The Secret World of the Old Water

Octavio Aburto is a National Geographic WAITT grantee embarking upon an expedition to document and preserve the last untamed Mexican River: The San Pedro Mezquital.


My friend and colleague Jaime Rojo has been working with giant Sabinos (Taxodium mucronatum) since many years ago. These trees constitute one of the most important ecosystems in the upper watershed in the San Pedro Mequital River. Undoubtedly is one of the most interesting species along the River due to its longevity and noble bearing. Wherever there is a water source, even semi-permanent, or alternatively a very shallow water table, it is very likely to find a sign of this plant community, so important for landscape connectivity.

Photo by: Octavio Aburto
Photo by: Octavio Aburto

Jaime’s work has been use to support several initiatives to protect these forests. He has said that delving into these forests of the San Pedro Mezquital is like to enter to a magical world where willow, poplar, ash and giant Sabinos whisper their secrets to the wind. Sabinos are also the most corpulent and long-lived tree in Mexico, as well as the national tree of the country. Ahuehuete, the other name by which Sabinos are known, comes from Nahuatl, where atl means “water” and huehue, “the old or grandfather” hence its popular name of “old from the water”. Considered the longest standing species of Mexico, the ancient ahuehuetes safeguard the banks of the San Pedro Mezquital, one would think to accompany it in the feeling and encourage it in the prelude to the most prodigious feat of this river: cross the mountains and thus connect the highlands to the coastal plains.

Photo by: Octavio Aburto
Photo by: Octavio Aburto

After our work in the Pine forests ecosystems, now we have finished the documentation of Sabino forests. Has been exciting crossing canyons, waterfalls, and camp in several areas; some of them almost pristine. Now we are moving to the deserts of Durango. In this region, the River flows underwater suppling all the water for large valleys that produce almost the majority of Mexico’s agriculture.

NEXT: The Quite Birthplace of an Untamed River


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Meet the Author
As a research scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), and a professional photographer associated with the International League of Conservation Photographers, Octavio has been photographing marine ecosystems off the coastal waters of Mexico since 1994. His photographs have been used to illustrate outreach publications about the conservation of marine habitats, Marine Protected Areas, and commercially important species and their fisheries. As a scientist Octavio's research has focused on mangrove ecosystem services, marine reserves, and commercially exploited marine species and their fisheries off the shores of Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica and the U.S. Octavio obtained his PhD at the Center of Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at SIO, and was awarded the Jean Fort Award by the University of California, San Diego, for his significant contribution on an issue of public concern through his doctoral research.