Where the Sky is Born: Announcing Rainforest Partnership’s 1st Partnership in Mexico


Raina Chinitz & Paulina Moreno

February 26, 2021

Zoom meeting
Sian Ka’an= Mayan for “Where the Sky is Born.”

Along the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, the rainforest meets the sea. Water from the Mayan Forest and the wetlands meet and flow into the Caribbean, mangroves, coral reefs, and underground rivers coexist in this one magical place on the coast.

This paradise-like nexus of 17 incredible and critical ecosystems, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, near the well known tourist destinations of Tulum and Cancun and dotted with local Mayan communities, is the site of Rainforest Partnership’s very first project and partnership in Mexico!

With the second largest coral reef in the world, the largest tropical forest in Mexico, the most important wetlands in Mesoamerica, key mangrove forests and a myriad of stunning coastal and marine ecosystems, the preservation of this region also protects hundreds of unique species, from jaguars to sea turtles, crocodiles, endemic and migratory birds, barracudas, and the best preserved coral formations in the Mesoamerican reef.

Mesoamerican Reef. Photo by Irving Chavez

Mesoamerican Reef. Photo by Irving Chavez
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Photo by Amigos de Sian Ka’an
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Photo by Amigos de Sian Ka’an

All of this rich diversity provides crucial ecosystem services for the region and for the whole world; for example, wetlands capture and filter freshwater, mangroves capture amazingly high amounts of carbon (four times higher than tropical rainforests!), reefs and mangroves protect coastlines against storms and erosion, and the reefs provide livelihoods and food security to local people. The power and beauty of these ecosystems enabled the development of the most important tourist destination in Latin America: Cancun-Riviera Maya.

The origin story of Rainforest Partnership’s first partnership in Mexico!

RP’s story:

We are so excited to announce that Rainforest Partnership now has active projects in Peru, Ecuador, and now Mexico. Our new partner is Amigos de Sian Ka’an (ASK), a key NGO in Mexico achieving environmental conservation and sustainable development.

As it turns out, despite being around 1600 miles from RP’s headquarters, ASK’s vision and approach to conservation is actually quite similar to our own: with an integrated, complex model that centers the wellbeing, leadership, and direct partnership of local communities, ASK protects the vast and diverse natural treasures of the Yucatan Peninsula and empowers the people living there.

Like RP, the ASK model has its roots in direct partnership and integrates scientific research, conservation policy, community empowerment, and building sustainable livelihoods. By collaborating directly with local communities, governments, students, researchers, businesses, and other NGOs, ASK creates the conditions for long lasting conservation of the region.

Introducing: Amigos de Sian Ka’an

ASK’s story:

Since its founding 35 years ago, ASK is the NGO with the most experience and strongest presence in Quintana Roo. Made up of a team of dedicated scientists and specialists, ASK has important achievements such as the conservation of almost 3,000,000 acres of rainforests, wetlands and marine environments. As a result of this and many other achievements obtained throughout our history, ASK has laid the foundations for other organizations to replicate and give continuity to the initiatives that has developed.

Currently, ASK is at an exciting stage of its journey. We are scaling up many of our programs, one of which is sustainable tourism: this story began almost 30 years ago with an excursion to Sian Ka’an as a fundraising strategy. Local communities asked the government for permission to do the tour.

We have supported these communities’ growth and organizing and together they made Sian Ka’an into what it is today: the main ecotourism attraction of the region.

Environmental education in action. Photo by Amigos de Sian Ka’an.
Environmental education in action. Photo by Amigos de Sian Ka’an.

Motivated by this major success, we decided to go from working with just a couple of cooperatives to creating and strengthening an entire sustainable tourist destination: Maya Ka’an. Today, Maya Ka’an is an official destination of Quintana Roo, rooted in the natural and cultural wealth of the Mayan area and designed to directly benefit local communities and protect natural resources.

Our two stories coming together in partnership

And so it was amid this transformative moment in ASK’s history when we met RP and found the many common values and objectives that we share.

ASK learned about RP through one of our team members, who had visited Sian Ka’an and formed relationships with the ASK team. His enchantment with the beaches, forests, and wildlife of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and his connection with their incredible work brought our two organizations together. ASK was also a World Rainforest Day collaborating partner.

Energized by our similar goals and approaches to conservation, we decided to join forces to scale the scope of our actions on behalf of the ecosystems and the communities of Quintana Roo.

Pez Maya: A Conservation Powerhouse

Reflecting the complexity of both ASK’s and RP’s models, our first project together is just that: complex, multifaceted, comprehensive, and designed to create change that lasts.

We will turn Pez Maya, a biological station right on the stunning north coast of Sian Ka’an, into a buzzing hub of ecological research, knowledge exchange, conservation action, environmental education, and socially responsible ecotourism.

Explore Pez Maya:

Research on the many unique and critical ecosystems and species in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve will strengthen protection of the region. By working with eight local Mayan communities to create real connection, exchange, and bonds between visitors and local people, the project will bring income and economic opportunity to local communities and strengthen local peoples’ capacities to enact local conservation action.

Rainforest Protection at the Intersections

The patchwork of land and marine ecosystems in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve adds another level of nuance to our rainforest protection work; research and conservation here explores the interactions between tropical forests and other ecosystems.

Mangrove forest in Mexico.
Mangrove forest. Photo by Philip Jessup.

The Maya Forest is intimately connected to the Mesoamerican Reef, the wetlands, the mangroves, the Carribean Sea. Here, in this wonderfully diverse place, rainforest protection takes on a more diverse meaning. Rainforest protection here necessitates the protection of the 16 other critical ecosystems in the region and rainforest protection will in turn benefit those other ecosystems and the wildlife they hold.

We’re delighted to begin our journey in Mexico. Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on this project!