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Castillo-Burguete, M. T., M. Martínez-Mateos, and M. D. Viga-de Alva. 2019. Natural resources knowledge socialization in Yucatan, Mexico: promoting a mutually beneficial society-nature relationship. Ecology and Society 24(3):21.

Natural resources knowledge socialization in Yucatan, Mexico: promoting a mutually beneficial society-nature relationship

1Laboratorio de Investigación y Participación Comunitarias, Departamento de Ecología Humana, Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional (Cinvestav), 2Federación Mexicana de Esperanto, A.C.


Members of the San Crisanto Ejido in Yucatan, Mexico, have developed a kind of harmonious society-nature relationship. Socialization at the family level is instrumental to fomenting this relationship. We developed a conceptual framework from a human ecology perspective to describe and analyze the natural resources knowledge acquisition process and thus better understand the complexities behind this relationship. Research was conducted with 35 ejido members, who collectively own and manage 1420 ha of natural areas. In-depth interviews were done with the families of four members, i.e., four ejido founders, four wives, and four sons who were also ejidatarios (12 participants in total). A genealogy, participant observation, and content analysis were applied to identify backgrounds and trends in their collective answers. When participants were children, they learned about natural resources within a psycho-sociocultural context. This context allowed them to internalize traits of Maya culture through family knowledge, collective beliefs, and practices related to natural resources management, creating their own governance model. They consequently developed capabilities that enabled them to participate and function in a broader social environment and in decision making about natural resources. Participants incorporated cultural capital, which allowed them to continue acquiring knowledge and capabilities from nature and their productive activities, and to pursue the kind of life they desired using the natural resources in their surroundings. Knowledge of their natural heritage also helped them to continue caring for the ecosystem they depend on, maintaining and improving the conditions of the surrounding environment, their well-being and enjoying their nature-society relationship while having the kind of life they desire.
Key words: capabilities; cultural capital; governance; natural environment; natural resources perception, use, and conservation; psycho-sociocultural environment; socialization process; society-nature relationship


Human production systems have progressively led societies into a largely negative relationship with the natural world. The direct and indirect impacts of humans’ use of the planet have become severe and have greatly increased the species’ ecological footprint (Doménech 2007, Wiedmann and Barret 2010, Ewing et al. 2012). Viable alternative strategies for caring for nature are needed to reconcile economic growth with human development over time, to identify the most propitious paths to follow, and to guarantee the effectiveness of any action taken (Ostrom et al. 1999, Castillo 2001b, Potter 2009, Rands et al. 2010, Ostrom 2015).

Models of theoretical rationalization require recognition of the dilemmas that arise in collective actions such as sustainability, respect for others, participation, and democracy (Ostrom et al. 1999, Ostrom 2000, Merino 2012, Calvet-Mir et al. 2015). They should recognize that humans also interact with nature through their appreciation of it, which depends on a number of aspects such as perceptions, emotions, knowledge, beliefs, values, culture, economy, politics, ethics, and spirituality.

Natural environmental complexity linked to diversity in socio-cultural systems can strongly affect nature conservation, ecosystems, landscapes, and biodiversity. Conscientious use and management of natural resources through the incorporation of traditional wisdom (rational, dynamic, and utilitarian) and the participation of social groups and communities (Castillo et al 2008, Toledo and Barrera-Bassols 2009) can have beneficial consequences on an individual’s life in areas including, but not limited to, psychological well-being and the generation of the “capabilities” and “permanent functioning” needed to participate in valued activities and live his or her desired life (Sen 1996, Cantor and Sanderson 2003). This functional perspective of well-being and life satisfaction is “anchored in what people are doing, trying to do, expecting to do, and recovering from doing” (Cantor and Sanderson 2003:230). In this context, environmental complexity and socio-cultural diversity are so intertwined that biodiversity erosion can result in cultural erosion and vice versa (Terán 2010).

In Yucatan, Mexico, adverse impacts and incompatible forms of interaction have clearly occurred, especially in wetlands (Caso et al. 2004), increasing the fragility of coastal ecosystems such as the coastal plain, barrier islands, lagoons, swamps, forested islets, savannahs, and forests (Euán-Ávila et al. 2014). Additionally, incompatible styles of natural resource conception, access, use, and management have led to conflicts among social actors that frequently have negative effects on natural resources. In the 15 municipalities along the coast of Yucatan, conflicts have been caused by: (1) infrastructure construction affecting natural resources and the environment; (2) lack of strategies to regulate octopus capture; (3) lack of monitoring of construction of houses and other structures in coastal dunes, and lack of investment by municipal governments; and (4) pressure from groups with economic, political, or social power to the detriment of fisheries and other natural resources (Viga-de Alva and Castillo-Burguete 2014).

Governments, other organizations, and communities interested in lessening, stopping, and reverting ecosystem and landscape impacts and damage have worked toward creating alternatives for natural resources access, use, and management. They have strengthened regional capabilities, promoted land organization, and proposed specific strategies for problem solving. Beginning in 2006, a terrestrial and ecological management program has been developed for the Yucatan coast. This is a normative and political instrument based on interdisciplinary research that aims to regulate, protect, restore, and preserve regional natural and biological systems while improving the human population’s well-being and developing new economic strategies (Gobierno del Estado de Yucatán 2007, Fraga et al. 2008, Euán-Ávila et al. 2014, Fraga 2014).

Nevertheless, additional actions are still needed to promote a more mutually beneficial relationship between nature and society. Such actions include identifying biodiversity concepts already contained within the local population’s productive strategies, which are influenced by regional Maya culture (Toledo and Barrera-Bassols 2009, Terán 2010). There is also special interest in recovering Maya cultural traits related to the use, management, and conservation of nature.

An overall goal of our research is to understand and analyze alternatives for the management of local resources that do not require sacrifice of the underlying structures of regional culture that members of a coastal ejido (communal agricultural land) in Yucatan have incorporated into their daily life. These alternatives can help to shape productive strategies incorporated into decision-making processes for programs, objectives, and goals related to biodiversity and sustainability of projects (see Herrick and Sarukhán 2007, Fraga et al. 2008, Euán-Ávila et al. 2014). Here, we report the experience of San Crisanto Ejido, a collective land ownership and management organization, an example of a mutually beneficial society-nature interaction, which we call a “harmonious relationship”.

The experience took place on the north coast of the state of Yucatan, Mexico, where the population maintains some Maya cultural traits. Our objective was to describe and analyze the ways that members of the San Crisanto Ejido and their families have acquired knowledge for use and management of the natural resources in their ecological surroundings, and how this knowledge and their actions are reflected in ecosystem and family well-being. In particular, we explore the way parents taught their children.

We developed a theoretical framework from a human ecology perspective using a scheme representing concepts and principles to understand and analyze the psycho-socio-cultural and natural complexity underlying learning about and management of natural resources. As a result, we developed a theoretical model using data generated during the study. This allowed us to raise new questions about the framework and understand the model process.

The framework was enriched with theories and concepts of the social construction of reality and gender, which were useful to clarify differences between primary and secondary socialization. Children learn guidelines from other individuals, with the mother and other family members being especially important to their development (Bandura 1969, Elkin 1992). They also interact with their congeners and the natural environment (Berger and Luckmann 1967). Acquiring knowledge about which natural resources to use is essential for children’s survival.

The model is based in a human ecology approach to analyze the nature-society relationship in terms of natural and psycho-socio-cultural environment and is organized into eight interlaced subsections containing complementary theories and useful concepts aimed to widely understand the complexity of socio-ecological systems. The eight subsections comprise: (1) natural resources and bio-cultural memory; (2) social construction of reality and family’s and society’s roles during primary and secondary socialization processes; (3) cultural elements and identity in cultural processes; (4) the role of family, gender, and other external agents in knowledge acquisition; (5) social learning and individual modeling behaviors such as observation, reinforcement, and imitation; (6) constructivism theory explaining the active coconstruction of individual knowledge and the sociocultural medium; (7) gender identity and natural resources use and management; and (8) transformation of knowledge into capabilities, permanent functioning, and cultural capital (Fig. 1 and Appendix 1).


Study area and natural environment

The Yucatan territory is characterized by high heterogeneity that gives rise to great environmental and biological diversity. On the coast, calcareous deposits helped the formation of coral reef ecosystems located in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea in a 245-km broad, shallow (50 m) region. It has wide environmental variability throughout the year, with a dry season (March–May), a rainy season (June–October), and a season with storms and cold weather (November–February), as well as hurricanes between June and November (Pech et al. 2010).

The Yucatan coastline is a land-sea transit zone with wide natural variability and is exposed to environmental stress by its intensive use. Its development is suboptimal, with predominately moderate to bad conditions, which puts the viability of natural populations at risk (Freile-Pelegrin and Robledo-Ramírez 2014). The anthropogenic and natural pressures on the zone emphasizes the need for environmental monitoring and the use of environmental indicators to help in decision making for planning and management programs (Liceaga-Correa et al. 2014). The human factor, particularly individuals’ environmental perceptions, is fundamental for using, managing, and preserving natural population resources; over the middle and long terms, this factor could unfavorably influence the socialization-resocialization of the population, environmental care, the type of participation toward conservation, the desirable quality of life, and the productive organization of resources.

The study site is located in the Swamps and Mangroves State Reserve of the North Coast of Yucatan (Gobierno del Estado de Yucatán 2010). The ejido and its natural resources management process predate the decree of this reserve. A research project developed by one of the authors reports that there are 13 ejidos in the coast of Yucatán, one of which is San Crisanto, the study site. We chose to study San Crisanto ejido because it received seven awards between 1999 and 2015 for productive projects in indigenous patrimony management and conservation: four at the national level and three at the international level. None of the other 12 ejidos received prizes for these activities.

Geologically, the area is a low coastal plain with marine-origin calcareous sediments as substrate. No flowing surface water occurs because its highly biodegradable shallow soils allow rainfall to filter quickly into the subsoil, which contains crevices, caverns, and sinkholes, locally known as cenotes (Ortega and Dickinson 1991, Batllori 2002). The Mayan word ts’onot (Barrera 1995) means a very deep freshwater well or natural pond supplied by groundwater, which is very common on the Yucatan Peninsula and is formed by erosion of the limestone bedrock. These features are considered sacred by the ancient Maya culture.

The village of San Crisanto is located on a 7 km long sand barrier island in the Municipality of Sinanché on the north coast of the state of Yucatan, Mexico (21°21’08” N; 89°10’18” W; Fig. 2). The climate in this portion of the southeast Gulf of Mexico is predominantly warm-dry, with summer rains, an annual average temperature of 25.9°C, and an annual average rainfall of 537.4 mm (Dickinson et al. 1996, Batllori 2002).

Sociodemographic and cultural environment

The coastal and terrestrial marine ecosystems and landscapes support 15 human settlements in which the main productive activities are salt extraction, fishing, aquaculture, tourism, and recreation, which result in ecological problems (Pech et al. 2010) and conflicts among different actors due to the use and management of local natural resources. Some of the problems reported by various actors from the villages include: (1) loss of coastal habitats and overexploitation of resources; (2) effects on the current flowing through the high-altitude port in Progreso, affecting the marine species food chains and natural biodiversity; (3) pollution of estuaries; (4) introduction of marine invasive species; (5) lack of vigilance in the construction of hotels on coastal dunes; (6) lack of investment and construction supervision to improve drainage, wastewater treatment, and waste recycling; (7) influences of political, economic, and social powers to the detriment of fishing and beach resources; (8) lack of social cohesion; (9) lack of regulation of tourism activities; (10) lack of spaces and participation mechanisms for educational, research, business, and productive institutions; and (11) vulnerability and alteration of the landscape by hurricanes (Viga-de Alva and Castillo-Burguete 2014).

The population of San Crisanto was 578 people (47% female) distributed among 177 families (SSA 2003), which declined to 512 inhabitants by 2010 (INEGI 2011) because of migration to the touristic Caribbean. San Crisanto is a commissary governed by the municipal seat at Sinanché, with a locally elected representative. The highest authority for decision making for San Crisanto Ejido is the Council, comprising 35 members. For external representation, the Council elects an “Ejidal Comissariat”. Ejido members are elected to the Council every three years (Castillo 2001b).

Electricity and piped water are supplied to the entire community. Community infrastructure includes elementary schools, a health center, a park, sport fields, a public library, and a community dining place (Cocina Popular-COPUSI), where a group of community mothers prepares low-cost breakfasts for preschool and elementary school children. Young people studying at the middle and high schools must travel up to 28.4 km to nearby communities such as Dzidzantún, and some go even farther to Mérida (76 km).

There are four active religious groups in the community, although 70.5% of the population states its faith as Catholic (Castillo 2001b). Within what is called the Northern Mayan Lowlands region (McKillop 2004), the area of which today is San Crisanto, has been a human settlement site since at least the Early Classic Period (100–300 A.D.; Andrews 1983). The regional culture still retains some of the morphological and social characteristics of Maya culture (Murguía et al. 1990, Dickinson et al. 1991, Wolañski et al. 1993, Siniarska and Wolañski 1999, Castillo et al. 1997, Castillo 2001b).

San Crisanto Ejido was endowed by the national government with a total of 1420 ha to 35 member-owners. The member-owners manage an 800-ha natural area of mangrove for the purpose of nature conservation (wild flora and fauna reproduction) and ecotourism, 140 ha of coconut groves, and 20 ha of salt extraction. The remainder of the area (460 ha) provides areas for settlement and parcels for each of the ejido members.

Ejido members value their natural resources, actively take care of them, and promote learning processes focused on these resources at the family and community levels. Their efforts have earned them local, national, and international recognition (Castillo 2001b; N. Pech-Jiménez, J. Loría-Palma, and M. T. Castillo-Burguete, unpublished manuscript:
). Locally, the ejido’s good management practices are recognized by neighboring communities and also receive coverage in the news media, Internet, television, scientific papers, and flyers.

San Crisanto Ejido contains four main environmental units (Fig. 3; Castillo 2001b, Batllori 2002). These units are characterized as (1) accumulative eolian marine shore plain, very low altitude, < 2 m (ocean, beach, coconut cultivation, and urban zone); (2) accumulative biogenic plain, karstic, very low altitude, < 1 m (wetlands, mangrove, petén [forested islet], sinkholes, and salt ponds); (3) karst plain, erosionary, low altitude, < 3 m, seasonally flooded (tropical flooded forest); and (4) karst plain, erosionary, low altitude, < 10 m (low deciduous forest).

The ejido’s 800-ha mangrove forest contains red (Rhizophora mangle), white (Laguncularia racemosa), buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus), and black (Avicennia germinans) mangrove. Black mangrove plays a key role in the ecosystem because of its litter production and capture of tidal detritus and its function as shelter for breeding and protection for many species such as crustaceans, fish, and birds. The mangrove forest also contains areas for flora and fauna reproduction and ecotourism resources. It has experienced changes caused mainly by natural phenomena such as hurricanes (Castillo 2001b; Energy Globe Foundation’s Energy Globe Award:

The hydraulic restoration of San Crisanto ejido’s mangrove began in 1996 and involved opening channels to let through the water coming from cenotes, to decrease the salinity, and to maintain species biodiversity. Nevertheless, in 2002, hurrican Isidore hit the coast, devastating almost all of the mangrove. However, the governance model developed by the ejidatarios enabled them to put into practice, in the short and long terms, the arrangements, procedures, and organization needed to recover the mangrove, which now has conditions similar to those prior to the hurricane. The ejidal areas and their location are shown in the zoning of natural resources, productive activities, and the ejido’s urban area shown in Pech-Jiménez (2010:80).


Our research group has been working with the San Crisanto community since 1990. Using conventional methods (e.g., ethnography), we have carried out several ecological, social, and health studies with the community. The experience reported here employs information from our databases related to the question at hand; for example, in a previous ethnological study on community participation, one of the groups identified in the community was the ejido. For the present study, three research group members (two of whom have worked with the San Crisanto community since the early 1990s) used predominantly ethnological methods to collect ethnographic data (Wolcott 1999, Denzin and Lincoln 2005) on overall ejido background, its organization and decision-making processes, and their consequences.

Once we had information about the knowledge of 35 ejido members, we implemented more in-depth techniques with four families to understand better how knowledge about nature and the environment is acquired and how an appreciation develops for the natural resources in their environment, particularly among adults when they were children. The methodological approach was influenced by Bernard (1995), Taylor and Bogdan (1996), Rodríguez et al. (1999), Wolcott (1999), and DeWalt and DeWalt (2002). Three inclusion criteria were applied (Castillo 2001b, Martínez-Mateos 2005): (1) head of household, founding ejido member, and have a living wife; (2) parents and son agreed to tell us about their learning when they were children in the same respective generations as their peers, according to use context and a genealogy (Fig. 4); and (3) at least half of the participant’s life was spent in San Crisanto.

The surnames were changed in the database, although the ethnic origin (i.e., Maya or Spanish) of the surname was maintained (Fig. 4). Twelve people were included at this stage (four fathers, four mothers, and four sons). The only female ejido member was not included because she was widow at the time of the study (Fig. 5).

Four principal questions guided the analysis:

  1. How do ejido members and their descendants learn about natural resources in their ecological context?
  2. What role does the family play in acquiring this knowledge?
  3. How do parents involve their children in acquiring knowledge about natural resources?
  4. How do the knowledge and actions developed by ejido members and their families affect their well-being and the conservation of ejido natural resources?

Traditionally, ejido members were in charge of maintaining the ejido’s natural resources. Ejido membership passes from father to son, and at the time of the study, most of the ejido members were male. Therefore, we did not include daughters in the sample. However, when we interviewed parents, both genders referred to different experiences when teaching their daughters.

Research team members lived with families in the community. Participant observation was used to gather data on participants and their relationships with social and ecological environments. Analysis of the family environment was done by using specific guides for fathers, mothers, and sons, and in-depth interviews were conducted until saturation was reached (Morse 1994).

A description of the psycho-sociocultural context helped to understand daily life in San Crisanto, particularly the socialization process of the interviewees and their knowledge of natural resources. Data were triangulated by combining techniques and comparing stories and observations (Taylor and Bodgan 1996, Bisquerra 1999). Interviews were transcribed and organized using the content analysis technique (Krippendorf 1980, Martínez 1994). Interview texts were categorized by classifying record units, which allowed analysis using contextual data. Categories were defined according to the most important themes: ejido, family, socialization, learning, natural resources, and well-being (individual, family, community, ecosystem, and cultural). Before organizing, processing, and analyzing data, they were verified with interviewees and other interlocutors.

Data were triangulated by combining techniques and observations, which helped to corroborate information, contextualize results, and reveal the pattern of how ejido members and their families learned how to use and manage their natural resources. The parents expressed that they had been raised in families where the biological father was not always around. Nevertheless, the paternal role for male socializing was assumed by another family member such as an uncle, grandfather, or older brother. The context in which the children included in this study were raised was different from that of their parents; in all cases, both the father and mother took care of them.


Ejido land ownership and productive activities

The San Crisanto Ejido comprises 35 members: 20 founders and 15 who joined later. As a result of the 1992 Reform of Article 27 of the National Constitution, the ejido joined the Agrarian Rights Certification Program (Programa de Certificación de Derechos Ejidales y Titulación de Solares-Procede). Téllez (1993) indicates that the reform eliminated agricultural land distribution and made ejido member rights definitive, legally guaranteeing the existence of small rural properties. Part of the ejido lands were distributed to ejidatarios as individual lots and backyards, maintaining rights to communal-use lands and the natural resources therein. Other lots were given for family chiefs living in the port.

In 1998, fishing resources declined and salt extraction became less profitable. Even then, people continued to work those areas, but the emphasis shifted to ecotourism, natural resources conservation, and services-associated areas. Nowadays in the community, the main productive activities include fishing, salt extraction, ecotourism, handcrafts, and services. Other activites performed to a lesser extent include vegetable and fruit cultivation and subsistence farming.

In recent decades, ejido members have demonstrated that they understand and appreciate the value of their natural capital, focusing on implementing sustainable use practices. It was this story that motivated us to explore the sociocultural aspects that affect individuals in San Crisanto, such as how they are affected by participation in valued community activities, and their desires for living a certain kind of life in terms of natural resources use and management and nature conservation. Here, we focus particularly on identifying and describing ejido members’ intrafamily learning processes while also recognizing other influences from diverse environments.

Ejido members and their families

The age of the 35 ejido members ranged from 31 to 85 years. Their education level was low: 20% were illiterate, 60% had not completed elementary school, and 20% had higher education. However, they remained interested in learning and raising their formal schooling level, and thus, their knowledge and capabilities. Some had begun or finished elementary school in government adult education programs, and most had taken formally accredited training courses from several local, national, and international institutions related to natural resources use and management.

Most of the 12 in-depth interviewees had married or begun living with a partner at a young age. During their sons’ childhood, three of the four studied families had been nuclear families, whereas the fourth had been an extended family unit. Eight of the twelve interviewees, including four sons, had spent their childhood in San Crisanto, and two had grown up in nearby towns. The average age was 70 years for fathers, 67 years for mothers, and 41 years for sons. Seven of the interviewees (three fathers and four mothers) were illiterate, one father and three sons had incomplete or complete elementary school education, and one son had a higher education level. The parents’ low education level was probably related to the prevailing conditions when they were children: all helped their parents to work, no local schools existed, and transport to other towns was infrequent and expensive.

Meaning of nature, ecosystems, and natural resources for ejidatarios

For ejido members, “nature” is interpreted as a holistic concept that includes traits of cultural elements, beliefs, cosmovision, and productive activities. Examples in the following sections show how parents socialized their children and enriched their conceptions with social knowledge.

The ejidatarios are heirs of knowledge, practices, and beliefs related to their productive activities, which were learned through generations, and are part of their cultural background and Maya cosmovision to interact with nature. This context is the source of many of their strategies for multiple uses of their natural resources. Some activities that they perform show prehispanic knowledge such as salt production. Around 1940, other Mayan speakers came from nearby haciendas to the place where they used to put cattle out to pasture. Because the San Crisanto lands were salty, and farming was part of the needs of the workers and families to relate to the land, they did it in the limited farming land they had. From the forest, they used to take firewood to make charcoal, they cultivated coconut trees to get copra (the fruit), and picked up salt in an artisanal way. The abundance of resources in that period is narrated by a founder ejidatario (83 years old) referring to duck hunting, asserting that every hunter came back home with 100–150 ducks.

Participants identified the concept of “nature” but referred to “natural resources” as something distinct. For the concept of nature, 65% associated it with local ecosystems (mangrove, sea, peten [forested islets in flooded areas such as in the coastal lagoon ecosystem], wetland, and coastal dune), biotic and abiotic communities (flora, fauna [mainly reptiles], and salt extraction), and aspects of climate such as rain, wind, and sun (Fig. 6). The remaining 35% conceived nature as “something that surrounds us” and perceived it in a mystical and religious sense (e.g., “what God gives us to live by”). Other comments were that it can cause disease and be useful to humans and is a source of work. Most participants (92%) have a positive perception of nature (Table 1).

When asked if there is an expression that could encompass the mangrove, coconut groves, and salt ponds, 58% of participants responded “no”, that they are named separately. The other 42% expressed the social influence in their conceptions; they said that the right term would be “ejido” and related the term to daily life, the forms and contents of their cultural system, and legal aspects.

Four fathers and two sons stated that they knew nothing about the meaning of “natural resources”. Two fathers and two sons mentioned elements of work-related activities. The remaining two fathers alluded to natural events, material belongings, and food for sick people, as well as the uses (e.g., ecotourism) given to elements of nature.

[The] sinkhole (...) is God’s nature, (...) it cannot be buried (...) what gets buried [is the road to it]. (...) to get to the sinkhole (...) [you have to do] the work, open the road, (...) so you can get there. – Father, Yam-Solís family; born 1936.

The mothers did not recognize the concept of natural resources by itself, but coincided in the uses of coconuts, fish, and salt. Two sons mentioned the term, and one son, who had a higher educational level, mentioned some elements and distinguished between nature and natural resources. However, the interviewees possessed knowledge that allowed them to distinguish nature from natural resources. Resources identified by those who use nature included mangrove, salt ponds, and sinkholes. The distinction between nature and natural resources lays in the appropriation and daily use of elements in their ecological surroundings (e.g., salt, fish, mangrove wood, coconut leaves, and seeds; Bassols 1986).

The products that ejido members and their families extract from nature are part of their productive activities. Using complex social behavior such as participation and decision making, the participants appropriated natural resources through productive processes, including fishing, salt extraction, harvesting mangrove wood, coconut cultivation, horticulture, raising livestock, conservation, and ecotourism.

Interaction with ecosystems and natural resources

Primary socialization, daily life, and productive activities

Concepts associated with nature and its uses are part of a child’s cultural learning (Fig. 1). In San Crisanto, families provide the means by which their children enter society and incorporate beliefs, traditions, guidelines, values, and knowledge (e.g., of natural resources). Ejido members and their families are exposed to learning as mediated by community, research, and educational institutions; government and nongovernmental organizations; and communication media. The teaching dynamic between parents and children is bidirectional.

During primary socialization, the children in San Crisanto listen, observe, understand, and use games to recreate the obtained knowledge. Fishing, as a main productive activity, is an example of how children retake the practices carried out by family members in a community family context. For example, a child of a fisher family was playing next to his mother, expressing his experiences and the construction about shark fishing, including the risk the activity implies, while moving bottles filled with sand:

It is early, it is time to go fishing, they see the shark... the shark kills people! The shark gets killed! They are taking away the shark... – Child, 4 years old.

If not all the fathers in the study were socialized by both parents, there was always an extended family member who performed that role to guide their knowledge about natural resources (Fig. 7).

Most daily childhood activities were closely related to the surrounding natural resources. The fathers mentioned nine activities as the most common, with weed clearing, fishing, and salt harvesting being the most frequent. The mothers mentioned eight activities, the most important being weed clearing, which requires only one tool, called a coa; commonly approximately 40 cm long, the coa is a long-handled tool with a curved metal blade. Like their fathers, the sons mentioned nine activities, including fishing, salt harvesting, coconut planting, and weed clearing, and three also mentioned cutting mangrove. These activities involve more complex tools and the ability to work both individually and collectively (Table 2).

During primary socialization, the sons’ knowledge was influenced by observing their parents work. Of the activities done within the ejido, the fathers learned how to cut mangrove as adults, and three sons learned how to do it as children. The fathers had harvested sisal, but only one son had done it during his childhood, an indication of the decline in this regional industry. One father who had grown up in Campeche had worked harvesting chicle (resin from Manilkara zapota, the base of a bubble gum type), but later immigrated to San Crisanto. His son grew up in a different ecosystem and culture and therefore did not learn the skill.

Natural resources knowledge and gender

Gender strongly influences socialization and therefore learning and knowledge transmission. All participants agreed that the natural resources knowledge transmitted to children depended on whether they were boys or girls. For instance, they believed that fishing is a masculine activity: three of the fathers, all of the sons, and none of the mothers said they had fished as children.

There are women in San Crisanto who have acquired knowledge that is normally perceived as masculine. Children’s assistance with work activities is vital to parents, and sometimes the family composition requires adjustments to cover its labor needs. If a family had only daughters, or the sons were very young, girls learned and helped in their father’s work. One woman who had worked with her parents and learned and practiced activities that were considered to be masculine commented:

...I worked like a man, grew up like a man. My father said to me come, come, with time you’ll pick it up (...) That’s what my dad told me, you have to learn, well (...) we were women... – Paredes-López family, mother; born 1935.

One conspicuous exception to the norm in San Crisanto was the daughter-in-law of an ejido member who learned how to exploit diverse natural resources. She alternated between multiple natural resource management strategies and domestic responsibilities. She raised her children, kept house, sold coconut seeds and palms, collected fuelwood for sale and use at home, harvested salt, and knew and used fishing methods for various fish species, octopus, and lobster. Indeed, she was the first woman in San Crisanto to learn to dive and to snorkel, which are vital skills for catching lobster. She also purchased an old compact car and learned how to do basic maintenance on the vehicle and the outboard motor of her boat. She fulfilled her feminine role, but also organized her labor load to allow her to do normally masculine activities, thus helping to cover her family’s expenses and promote its well-being.

When the sons were asked what their mothers did, three of them mentioned salt harvesting and two mentioned weed clearing. They omitted other work that their mothers mentioned. The sons of women who worked salt ponds acknowledged that this was a female activity, and women themselves highlighted the time and effort needed for this work and the required knowledge acquisition. Although the mothers played an essential role in their sons’ learning, they were given little credit by their husbands, their sons, and themselves. Indeed, two stated that only their husband had contributed to transmitting natural resources knowledge to their sons.

Productive activity knowledge acquisition

The main productive activities learned during childhood were fishing, salt harvesting, coconut cultivation, and weed clearing, done by about half of the participants. Conservation and ecotourism was a later addition. Ten of the twelve participants knew how to fish. Seven of the eight men had learned during childhood; six had been socialized in San Crisanto and one in Campeche. Their learning came from interaction with their environment and the help of adults. All acknowledged their father or a father figure as a guide; one man each mentioned his grandfather’s, uncle’s, and step-father’s contribution.


Fishing is a family activity, beginning at approximately 10 years of age. The boys were taught to fish by taking them out fishing in a boat with their fathers and treating it as an enjoyable, fun activity, all of which are important factors for significant learning. The fathers did not work during these outings and tried to make the activity like a game. Stories about these experiences include learning about seasons for different species, climate, times, materials, species-specific tools and techniques, and what to do with a fish once it was caught. The fathers became teachers during these experiences.

[They taught me] like any father does with his boys, right? How to tie a hook (...) you throw the line, how to put on the weight, how to unhook the fish, how you cut [it]... – Domínguez-Castro family, son; born 1952.

In another example, one son told how he was taught ancestral knowledge about the winds and how to keep from endangering their life and boat.

...They began to show me what (...) the conditions were, how you can understand weather conditions, when the north wind will hit, when only a squall will hit (...); they started to explain (...) how the weather is at sea, not just “I’m going fishing,” come back and that’s it. – Yam-Solis family, son; born 1969.

All the men in the study group knew how to fish; the fathers and one son had learned traditional methods (i.e., sailboats and compass) from previous generations. They associated fishing with religious practice. For example, the San Crisanto fishermen and community are responsible for the Feast of the Virgin of Fatima, in May, during which the community celebrates the virgin for nine days. The church is decorated with flowers and candles throughout the festival, and on the main celebration day, the fishermen take the icon out to sea to procure her blessing and multiply their activities and natural resources. They believe that this helps them to fish well, guarantees good catches, and keeps them safe (Castillo 2001b). These activities contribute to generating strong organizational abilities and religious values, enriching culture and increasing cultural capital.

Salt harvesting

Salt harvesting has been a productive activity in the area since long before European contact (Andrews 1983). In San Crisanto, the women teach their children how to harvest salt. Among the interviewees, all but one mother knew how to harvest salt. Eight of the interviewees learned as children, and seven of these had grown up in San Crisanto. Their parents, relatives, and other community members harvested salt daily. One father grew up inland in Sinanché but learned salt harvesting in San Crisanto because his mother went there to harvest. Harvesting is a useful activity for maintaining relationships with other people, making the heavy work they perform in daily life easier and joyful.

When it is salt harvesting season, the women and children work the salt ponds while the men fish at sea. One mother commented that she took her small children to the ponds because nobody else was available to care for them. While the parents worked, the children would learn by playing.

...When [my children] were very small they (...) played, (...) even if it’s just one handful [of salt], they put it in the basket. – Catzin-Tzab family, mother; born 1946.

Harvesting was done during the morning or afternoon, and the rest of the day was used for other activities: fathers fished or farmed, mothers did housework, and children went to school or learned another activity. For parents, the only difference between how they harvested and how their children did it was that they used their hands, whereas their children used a shovel. The interviewees said that as children, they learned about fishing or salt harvesting from adults by going with them and being shown how to do it. Knowledge of fishing was provided by the father, and knowledge of salt harvesting by the mother. Salt harvesting was also learned from other relatives and local people.

Coconut cultivation

Coconut cultivation is perceived as mainly masculine, although some women have learned how to do it because they do not think it is very dangerous. Almost all participants knew how to harvest salt and plant coconuts. They learned in San Crisanto, and six did so as children (four sons, one mother, and one father). This learning may be related to ejido activities because the planting of dwarf Malaysian coconut (Cocos nucifera) began when the sons were children.

[My father taught me] (...) when he was an ejido member ... the ejido motivated him (...) to (...) collect coconuts and plant them. – Paredes-López family, son; born 1969.

Although ejido policy played some role in the sons’ learning, they also learned when small family groups worked in the coconut groves. In summary, childhood knowledge acquisition about coconut cultivation was provided by adults, mostly fathers, and occasionally a grandfather.

Weed clearing

One ubiquitous activity on agricultural lands throughout the state of Yucatan is weed clearing. Vital to improving production in coconut groves, fruit orchards, and vegetable crops, it is considered simple, low-risk work. Eleven participants learned how to do it as children, and one mother learned how to do it as an adult. Parents or a grandfather showed the children how and when to do it, the tools to use, and how to stay away from plants that damage the skin. In fruit orchards and vegetable crops, they taught them which weeds were damaging which crops. In the ejido coconut grove, the fathers taught their sons, who helped them work. They also learned by “caretaking land” for summer visitors with their fathers, who would show them how to clear vegetation and keep others from occupying a lot. Two of the parents who had experienced their primary socialization in San Crisanto learned how to clear weeds in sisal plantations. Although considered low risk, weed clearing does involve sharp tools, so even though children are taught as early as 5 years of age, they are given dull tools.

Weeding clearing is a very common activity in San Crisanto in familiar and communal spaces, and boys and girls are socialized in that activity. Boys practiced weed clearing in coconut cultivation, mangrove conservation, and community spaces. Women most frequently performed weed clearing in the yards of homes, schools, and churches.

Conservation and ecotourism

Ejido members structured the regulations that govern their organization. They hold monthly general assemblies, make decisions regarding the organization and its natural resources, and, depending on the themes and projects, have contemplated time horizons in their planning. For example, mangrove management is planned in stages ranging over 1 to 15 years or more. Decision making by ejidatarios includes a ceremony of Maya origin, related to the management and well-being of the mangrove. Jets’ lu’um is a ceremony that means putting everything in its place; it is the balance of place and order. In this case, it refers to everything that is included in the mangrove, as one of the ejidatarios stated.

Jets’ lu’um started because some mangrove operators mentioned that they observed occurrences that looked like fire in the palapa (shed with palm roof) at the entrance; they saw the smoke, but the palm of the roof was not burning. They also perceived shadows; they heard voices and threw stones at them but nobody was there. These manifestations were identified as aluxes (small and mischievous supernatural incorporeal beings who inhabit the place). People began performing the jets’ lu’um ceremony 10 years previous to our study; an H’men (traditional ritual expert) comes to the mangrove and performs the ceremony each year (Ejidatario, born 1956).

In the 10 years previous to our study, ejido members have also engaged in activities that highlight the town’s productive, natural, and human fulfillment. All ejido members have focused their efforts on ecotourism development, thus sustainably using and conserving their natural resources.

Ecotourism was developed as a complementary activity to the mangrove restoration project. Knowing mangrove better, we realized that we could develop ecotourism. The tourism of sun and beach was complemented with this new activity and with the construction of huts for lodging. – Ejidatario, born 1956.

One of the different ways in which ejidatarios link to the market is when commercializing their products: coconut, salt, and mangrove ecotourism. In the latter activity, there is a risk of damaging the ecosystem, but the ejido’s governance model has kept it healthy because the activities are regulated, they act guided by observations and knowledge acquired over decades, and they detect and account for certain risks in the mangrove.

Every summer the ejido joins the rest of the community in holding the Coconut Festival, a local event focusing on handcrafts and food prepared from marine resources, and drinks and sweets made from coconut. Public and private organizations participate by presenting the results from productive, ecological, social, and educational projects. Entertainment includes national and international musical and singing groups, as well as traditional dances that attract delegations from neighboring towns, all wearing typical Maya-Yucatecan dress. The festival promotes community participation and integration around natural resources conservation, contributing to the formation of incorporated and objectified cultural capital (Castillo 2001b, Pech et al. 2010; Fig. 1).

The community’s conservation work over the last 21 years (1995–2016) and its positive effects on the region’s natural resources and inhabitants’ well-being have garnered international attention. Visitors come from nearby communities, other municipalities, states, and countries.

San Crisanto has worked to improve its social and environmental well-being through a series of actions implemented at the community level by its members. The mangrove’s natural hydrology was restored by cleaning 11,300 m of canals and 40 natural sinkholes and maintaining them annually. An environmental study and evaluation was done for 850 ha of mangrove, including an ongoing study of the primary predator, the crocodile, during which 190 specimens have been marked to date. In addition to acknowledging traditional uses such as wood harvesting and salt extraction, other uses such as coconut cultivation have received renewed support, and new activities such as ecotourism have been developed (12,000 visitors annually since 2000). Environmental education has become a constant in the community since it began in 2002, with at least one workshop offered annually. Project-related improvements in community quality of life include 25 direct and 42 indirect jobs, as well as parallel development in response to the increased tourism (Energy Globe Foundation’s Energy Globe Award:

Natural resources knowledge, capabilities, cultural capital, and well-being

The natural resources knowledge acquired by ejido members, their families, and the community helps them to develop specialized characteristics and capabilities that shape their cultural capital, allowing them to act properly in their society and culture. The cultural capital acquired by the parents during their primary socialization allowed them to continue learning about productive activities throughout their lives. For example, they were able to acquire knowledge about new activities such as conservation and ecotourism. Each person incorporates cultural capital in a unique, personal way and possesses different levels and kinds of cultural capital depending on age and gender, among other factors.

It was clear from the interviews that childhood learning of the mentioned productive activities was personally significant for the participants. They remembered with enthusiasm the enjoyment they felt when learning how to fish, harvest salt, plant coconuts, and clear weeds. This knowledge was acquired in a playful, fun environment of pleasant coexistence in which they enjoyed and derived satisfaction from applying what they had learned to produce income and food for their family. It was also an opportunity to work with their parents, spouse, and children.

When participants shared their knowledge with children, they manifested how strongly they valued learning about natural resources. They believed that passing knowledge about productive activities to their children will assure proper family development and well-being.

My mom was in charge of collecting the salt. She used a “bogador” as we call it because, formerly, when (...) the puddles dried up, the salt was “aboyada“. Then my mom (...), with a bogador, put it together, and my sister shoveled [and filled] the baskets. (...) My dad and I took it out, then with the baskets, we carried them out to the edge of what is the puddle and did the tasks of a 20 tall (...) and so we did 8, 10, 15 tasks. – Domínguez Castro family, son; born 1952.

As described here, learning and performing activities related to natural resources management are multifactor, complex, and changing processes. They promote the development of knowledge, abilities, attitudes, and values, allowing participants to build capabilities and permanent functioning. Both processes are enriched with traits and elements from the Yucatecan Maya culture, expressed for instance in language, ceremonies, festivals, and gastronomy.

Community participation and decision making, personal experiences in natural resources use and management, formal and informal education and specialized training, and community resocialization all represent vital incorporated, objectified, and institutionalized cultural capital. The community recreates these capitals during daily life, but also through natural resources conservation (as in Bourdieu 1987; Fig. 1 and Table 3).

Incorporated cultural capital tends to be expressed as objectified cultural capital associated with natural resources. It is manifested in the tools used in productive activities (e.g., selection of proper woods for carved tool handles, handcrafts, fishing nets, and hooks), and also in the images and floral arrangements made for the Festival of the Virgin of Fatima, boarding on boats of fishermen with the parishioners, as devotion and gratitude toward her. Other expressions of cultural capital are statutes and documents regulating ejido objectives and member activities. Institutionalized cultural capital occurs in the form of formal education as well as courses taken in informal education programs (Table 4). As a whole, cultural capital contributes to the well-being of individual ejido members and their families, permeating the entire community through family, friendships, and neighbor relationships.

Among members of the ejido, interactions and agreements are needed to generate opportunities, solve problems about the use and handling of the ejido’s natural resources, and strengthen normativity and institutions, making them extensive to the community, as part of conservation governance. We contrasted the relationship between models and cultural elements indicated in Tables 3 and 4, Appendix 1, and Results, such as the description of ejido property, production, perception of nature, ecosystems, and natural resources.

After analyzing the ejido’s trajectory, we identified its governance model following Lebel et al. (2006) and Sithirith (2015). It is characterized by the interactions and agreements among its members to establish the rules, make plans, and promote positive changes toward the responsible and sustainable use and management of natural resources among the ejido members, community, and visitors.

The governance model contains the following factors: (1) worldview elements and biocultural Maya memory; (2) knowledge of ecosystem elements such as hydrography, flora and fauna, and positive and negative impacts of their use; (3) values such as respect, solidarity, and protection of nature; (4) development of capabilities to link with other local, regional, national, and international institutions and support the management of nature and natural resources, combining traditional and scientific knowledge; (5) participation in analysis and decision making for their organization and natural resources, in internal and external representative bodies; (6) organizational mechanisms such as rules, design, and accountability; (7) inclusion of people who do not belong to the ejido in awareness-raising and respect toward nature; (8) proposal and promotion of festivals related to the preservation of nature and the regional culture; (9) incorporation of habits toward the fulfilment of commitments, discipline, respect for other people’s approaches, and improving their oral and written communication skills. We identified cultural activities and elements as part of this ejido’s governance model, which strengthen knowledge, theoretical-practical abilities, attitudes, and values to form habits, capabilities, and permanent functioning, increasing their cultural capital and the socialization processes. In other coastal towns, management and appropriation of natural resources generate conflicts that affect their conservation.


Our study focused mainly on what children learned from adults during primary socialization and how individuals built their specific realities related to the use and management of natural resources associated with productive activities, building a “special knowledge” because of the division of labor during resocialization (e.g., Berger and Luckmann 1967). The dialogues we had with the ejidatarios over two decades allowed us to know, initially, the group members’ socialization processes and share moments with their families. That richness allowed us to examine the in-depth knowledge they had about natural resources. The level of trust we gained made it possible to access the innermost narratives in their family contexts, which helped in performing the in-depth interviews with fathers, mothers, and children of the studied group to learn about the environment in which their learning and socialization processes took place. Far from being limited by the number of interviewees, the richness of the narratives allows us to unravel aspects that we contrasted with the data initially obtained from the rest of the ejidatarios. This process confirmed that valuable new information was obtained about their society-nature relationship.

The cultural function of the father and mother (or another close relative who tended to the education of children, including training in natural resources management) was very important in the reported experiences. However, in one case, this role had to be filled by a biologically unrelated person, as Schrecker (1994) indicates, becoming in this way a “significant other” during childhood processes, coinciding also with Berger and Luckmann’s (1967) arguments that socialization is determined by a person and natural environments. The presence of the father and mother or a close relative make it possible that children can learn about natural resources in productive activities at an early age.

The goods and supplies derived from natural resources are essential for social survival and reproduction (e.g., Skinner 1974, Leff 1993). This idea coincides with reports from Yucatan (Castillo 2001b) and Catalonia, Spain (Calvet-Mir et al. 2015) in which natural protected areas are cared for by building social networks and developing a process of social organization that influences natural resources appropriation. In the Amazon, social influence has also been reported to conserve species richness and promote the exchange of medicinal plants from home gardens (Díaz-Reviriego et al. 2016).

The conservation work of the last 20 years by the ejido members has been ratified by visitors coming from nearby communities, other municipalities, states, and countries, as was described in the Energy Globe Foundation’s Energy Globe Award: These facts function as strong stimuli that influence the resocialization process of ejido members, families, and the community. Socialization occurs through the construction of social models that include some cultural elements of their ancient Maya culture. Consequenly, they are able to identify knowledge of vegetation associated with soils, which is important to recognize, and to identify landscapes and multiple strategies for use and management of productive species (Alarcón-Cháires and Toledo 2013). The knowledge is also useful for conservation of mangroves across the San Crisanto coast.

Salt harvesting promotes relationships with relatives and friends, creating a space for learning and coexistence. The participants consider it satisfactory work, and perhaps even their favorite. This attitude contrasts with results from Celestún, Yucatan, where fishing is highly valued and salt harvesting is considered “donkey work” to be done when “it’s all the work there is” (Méndez-Contreras et al. 2008:117). This difference corresponds to cultural perceptions learned and transmitted during socialization. These perceptions become the social reality in each community, are built intersubjectively, and are grounded in capabilities (Berger and Luckmann 1967, Bandura 1971, 1978, Sen 1996, 1999a,b, Nussbaum 1997, Flores-Crespo 2005).

In the San Crisanto familial and communal environment, no matter how hard the work was or who taught it, games played an important role in acquiring knowledge about fishing, salt harvesting, and weed clearing. This observation coincides with a study of children’s games and toys in a Yucatecan Maya community, which found that games and toys helped children to begin learning about the natural resources and cultural scheme of the place where they lived (Flores 2003).

As soon as biological sex is identified based on the genitalia (Lagarde 1993), girls and boys are trained in productive activities related to the use and management of natural resources. Gender-based division of labor occurs in most cultures (Lamas 1996). Among the Mazahua of Mexico, men plant corn during the dry season, but women care for the corn crop during the rainy season while men search for seasonal employment (Vizcarra and Marín 2006). In Malawi and Tanzania, firewood collection is considered a feminine activity reserved for women and girls (Biran et al. 2004). San Crisanto study participants had clearly internalized gender roles during childhood, and thus, had developed their identity and behaved according to the social construction of that gender identity (Elkin 1992, Sabaté et al. 1995, Lamas 1996). This reproduction of gender roles in daily life is also present among the Mazahua, who associate girls with the home and boys with agricultural work. In San Crisanto culture, the long periods of weed clearing provide an opportunity to collect plants, which socializes local knowledge because the women teach their children how to distinguish between edible and inedible plants.

An exception to gender role education in San Crisanto culture is a girl who learned activities normally taught to boys because she lived with her grandmother as a child and had to work to support the family, as described by Vizcarra and Marín (2006). Based on her personal experience in the South Pacific, Kedrayate (2004) stated that although parents teach their children to fulfill gender roles from a very young age, she was taught the masculine activities of fishing and agriculture. Another gender role exception in San Crisanto was the case of a woman who learned activities associated with agriculture and helped her father to cultivate the milpa (a traditional cropping system) and other associated activities. Later, when she married, that knowledge and practical abilities were useful for obtaining goods and supplies for her nuclear family. These abilities helped the woman to develop and improve other unknown and complex productive activities such as fishing, salt extraction, and coconut cultivation. The capacities developed by participants during teaching and learning processes for the use and managment of natural resource include knowledge, abilities, attitudes, and values, which are later transformed into capabilities and permanent functioning (Sen 1996, 1999a,b), enriching cultural capital, expressed in the ejido organization (manuals, use of tools in productive activities, interest and motivation to attend courses and training from external institutions; Bourdieu 1987).

In the estuary Celestún, a reserve of the biosphere, authorities and villagers perceive and prioritize the quality of individual, family, and communal life to their emotional, spiritual, physical, economic, intellectual, and environmental expectations. Despite valuing the place where they live and work, there are problems in their perceptions, which affect them in achieving their objectives. Such problems include: (1) they do not link nature with natural resources, which are seen as inexhaustible; (2) when planning their “ideal community” they give little relevance to nature: (3) there are some isolated actions on conservation; (4) there is a lack of authorities’ sensitivity to encouraging the community’s participation and promoting collective knowledge about the negative effects of human activity on the environment (Viga-de Alva 2005).

Paredes-Pérez and Castillo-Burguete (2018) studied the actions performed by 20 co-op members in the municipality of Progreso to take advantage of natural resources and develop a touristic alternative to the sun and beach. The members rehabilitated a space close to the boating track in the coastal lagoon, converting it into a recreational and ecotouristic park called El Corchito, which is currently highly visited. Despite the hard work performed by the co-op members, they were uncertain if the park would be removed in the middle or long term because they did not own the rehabilitated area.

In San Crisanto, other factors associated with environmental perceptions are the access and differentiated use of natural resources in unpaid daily activities. For example, water is collected from rain and floods, firewood and soils are obtained from the woods, and paid productive activities are performed in the mangrove, woodland, and marsh (Chávez-Ballado 2007). The knowledge about water resources related to cenotes or sinkholes was associated with subsistence strategies and ordered according to policies and norms of the ejido that help preservation (Pérez-Flores 2012).

In most areas of the region, activities to preserve the mangrove, beach, and coastal dunes are promoted by federal, state, and local authorities, causing a biased perception of the natural resources they use as well as a lack of integral plans and programs for the middle and long terms. This situation contrasts with the valuation and efforts made during more than three decades by ejidatarios in San Crisanto. In the collective perception of the described experiences, two important aspects are shown: (1) nature is associated with aesthetic and religious appreciation, and (2) collective perception is influenced by the type of natural resource activities performed by adults, youngsters, and children. Perceptions are a cultural construction that are related to the place where people live, and other factors can influence them and generate uncertainty about whether one’s basic needs can be satisfied. Moreover, there are conflicts among economic, political, and social powers for control, as occurs in other coastal communities (Viga-de Alva and Castillo-Burguete 2014). The need to have “conflict resolution mechanisms to sustain any complex system of rules, discuss and resolve what constitutes a violation” is noted by Ostrom (2000:161–162). This situation contrasts with the valuation and efforts made during more than three decades by ejidatarios from San Crisanto.


This study has helped us to understand better the sociocultural mechanisms behind the nature-society relationship in San Crisanto, particularly how participants learned to value coastal ecosystem resources, and their restoration, use, and conservation. The knowledge acquisition process experienced by the participants was conditioned by their geographical, ecological, and psycho-sociocultural context. It is within this context that social learning about regional natural resources use and management is produced and reproduced, thus enriching local culture. The knowledge acquisition process is further enhanced by Maya cultural elements as part of daily life.

“Natural resources” was not an expression the participants used, although they did acknowledge using resources such as fish, salt, coconuts, mangrove wood, fruit, and vegetables as part of their productive activities (i.e., fishing, salt harvesting, mangrove harvesting, coconut cultivation, ranching, fruit and vegetable growing, conservation, and ecotourism). During childhood, they learned how to fish, harvest salt, plant coconuts, and clear weeds, mainly from their parents or similar adult figures such as close relatives, who taught them by directly guiding and modeling productive activities. In this way, parents, community, and ejido members stimulated children to learn how to use and manage natural resources within their psycho-sociocultural context.

During primary socialization, gender generally determined the kind of natural resources knowledge transmitted to children as culturally appropriate activities for boys or girls. Boys learned how to fish, cultivate coconuts, harvest salt, and clear weeds, whereas girls were taught only the latter two activities. Even when mothers played a role in teaching their sons how to harvest fuelwood and salt and clear weeds, some of their sons did not acknowledge it or did so only on a secondary level. In guiding their children through the teaching and learning process, the parents’ and other relatives participating in the process aimed to provide them with knowledge related to productive activities and to ensure that they would be able to raise their own families. During secondary socialization, people observed and participated in community activites, and also formally obtained new cultural elements from accredited courses related to natural resources use and management from community, national, and international institutions. These activities allowed ejido members to strengthen their knowledge.

Each individual transformed the knowledge, abilities, attitudes, and values acquired about natural resources into specific capabilities and permanent functioning that allowed them to increase their well-being and cultural capital. Participation and decision-making processes played important roles in helping the participants to produce knowledge related to natural resources use and management. This knowledge constituted cultural capital that proved to be useful to them for acting within their community. By integrating this cultural context, they developed a perception of natural resources appropriation that included use and care of their ecological surroundings. As they integrated cultural capital, it allowed them to continue acquiring knowledge about productive activities such as fishing, coconut cultivation, ecotourism, conservation, and others; this resocialization process included specialized training from research centers and governmental and nongovernmental institutions.

When viewed as a whole, the knowledge acquired, the emotion manifested when remembering having learned activities, participation, and decision making, the ejido projects transcend the individual benefits that have been provided to ejido members. This learning has positive effects at the family and community levels and constitutes a psycho-sociocultural richness acknowledged by national and international awards for the ejido. Intergenerational teaching has been one of the ejido’s keys to success because it has allowed the members to preserve cultural elements of their identity from a Maya heritage, in holistic integration of biocultural memory, knowledge, practice, and cosmovision related to natural resources management.

Gender roles dictate men’s and women’s duties in the home, family, and community. These roles are reflected in the different genders’ relationships with natural resources. For women, the teaching and learning process limited their opportunities beginning at an early age because it prevented them from converting this knowledge into specific capabilities that would have increased their cultural capital. Men are provided with this advantage under the assumption that they must fulfill the social commitment of providing for their family’s needs.

Even in these traditionally rigid schemas, some women have managed to broaden and modify their roles during their resocialization or secondary socialization. Some examples are the San Crisanto women who expanded their capabilities to include skills to provide themselves the knowledge needed to use, manage, and administer natural resources for their well-being and that of their family. The fact that women had less access than men to natural resources knowledge during the teaching and learning process affected their development of capabilities and thus prevented the application of such capabilities in a wider variety of natural resources use and management activities such as mangrove and wetland restoration. Women were not trained to fish or work on ejido lands and did not come into direct contact with these resources. Access to this knowledge was collateral, via conversation and occasional visits to ecotourism sites. This situation negatively affects the participating women’s ability to objectify natural resources knowledge and increase their cultural capital.

The ejido families manifested environmentally responsible behavior toward the natural resources they use in productive, religious, educational, sports, and recreational activities. This behavior promotes a long-term, positive, and harmonious relationship with the surrounding ecosystems and their natural biodiversity. For instance, when local ecosystems have been at risk, ejido members and their sons have consistently restored them, thus contributing to the generation of other forms of natural resources appreciation. In addition to natural resources providing sustenance and income, it is understood that they constitute cultural resources expressed in different communal areas, contributing to overall well-being.

With their actions, ejido members and their families have generated individual and collective knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values that become capabilities, allowing individuals to choose the kind of life they want. These capabilities in turn can be applied to use and manage their natural resources better, and can be employed at work, home, and in the community to expand their cultural capital and increase their well-being. In this way, ejido members collectively transcend the utilitarian values usually assigned to natural resources and overcome associated conflicts.

In the Yucatan, coastline activities related to mangrove, beach, and coastal dune conservation are promoted mainly by federal, state, or local authorities, who are responsible for planning, decision making, and promoting action. This verticality favors passive involvement and a skewed perception of natural resources by those who use them on a daily basis. The shortage of comprehensive plans and programs for the middle and long terms makes it difficult to achieve objectives and governance because the voluntary participation of users, distribution of authority, and mechanisms of accountability are not incorporated in the governance model.

The previous situation contrasts with the assessment and efforts made during more than three decades by the ejidatarios of San Crisanto. They developed a governance model strengthening their own style of organization, set rules, norms, and decision making so as not to sell their communal lands and to plan for collective well-being. All of this is linked with regional, national, and international institutions, enriching their cultural perception related to natural resources conservation.

It would be desirable to include the knowledge and perception of users and their specific social, political, economic, cultural, and religious contexts in designing plans, programs, and actions for the management of natural resources. Such considerations would help to maintain harmonious relations of society with nature.


Responses to this article are invited. If accepted for publication, your response will be hyperlinked to the article. To submit a response, follow this link. To read responses already accepted, follow this link.


We thank all San Crisanto ejido members and families for their time and participation. Thanks are also due to Ligia Uc for software support, Pablo Aguilera for preliminary comments on the manuscript, and the reviewers for their supportive and kind comments, guiding our work, and helping us to improve our manuscript.


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Address of Correspondent:
María Teresa Castillo-Burguete
Antigua Carretera a Progreso Km. 6
Mérida, Yucatán, México
C.P. 97310
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Table1  | Table2  | Table3  | Table4  | Figure1  | Figure2  | Figure3  | Figure4  | Figure5  | Figure6  | Figure7  | Appendix1