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Xochimilco, site of a new restoration project. Xochimilco, site of a new restoration project.

Floating gardens restoration project initiated in Xochimilco

Encouraging sustainable agricultural practices is one part of the program

A conservation project to restore the ecosystem in part of Mexico City’s Xochimilco canal district officially began yesterday under the supervision of an academic from the National Autonomous University (UNAM).

The main goals of the initiative — entitled “Conservation and recovery of the floating gardens zone of Xochimilco” — are to encourage sustainable and environmentally-friendly agricultural practices and to protect animal species that live in the unique habitat.

The project includes the construction of 10 protected areas for axolotls that will prevent the entry of carp and tilapia, both of which are predators of the species, also known as Mexican salamander. Axolotls have been considered critically endangered since 2010.

Ten microchipped axolotls have already been released into the first established sanctuaries, where they will be monitored as the conservation project progresses.

Project chief Luis Zambrano told the newspaper Milenio that he considered the axolotl a “flagship species” because it is representative of the wider efforts to rescue the entire local ecosystem.

The UNAM Biology Institute academic also explained that the survival of the axolotl will ensure that other native species will also survive.

To that end, the project is seeking to end the use of contaminating agrochemicals on the canals’ chinampas, or floating gardens, because they directly harm both the axolotls and the water they live in.

Farmers too will benefit, Zambrano said, because their produce will be of higher quality and their increased sustainability will ultimately lead to higher profits.

The growers, known as chinamperos, will receive specialized training from UNAM and National Polytechnic Institute scientists about how to grow healthy pesticide-free crops and protect endemic species.

The project team is also working on the development of a certification system that could allow environmentally-friendly and sustainable growers to label their produce accordingly.

In addition, the chinamperos will be encouraged to remove species that are not native to the area, while the project will plant trees and 15,000 plants in the Cuemanco area of the canal system.

Biologist Carlos Sumano explained that aquatic plants help to filter the canals’ water and attract nesting insects, which in turn become a food source for the axolotls as well as silverside fish known as charales.

The team hopes the project can be replicated in other parts of the Xochimilco canal system because there are thousands more abandoned or sunken chinampas beyond the area it is currently focusing on.

Zambrano said the project is backed by 7.5 million pesos (US $383,000) of federal funding and is also supported by local authorities.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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