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Floating gardens help protect coasts

Linda Vierecke Mexico
June 4, 2019

In Mexico City, old Aztec floating gardens are still used to grow food. Now, environmentalists think this ancient technology could help restore a coastal ecosystem — and help fishermen in the process.

 Mangrove plantation, Veracruz, Mexico
Image: DW

Mexico: Coastal protection, Aztec-style

Project goal: Restoring the Alvarado lagoon system and allowing for sustainable use by local communities

Project implementation: Using the Aztec method of building floating gardens, upon which mangroves will be planted. Working with the local community so it can sustainably use the trees

Partner institutions: Pro Natura Sur, the German Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), and Mexican government departments, including the National Forestry Commission

Project financing: €901,412 ($1,005,166.75) within the framework of the International Climate Initiative (IKI)

Project duration: February 2017 - December 2019

There are few green places to take refuge from the bustle of overcrowded Mexico City. That's why the chinampas — floating islands built more than 500 years ago by the Aztecs — draw so many visitors.

At weekends, the canals of Xochimilco in the south of the city, where these floating islands are found, are filled with people in small colorful boats, as mariachi bands and food sellers pass by. But the chinampas serve another purpose. Made from fertile soil collected from the bottom of the city's lakes, they were originally built to grow food. They're still an important source of food today, producing some 40,000 tons of pumpkins, corn and other staples.

Now, 500 kilometers (310 miles) away from Mexico's capital, around the port city of Veracruz, some hope this ancient technology will help with another environmental problem. The loss of mangrove forest has left the coast unprotected and open to erosion and storm surges and means sea creatures, such as crabs, no longer have a place to live — that's bad news for fishermen there. Pro Natura Sur, one of the environmental organizations behind the project, hopes planting mangroves on the chinampas will help revive the area's old ecosystem.

A film by Linda Vierecke

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