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Mexico City’s ancient Xochimilco floating gardens are in ecological peril
By William Booth, Published: March 7
The once great floating gardens of Mexico City, which filled the bellies of the Aztecs, are dying of serious neglect. On this point, everyone sadly agrees. The ancient plots and their life-giving canals are weedy and abandoned, overrun by cattle, invaded by exotic fish, sucked dry by urban sprawl — and a dozen agencies of government have failed to save one of the wonders of the world. A few farmers continue to till their little corners of Eden. They grow marigolds for El Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. “Which is appropriate,” said Luis Zambrano, a biologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, who is trying to save the indigenous life of Xochimilco, “since the place is dying.” The gardens have been sick for a long time, ever since the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes arrived in 1519 and began draining the lakes. The problem is that they are now dying quickly, and there are worrying signs that the ecosystem is crashing. Asked whether the place can survive, a respected historian of Xochimilco, Gloria Valek, answered, “I would like to think so, but it might be impossible.” The canals that once fed 50 square miles of gardens are overwhelmed by foreign fish, African tilapia or Asian carp, thriving in the dirty waters. The fish are loaded with heavy metals, fed by wastewater treatment facilities — the lake’s only water source, now that the 2,500 artesian springs have dried up, trying to slake the thirst of the megacity. Maybe half the original wetlands used by

In one of the experimental reserves.the Aztec vassals here remain. and what is amazing is that a visitor can see a glimpse of the old ways even today. World Heritage Site. just wide enough for a canoe. scientists fear that the rare and endangered axolotl (pronounced ACK-suh-LAH-tuhl). For two years. . called chinampas. The gardens and canals were filled with rubble from the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. a foot-long salamander that can regenerate its lost limbs. farmers staked out small rectangular plots in the shallow lakes around the Aztec capital. the wetlands were cut in half by a perimeter highway. The farms were irrigated by an immense grid of miles of shallow canals. Their capital of palaces and pyramids. greens. fish. frogs. with fertile muck. For a thousand years. after the springs dried up. which is a U. But the land could bounce back. The Aztecs built their empire in the middle of a series of interconnected lakes. drinking beer and eating tacos. he has been netting exotic species from the canals. “which is a lot of fish. The area continues to shrink. Fisherman Roberto Altamirano has been working to save Xochimilco (pronounced so-chi-MILco). The gardens produced a bounty: five or six crops a year. It was an ingenious system. “We have removed 650 tons of fish. There are bicycle paths and an underwhelming ecological center. reached by causeways. the canals are packed with hundreds of gondoliers poling their brightly painted launches through Mexico City’s version of Venice. much of them degraded. fowl. The canals were exploited for crayfish. Bird watchers still come to look at the white pelicans. was an amazing sight to the conquistadors. The Valley of Mexico is a bowl surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. in one of the last big green spaces in a metropolis of 22 million. who said it was more impressive than any city in Europe. as barges filled with mariachi bands pull beside them and sing for $8 a song. an abundance of chiles. On the weekends. cactus and herbs. wastewater was rerouted from the sewage treatment plants. The boats are packed with revelers.” he said. the farmers had to stop using the tilapia as fertilizer — because they were too toxic. is nearly gone from the wild. They built their artificial islands of wattle and willow and filled the gardens.N. which has a bad reputation because of the pollution. But beneath the surface of the water.” But people don’t want to buy the tilapia and carp the fishermen net when they learn they come from Xochimilco. Tenochtitlan.

Can It Work for You Too? www. cooked with onion and epazote herbs.” the biologist Zambrano said.9 Pounds of Fat Every 28 Days. She said there is a proposal to create a kind of czar to coordinate recovery efforts. wrapped in corn husks. there were 100 per square kilometer. “It is not much.” Zambrano said. “We used to eat them. But it is a start. “Things have been bad for a long time. The university scientists have erected several refuges for the salamanders — small stretches of canal that they empty of exotic fish and cover with netting to keep the birds away. but that funding has been elusive and that there are too many agencies with too little responsibility.” farmer Anastacio Santana said.” Martha Teresa Delgado. Sponsored Links 60 Yr Old Mom Looks 25 Mom Reveals $5 Wrinkle Trick That Has Angered Doctors! ConsumerLifestyles.” said Zambrano.” “Some studies suggest they will be extinct in the wild in 10 years.edu Buy a link here © The Washington Post Company . But now we fear that the destruction is accelerating.brownmackie. we surveyed 6.org "Strange Fruit Burns Fat" Burns 8. said that the solutions for saving Xochimilco are well known. The remarkable salamanders were once so abundant that locals remember them well. In 2008. pointing to one small ditch where they have placed 20 axolotl raised in the laboratories.HLifestyles.com Brown Mackie College Your New Path Starts at a Brown Mackie College. “In 1998. “It will just be a few dirty canals for the tourists and will mean nothing. the environmental secretary for the Mexico City government.” Researcher Gabriela Martinez contributed to this report.” They haven’t been able to find one in months. Sign Up Today. all making promises and passing the blame.” Zambrano said. “This is it.000 axolotl per square kilometer.“We are very sad. “There were axolotls everywhere 20 years ago. that within our lifetimes this very special place will no longer exist. www.

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