In Langscape Magazine Articles

On Becoming A Steward 

September 05, 2023
In Mexico and Canada, a budding environmentalist learns important lessons in awareness and responsibility.



A beach in Puerto Vallarta

A beach in Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s Pacific coast. Despite rampant tourism development, the shoreline and the nearshore are still abundant with biodiversity.


Growing up in Mexico in the 1990s, I always loved nature and wildlife, particularly the great diversity of species that one can see in jungles and on beaches along the country’s Pacific coast. When I was younger, I realized that in the Mexican educational system there isn’t a big focus on nature and wildlife conservation. I could see the consequences when going to the beach, especially in Puerto Vallarta in the state of Jalisco, as well as in a smaller town called Guayabitos in the state of Nayarit: plastic waste was scattered all along the shores. And these are the same beaches that endangered sea turtles frequent to lay their eggs. Plastic pollution puts them and their hatchlings at even greater risk.

I felt there was a disconnect between how society sees itself and the treatment of the environment and wildlife. I began looking into what was being done to clean up beaches as well as into sea turtle conservation efforts. I also began listening to how Indigenous people in Mexico see nature and wildlife.

Plastic pollution puts endangered sea turtles and their hatchlings at even greater risk.

After seeing a parade of Indigenous people, some of whom impersonated the ancient Aztecs of central Mexico, I learned that the Aztecs were fully aware of local food resources and had sophisticated farming techniques. They also treated wildlife, such as the jaguar, with great respect. Every single animal was thought to represent a particular event or state. For example, the eagle symbolized nobility and success and was thought to be a spiritual messenger between heaven and earth. The owl, instead, was seen as a messenger of the underworld and was identified with darkness, night, and death, but also with wisdom and spirituality. To this day, Mexico’s Indigenous Peoples attribute a spiritual component to every living thing.

Indigenous people in Puerto Vallarta

Indigenous people in Puerto Vallarta impersonating the ancient Aztecs. They were dancing and talking to the public about nature and their ancestral cultural traditions.


Walking around different shorelines on the Pacific coast, it was heartbreaking to see that people are not fully aware of how their actions, such as leaving plastic on the beach, have detrimental impacts on wildlife, including sea turtles, fish, albatross, pelicans, and other bird species. My family and I began to volunteer doing shoreline cleanups, and we noticed the amount of garbage that people left behind—plastic bags, wrappers, plastic cups, straws, forks, plastic spoons, and more. We picked up a full bag of trash per day in just a small portion of the beach. It was a lot of garbage, but we felt really good about doing something constructive and positive. I reflected on this and concluded that every person has the responsibility to look after nature and wildlife. Some people have no concept of how their actions are affecting nature because they haven’t been told or because they are indifferent.

We picked up a full bag of trash per day in just a small portion of the beach.

I visited a sea turtle sanctuary on the Pacific coast and spoke with the program manager. He said that a major issue is educating people on how to look after nature and not leave garbage on the beaches. Over the ten years since he had begun the sanctuary, he explained, he had seen decreases in turtle populations by over 50 percent in some cases, due to poaching; plastic consumption, which kills the turtles; entanglement in fishing nets; and the effects of other human activities. I sure was sad to hear this, but at the same time, I was happy, as I learned a lot from this experience. And I was grateful to my family for helping out, too.

Left: A young volunteer with a sea turtle conservation program in Puerto Vallarta takes out the turtle eggs to protect them. Right: Baby sea turtles ready to be released by volunteers, members of the general public, and a biologist at a local beach in Puerto Vallarta.


Talking to Indigenous people in Mexico over the years, I understood how they see themselves as the caretakers of nature and wildlife and how each person is responsible for their own actions and is meant to work for the benefit of everyone. If left alone, nature heals itself, but with human interference it suffers in many ways. The jungles on the Pacific coast of Mexico are a beautiful sight, rich with a great variety of bird species and different mammals, but deforestation and habitat fragmentation are causing a lot of problems. Once I went camping near central Mexico, and at night I heard a logging truck every ten minutes. Looking closely, I saw that each truck was filled with maybe thirty or more logs.

Once I came back to Canada, I noticed plenty of similarities with what was going on in Mexico.

What made me really sad in Mexico was that the country has many unique ecosystems, yet people value profit over wildlife and nature, which are seen as a resource. But then, once I came back to Canada, I noticed plenty of similarities with what was going on in Mexico. In Canada, I saw logging trucks and clearcuts, just as I did in Mexico. An important lesson I have learned is that humanity is spiritually sick, as greed, hatred, and indifference toward nature and wildlife, as well as to people, are all contributing to the major issues we are facing in the twenty-first century. A key problem is that people don’t want to be responsible for themselves. They may be afraid of responsibility and may not like to think they are directly responsible for negative impacts on wildlife and on nature, so they seek to surrender their rights and responsibilities to others. They’d much rather have somebody else clean up an environmental mess.

I strongly feel that this way of thinking needs to change to a more aware, compassionate one where nature and wildlife are more respected. Back in Canada, I decided to begin volunteering in Vancouver, doing shoreline cleanups with volunteer groups such as Surfrider Vancouver. In a way, it was a déjà vu because it was all the same kind of garbage as in Mexico: plastics such as candy wrappers, straws, beer cans, and cigarette butts that are eaten by seagulls and cause them serious health issues, even death. Again, it was positive, as the whole community got together to do something constructive.


Garbage collected by Surfrider Vancouver

Garbage collected by Surfrider Vancouver volunteers along the city’s beaches. It mostly consists of cigarettes and small bits of plastic that wind up in the ocean and are consumed by fish, seagulls, and other marine life.


If every person works toward bettering themselves and being more aware of their own actions, then together we can create a proper balance and help sustain wildlife and nature, which in turn sustain us.

I believe that, if you do positive things and have positive thoughts, good things can and do come your way. Education is essential because people need to know about environmental issues and how to properly take care of nature and wildlife, which are severely affected by human activities. I also am convinced that, with climate change and environmental issues all around the globe, responsibilities are crucial: if every person works toward bettering themselves and being more aware of their own actions, then together we can create a proper balance and help sustain wildlife and nature, which in turn sustain us.

A clean beach in Puerto Vallarta.

A clean beach in Puerto Vallarta.



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Brian Jones.

Brian Jones was born in Mexico and moved to Canada with his family at age 16. He loves nature and wildlife and has been involved in wildlife conservation in both Mexico and Canada. He is fond of talking to people and raising awareness of environmental issues and seeks to work on constructive ideas to tackle pollution.

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