Mexico City fishermen fight to save Aztec floating gardens
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 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
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