Mexico's Marine Marvels of Biodiversity & Beyond

Discover Mexico's thriving oceanic and coastal regions, home to diverse marine ecosystems and species, and a source of food and environmental services. Learn about the efforts to protect and preserve these precious resources.

Mexico's Marine Marvels of Biodiversity & Beyond
Most marine environments in Mexico are home to a plethora of different species. Credit: Semarnat

Mexico is privileged by its geographical position, being surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of California, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. It also has a large number of islands and islets, resulting in a great wealth of ecosystems and species of great importance to the country.

In Mexico, most of these marine ecosystems are inhabited by a great number of organisms. We can find more than 300 species of jellyfish, corals, and anemones; more than 4000 species of mollusks, such as octopuses, snails, and clams; and more than 5,000 species of crustaceans, such as shrimp, crabs, and lobsters. Around 2,500 species of fish, sharks, and rays; around 50 species of marine mammals; and a total of 11 species of turtles and crocodiles

Marine ecosystems are one of the main sources of food for humans. Mexico takes advantage of a large portion of the species that inhabit Mexican seas, with shrimp, tuna, red snapper, mullet, grouper, and sardines being the most consumed species. However, more than 230 species of fish from the Gulf of Mexico, 95 species from the Caribbean Sea, and 240 from the Pacific Ocean are exploited for consumption.

Most of the surface of planet Earth (70.8%, or 362 million km2) is covered by oceans and seas that occupy an enormous space favorable for the development of life (Lara-Lara et al. 2008). Excluding insects, 65% of the Earth's known species are marine. It is not surprising then that we depend on the oceans and coastal areas for countless resources, such as food and multiple environmental services in addition to recreation. However, human activities are the main cause of the deterioration of the seas.

Mexico is one of the world's most biodiverse countries. It has more oceanic area (65%) than land area (35%), and the most diverse areas are in the Pacific Ocean (Gulf of California, Tehuantepec) and Atlantic Ocean (Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea). In turn, the Gulf of Mexico contains the Gulf of Campeche. This gives rise to a wide variety of ecosystems and species, as well as ecological processes.

As a way to protect the ocean, the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) has divided the Mexican Seas into eight marine ecological regions, or ecoregions, within the Exclusive Ecological Zone (EEZ):

  1. Northern Gulf of Mexico,
  2. Southern Gulf of Mexico,
  3. Caribbean Sea,
  4. Central American Pacific,
  5. Mexican Pacific Transition,
  6. Gulf of California,
  7. South Californian Pacific, and
  8. Monterey Bay Pacific Transition.
The limits of these marine ecoregions are circumscribed within the jurisdiction of the EEZ.

Mexico has great natural wealth in its oceanic and coastal regions, linked to its territorial extension and diversity, a product of its unique physiography and intertropical geographic position. There is 11,122 km of coastline in Mexico, but only 7,828 km are in the Pacific Ocean and 3,294 km are in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea (INEGI, 2002).

The Federal Law of the Sea of 1986 says that the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, and the exclusive economic zone are all part of Mexico's maritime zone of jurisdiction.

Mexico's territorial sea is the strip of sea adjacent to the national coasts, whether continental or insular, in which the nation exercises sovereignty, including the seabed and subsoil of that sea as well as the overlying airspace. From the baseline, which could be normal, straight, or a mix of both, the width is 12 nautical miles (22,224 m).

The Contiguous Zone of Mexico is an area next to the territorial sea that goes out up to 24 nautical miles (44,448 m) from the baselines, which are the points used to measure the width of the territorial sea.

Mexico's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea. It includes the strip of sea that stretches from the edge of the territorial sea to a point up to 200 nautical miles (370.4 km) away, as measured from the baseline that is used to measure the width of the territorial sea.

The inner limit of the EEZ coincides identically with the outer limit of the territorial sea. In this zone, the nation exercises its sovereignty rights for purposes of exploration and economic exploitation, which is to say, it is a zone where Mexican ships can circulate freely for transportation purposes or to take advantage of its natural resources.