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CDMX Fishermen Fight to Save Aztec Floating Gardens

Agence France-Presse
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August 18, 2017

Xochimilco Community Leaders Call to Save UNESCO World Heritage Site (

Roberto Altamirano has the lake to himself as he casts his glistening net onto the still water in a perfect circle, lets it sink, then slowly pulls it in.

It comes back bearing a large haul of tilapia and carp - and that is exactly the problem.

Altamirano is one of just 20 or so fishermen who remain in the floating gardens of Xochimilco, an idyllic network of lakes, canals and artificial islands improbably tucked into the urban sprawl of Mexico City.

At 42, he has watched the number of fishermen here plunge over the years, leading to booming populations of tilapia and carp - invasive species that are threatening the already strained ecosystem of Xochimilco, a green lung vital to the health of smog-choked Mexico City.

"There's more Xochimilco than there are fishermen," says Altamirano.

First settled by the Aztecs, who created the original artificial islands, Xochimilco is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site visited by millions of tourists each year, who ply its maze of canals in colorful tour boats.

Chinese carp and African tilapia were first introduced here in the 1970s in what turned out to be a misguided plan to supply a new food source for local residents.

Today, no one in Mexico City will eat them, since the rampant growth of the Latin American mega-city has badly polluted the waters of Xochimilco with heavy metals.

Altamirano and his colleagues sell the fish to be ground up and used as compost.

The carp and tilapia are meanwhile threatening to wipe out a small, critically endangered salamander called the axolotl that is found only in Xochimilco.

The salamander, long a metaphor for the Mexican soul, risks extinction unless its sole habitat, the canal system of Xochimilco, can be restored.  (

The fish eat the eggs of this small amphibian, whose peculiar ability to regenerate its body parts has led researchers to study it for possible biomedical applications in humans with organ damage or missing limbs.

Carp and tilapia "were introduced as a resource for human consumption. However, since they are invasive species, they turned out to be a problem," said researcher Maria Figueroa.

Altamirano's response to the crisis is to do what he has done all his life: fish.

Read the rest at eNCA

Related: Mexico City Has Turned Into a Major Dining Destination — and These Stunning Floating Gardens Help Supply Its Most Famous Restaurants (Business Insider)

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