national goods at their control, for protection or to prevent damage to public health" (title VII, chapter I, article 86 bis 1, fraction V).

The hydrological flow is a determining factor in mangrove conservation, so its alteration limits the development of the same, stagnant water for long periods causes death of young specimens, the distribution of propagules is limited and therefore natural repopulation; however, in Tabasco PEMEX activities have disrupted water flow due to the installation of pipelines for hydrocarbon extraction, fillings for infrastructure, and road and highways construction. However, SEMARNAT only committed PEMEX to reforest other areas outside the disturbed site, situation that does not guarantee full recovery of the ecosystem or avoids its fragmentation.

The Sustainable Rural Development Law (DOF, 2012), states that "the state will promote a process of social and economic transformation through the promotion of productive activities and social development ensuring optimal use, conservation and improvement of natural resources" (title 1st, article 4) "to encourage sustainable use of productive natural resources, that allow increasing and diversifying sources for employment and income" (title 1st, article 7, paragraph V). Thus, as in Tabasco has been driven livestock through support programs such as the livestock program operated by the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food; which promotes the growth of cattle area and therefore competition between mangrove areas and pasture.

Likewise has encouraged the production of coconut, which despite being an unprofitable activity ($7 kg-1 dry copra), is one of the few crops that can grow in the coastal strip, and it is sow more by habit than its profitability; however, both activities counter with that established in Article 11 that says "The actions for sustainable rural development will be performed according to preservation, restoration, sustainable use of natural resources and biodiversity and prevention and environmental impact mitigation criteria"(title 1st, article 11).

Hernández (2009), argues that the concept of rural development has ranged from the idea of increasing production, social welfare, sustainability of economic and social processes and to fight poverty, but during this process threatens the conservation of natural resources, coupled to soil properties of mangrove areas are unsuitable for crops, and when this happens it is only possible for a short period of time; cattle use causes mangroves to lose their capacity for self-regeneration due to intense trampling and that cattle feeds on propagules and seedlings from black and white mangrove (Ramírez et al., 2010). The result of both activities is the impoverishment of the soil in which it is difficult for mangrove to be restored naturally, this situation leads to double poverty: social and environmental.

The regulations of the Sustainable Forest Development Law (DOF, 2012), mentions that the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) and the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) shall establish the methodology, criteria and procedures for the integration and update of forest areas (article 13), establishing areas for conservation and restricted or prohibited use: covered areas with mangrove or cloud forest (article 14, paragraph 1, letter e). When SEMARNAT determines the existence of a risk to forest resources in the environment, ecosystems or their components, based on required technical studies will request the completion of the necessary activities to avoid risk (chapter 7, title 5o. article 135).

In compliance with the regulations of this Law, in Tabasco has been performed the exploitation mangrove as timber in the ejidos La Solución Somos Todos, El Golpe and Francisco Trujillo Gurria that count with forest management programs authorized by SEMARNAT. Flores et al. (2007) consider that the sustainable use of mangrove forest requires forestry techniques with knowledge of load capacities and reforestation. However, in a study performed by CONAFOR (2009) identified that despite forest management plans approved, timber harvesting has not been so regulated as there is no rotation of plots and are extracting struts of up to 5 cm in diameter (CONAFOR proposes that the exploitation begins once the plantation reaches 7 years old, since at that time will reach diameters of 7 to 10 cm), which limits their natural regeneration and favors the development of other vegetation. Currently the Ejido el Golpe has lost 22 ha of mangrove, where deforested areas are those whose geographical location allows easy access to transport the resource, which is a determining factor for some sites to be exploited in a greater degree than those with difficult access.

Added to this, there is that due to the commercial value of mangrove wood incur in illegal logging, which impacts negatively on mangrove population structure because individuals in early stage of physiological maturity are extracted, and marketed as props or scaffolding brackets by the construction industry. This fact shows the limited technical monitoring that has been given to forest management programs, as well as the little surveillance of the authorities; coupled with the ethical conflict of preserving vs exploiting by the local population and consumers of mangrove wood.

Laws that promote the protection of natural resources

After 71 years since the Mexican Constitution was published, the General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection (DOF, 2012) was ruled, which aims at sustainable use, preservation and, where appropriate, soil, water and other natural resources restoration, in a way that economic benefits and the activities of society with the preservation of ecosystems are compatible (title first, chapter 1, article 1, fraction V). Whereas ecosystems are the common heritage of society and its balance depend on life and productive capacity of the country, the use of renewable natural resources must be such that ensures the presence of diversity and renewability (title first, chapter 3, article 15, section I and VII). Under this context, when oil spills occur there are irregularities in the implementation of this law, in the case of affected mangrove areas the physical and chemical changes undergone by the soil limits its restoration, as to the damages suffered by the society there are weaknesses in the process of negotiating compensation and not so fair (Rivera, 2012).

In addition to this, reforestation processes are performed in different areas to disturbed sites, where there are no conditions for the proper development of the species and there is no technical monitoring to ensure the survival or ecosystem restoration. In this regard, in Mexico the restoration processes are lower than the rate at which natural resources are lost (Céspedes-Flores and Moreno-Sánchez, 2010).

To address this situation has been suggested that the formulation of the ecological regulations (OE) should consider the balance that must exist between human settlements and environmental conditions (title I, chapter IV, section II, article 19, fraction IV). However Oseguera et al. (2010) consider that OE has not yet been perceived as the instrument by which governments and society can promote programs for sustainable use of the territory in the short, medium and long term; one limitation is the lack of basic information at local level.

In determining the areas for population growth centers, it shall promote the mix of residential uses with productive and preventing to affect areas with high environmental value (title I, chapter IV, section II, article 23, section III).The ecological policy must anticipate growth trends of human settlements, to maintain a good ratio between basis resources and population (title I, chapter IV, section III, article 23, fraction IX). However, the processes of human settlements in Tabasco do not attached to the regulation, since flooded low lands have been filled obstructing water flow.

After the decree of the LGEEPA, issued four regulations: NOM-059-SEMARNAT-2010, determines the species, subspecies of wild flora and fauna, terrestrial and aquatic in danger of extinction and establishing specifications for their protection; NOM-060-ECOL-1994, establishes specifications to mitigate the adverse effects caused on soil and water bodies by logging; NOM-061-ECOL-1994, establishes specifications to mitigate the adverse effects caused to the flora and fauna by logging; and NOM-062ECOL-1994, establishes specifications to mitigate the adverse effects on biodiversity caused by land use change from forest to agriculture land.

Within these specifications highlights the following "in case of finding species of flora and fauna listed in the official Mexican standard to some degree of vulnerability (rare, threatened, endangered, or subject to special protection) will evaluate the possibility to carry out some type of sustainable use of land or other resources, different than land use change, that does not involve local disappearance of these species and their habitat requirements".

In this regard Rhizophora mangle L. (red mangrove), Laguncularia racemosa (L.) Gaertn. F., (white mangrove), Avicennia germinans L. (black mangrove) and Conocarpus erectus L. (button mangrove), are in the category of endangered species; i.e. those that could be in danger of disappearing in the short or medium term, if adverse factors continue operating that adversely affect their viability, by causing deterioration or habitat modification or reduce the size of their populations (normative annex II from NOM-059-SEMARNAT-2010). In this situation, it appears that the social welfare that legislation raises, translate in economic development that puts at risk a fragile system such as mangroves and organisms, which in most cases are part of the diet of local, regional and national population.

Whereas SEMARNAT through the Ecology Law establishes that in order to perform "works or activities in wetlands, mangroves, lagoons, rivers, lakes and estuaries connected to the sea as well as on their shores or federal areas require prior authorization (title I, chapter IV, section V, article 28, section X); NOM-022-SEMARNAT-2003 establishes the specifications for the preservation, conservation, sustainable use and restoration of coastal wetlands in mangrove areas, with the following regulations:

In those areas where the process of degradation or desertification, or serious ecological imbalance, SEMARNAT shall formulate and implement ecological restoration programs for the recovery and restoration of favorable conditions for the development and continuity of natural processes therein developed (title 2o, chapter II, article 78).

According to the regulation in the above laws, highlights the interest of organizing human population regarding the use of soil, water, and natural resources in an orderly manner; if fulfilled most certainly will reach a balance between exploitation and conservation of natural resources but the opposite is perceived; i.e. does not reflect the implementation of any state or city planning development.

As mentioned by Díaz (2011), many of the articles in the different national laws, clearly and precisely state on the care of natural resources in water [mangrove]; however this is not observed or regulated by authority in everyday practice of public policy and social action. In this sense Tabasco has not been the exception, being evident the priority in economic development, putting at risk mangrove area and the diversity of organisms that hosts.


The legislation that promotes social welfare in practice has been wrongly applied to mangrove ecosystem, as it induces to land use change, alters the ecological balance and puts at risk the diversity of species that depend on this natural ecosystem.

In Tabasco law enforcement turns controversial by prioritizing on those that promote socio-economic development, so it is not possible conservation if only considers the socio-economic demands, it is not possible to protect if the population continues to grow and with it their demands for food and housing, and it is not possible to guarantee the restoration of natural ecosystems if continues to promote and authorizing land use change.

The legislation declares its intention to protect natural resources; however, it counters with approaches of social welfare promoting directly and indirectly removal of areas not fit for human settlements or for the development of agricultural activities, which leads to the alteration or destruction of areas occupied by mangroves.

No need to remove or modify laws but to comply and enforce them, coordinating and integrating them for the present and future driving of sustainable use of natural resources in the short, medium and long term, for the benefit of society and the invaluable biodiversity therein it is generated and maintained.

Overall the future of mangroves is uncertain because the laws created to provide protection have been overshadowed by those that have been created to promote socioeconomic development of the population even at the cost of mangrove permanence, land use change, landscape modification and disappearance of aquatic populations, thus resident and migratory bird species that have seed modifications in their breeding, perch, nesting, feeding and shelter areas.

Current opportunity for mangrove conservation is through effective implementation of laws aimed at protecting and developing programs of regulated exploitation.

In Tabasco the lacks of current law enforcement on mangroves protection obey to all regulations are normative but not applicative, or allow any type of infraction.

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Received: October 2015; Accepted: January 2016

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