Yucatan biodiversity assessed by photography expedition

Photos released at the opening of the 9th World Wilderness Congress (WILD9) in Merida, Mexico, this weekend highlight the diversity and threats to conservation in the Yucatán Peninsula.


Off the north coast of the Yucatán Peninsula by the island of Holbox, a whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is surrounded by the fish that make the region an important feeding ground for the world’s largest fish.

© Brian Skerry, International League of Conservation Photographers

“An expedition of 32 leading conservation photographers undertaken from July to November resulted in a portfolio of hundreds of images that serve as a warning of the conservation status of this area known as the heart of the ancient Mayan civilization,” Conservation International said in a news statement accompanying the images.


A trio of Caribbean flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) feed in the placid Laguna Rosada. Located on the northern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, near the city of Progreso, the lake and flamingos are a reliable tourist draw.

© Cristina Mittermeier, International League of Conservation Photographers

The pictures were gathered in a Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition (RAVE) by the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP). ILCP is an initiative of the WILD Foundation, an organizer of WILD9.

Representatives from governments, the private sector, native peoples and non-governmental organizations are participating in WILD9 to address the role of conservation of wilderness areas in human wellbeing and climate stabilization.


Named for the sacred Mayan dzonote sinkholes, cenotes can be found all over the Yucatán peninsula. They provide both a source of ecotourism income and important link to the region’s history and culture. (Learn more about a National Geographic/Waitt project to explore the cenotes and the underground caves that connect them)

© Jack Dikynga, International League of Conservation Photographers

Merida, where the conference is meeting, is on the Yucatán Peninsula.


“One of the goals of WILD9 is to inspire and illustrate how to make smarter choices about how we interact with nature. Mexico’s rich biodiversity and vast wild places motivated WILD9 to convene in Merida,” said Vance Martin, president of The Wild Foundation, and co-chairman of WILD9.

“There is wonderful spirit of the land and traditional connection to nature that makes Mexico and the Yucatan very special. The RAVE and WILD9 forum aim to highlight the imperative to conserve important wild hotspots like the Yucatán Peninsula.”


Bats emerge from the Kantemo Cave, near the town of Puerto Maria Morelos, Yucatán, Mexico.

© Florian Schulz, International League of Conservation Photographers

Located in the Mesoamerica Biodiversity Hotspot, the Yucatán Peninsula has an area larger than Greece spanning parts of Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, said the statement accompanying the photographs. “Its landscape is a mosaic of dry forests, lowland moist forest, underground rivers and mangroves that fringe the turquoise Caribbean Sea, but it is threatened by high rates of deforestation and biodiversity loss due to human activities, like population growth and unsustainable industrial and agricultural development.”


Painted treefrog or Ranita Pintada (Tlalocohyla picta) found in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Yucatán, Mexico. This species of frog is also found in parts of Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.

© Kevin Schafer, International League of Conservation Photographers

“The Yucatán Peninsula contains about 25 percent of Mexico’s total freshwater supply and high levels of species endemism. Efforts to conserve its forests and the biodiversity that lives in them are crucial to the well-being of the people who depend on it, and should be seen as an effective response to climate change as well,” said Russ Mittermeier, President of Conservation International, a partner of the Yucatán RAVE.


The Cozumel emeral (Chlorostilbon forficatus) is a bird endemic to the Island of Cozumel, Mexico.

© Roy Toft, International League of Conservation Photographers

The RAVE aimed to achieve a full visual assessment of the conservation condition of the Yucatán Peninsula in a short period of time with a team that included several specialized photographers (landscape, wildlife, macro, camera trapping, portraiture), writers and cameramen. ILCP’s members explored a variety of habitats such as cenotes (or sinkholes), lagoons and mangroves in search of whale sharks, flamingos and other species to document their behavior and their surroundings.


Aerial view of Cancun on the Yucatán Peninsula. The local environmental is threatened by deforestation and biodiversity loss due to human activities, like population growth and unsustainable development.

© Daniel Beltra, International League of Conservation Photographers

Cristina Mittermeier, executive director of ILCP, said: “Photography is a powerful tool for conservation because it provokes emotions and invites people to reflect on the subjects being shown. Our goal with this expedition is to communicate visually the splendor and the threats to the Yucatán Peninsula. The conservation of its biodiversity is at a critical stage, but there is still abundant wildlife that can be preserved if development is planned in a more sustainable way.”


A Mexican rodeo in Dzilam Gonzalez, Yucatán. Cattle is an important part of economic activity, food security and culture in this part of Yucatán, with huge impacts on the landscape and on the culture.

© Cristina Mittermeier, International League of Conservation Photographers

Said Gonzalo Merediz, executive director of Amigos de Sian Ka’an, “Mexico is blessed to have the WILD9 and the ILCP in Merida because the results of the congress and the RAVE will be used for improving our environmental policy and expanding the protection of wilderness in the Yucatan Peninsula.

“Amigos de Sian Ka’an, as well as all of the local non-governmental organizations and the national and state governments of Quintana Roo, Campeche and Yucatan have the duty to convert the work that this international cooperation has offered, into useful conservational tools.”

Amigos de Sian Ka’an is a charity established by scientists and conservationists concerned about preserving the wilderness of the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico.

The National Geographic Society is a sponsor of WILD9.

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Quintana Roo Underwater Cave Project

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