Efforts to conserve one of nature’s most diverse places is hampered by regional conflict
A recent study published in Conservation Biology showed that 80 percent of the global conflicts over the last 50 years have taken place in the world’s most biologically rich and endangered places.
Zach Plopper, a conservationist and field cartographer for WildCoast, a binational conservation organization that is dedicated to protecting the natural resources of the Baja Peninsula, a 1,300 kilometer peninsula that is known for its natural beauty, tourist destinations and a lawless wild west attitude outside of populated area.
On his way south to the Baja, he travels through Tijuana, which sits on the U.S. border and has been one of the hardest hit cities by recent drug violence. Abandoned cars litter the roads, squatter camps are rife and security personnel are easily recognized.
Once outside of the city, in the uninhabited regions of the Baja, Plopper encounters checkpoints along the roadway where federal troops stop northbound vehicles in search of concealed drug shipments.
The Baja Peninsula is a very diverse region its coastal waters are very productive fishing grounds and also provide a winter home to grey whales. The desert landscape survives to this day with very few signs visible signs of the current struggle. However, it is a contested territory in a drug war, pitting the Mexican government against the powerful drug cartels who control much of the border with U.S.
Plopper has three simple rules when he is traveling in Baja:
1. Never drive at night.
2. Use the toll road whenever possible.
3. Make sure his colleagues at WildCoast are well informed as to where he is.
Dr. Thor Hanson, a conservation biologist who co-authored the above-mentioned study, argues that conflict and poverty often coexist. His research shows that 1.2 billion of the world’s poorest people make their homes in these biological “hotspots.”
Plopper bemoans the losses of the people of Baja saying “First came the Spanish missionaries, then the miners, and now the land speculators, they all went bust.”
The cartels are just another in a long line oppressors who are trying to take advantage of Baja’s rich natural resources, and most residents hope they face a similar end as their forerunners.