For two weeks this June I was surrounded for 14 hours a day by biologists, oceanographers, a couple economists, and a few postgrad students from Mexico’s UNAM university thrown in for good measure. The collective experience and knowledge of these individuals is so important to conservation in Mexico that you would not want them all travelling together on the same airplane. We were in a two-week boot camp for intensive training on Economic Tools for Conservation. The course, the first in Mexico, was led by Conservation Strategies Fund (CSF), the leading organization using economics to advance conservation solutions. This is a rapidly evolving field, combining themes of economics, biology, social and political sciences. Our trainers flew in from Bolivia, Colombia, and Brazil with a wealth of experience and the daunting task of transferring their knowledge to us in an incredibly short time.
RED definitely stood out in this crowd, a hybrid organization using tourism to create jobs and fund conservation. I hoped to take some tools away that would help us demonstrate the economic value of Natural Protected Areas, identify opportunities, and at the same time, build cross sector bonds with colleagues from government agencies, NGOs and academia. My peers in this course inspired me, including one individual, who, when I asked him how long he’d been with CONANP (Mexico’s Natural Protected Areas Commission), looked at me sideways and responded “You mean how long has the CONANP been with me?” He’s seen it all, the birth and evolution of conservation in modern Mexico, and his comments put everything into the perspective of someone playing the long game. The postgrad students from the UNAM were equally inspiring, full of passion and formidable cerebral capacity, and they are chomping at the bit to tackle the environmental and economic challenges facing Mexico. That was one of the core messages of this course, that economics and environment is not an either/or question. I learned a lot over the two weeks, but I also walked away with the confidence that Mexico’s conservation movement will be led by individuals well equipped to tackle the challenges to come.