Music

Inside Selva Negra, Maná’s Ecological Foundation Benefitting Turtles, Trees & More

In 1992, Maná scored a hit with “Vivir Sin Aire,” a love song that also served as a metaphor for the environment — and set the Mexican rock band down a path it still walks today. Not only has the group included one song inspired by environmental or social change on every album since, but in 1996, the band — comprising Fernando “Fher” Olvera, Alejandro González, Sergio Vallín and Juan Calleros — cemented its environmental commitment by launching the Selva Negra (Black Jungle) Ecological Foundation, which protects species, restores ecosystems and promotes ­environmental education.

Nearly 30 years since its creation, Selva Negra has more than delivered on its mission. It has directly hatched and released 8 million sea turtles, planted over 800,000 trees, produced over 500,000 plants in its communal greenhouse and worked with the Interamerican Development Bank to help preserve Mexican forests and promote projects to raise consciousness on climate change, among many other actions. All the while, the foundation has promoted myriad social justice causes, including providing support and dignified living to immigrant communities in the United States, Mexico and Latin countries.

Speaking from his home base of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico — and wearing a silver charm of a sea turtle, his favorite animal, around his neck — Maná frontman and Selva Negra president Olvera speaks on why the work is never over.

Sound, Selva Negra, Maná
Fher Olvera (center) bagged saplings with the Selva Negra team.

Several years ago, you spoke about a plan to develop an environmental curriculum
for schools. How is that coming along?

We do a lot of environmental education on the ground. But what’s most important, and what we tried to achieve with the ­previous governments, was making ecology a part of the core school curriculum like geography or math. It’s coming along, but our government doesn’t understand the ­environment. We’re trying to change that.

On the band’s last U.S. tour, you donated to many organizations that help migrants. What is your position on that issue?

More than a political position, it’s a humanitarian position. When we spent time with [President Barack] Obama in the White House, we weren’t supporting Democrats or Republicans — we were supporting the people who work, who put bread on the tables of American families. We are for human rights. The Latin community in the United States is so strong now that it can change an election, and presidents can no longer offend Latins so easily. Well, some can.

Tell us about Platanitos, the place where you have your turtle preserve.

It’s very close, in an area called Nayarit [Mexico]. Platanitos is an enormous beach where the government has an untouchable reserve, and we partnered with them to take care of the turtles. In Platanitos, we have a conservation station that houses the biologists and the team that takes care of the turtles. They collect the eggs, put them in a protected area. There they grow for a little over a month until they hatch, and they push the baby turtles to sea at night so no predators eat them. Last year, we liberated to sea almost 1 million baby turtles, our record. There are many turtle camps worldwide. It shows that man can do good with the same hand that does harm. We took a single species, but there are many more.

Do you feel artists have an obligation to promote social justice now more than ever?

If it comes from the heart, yes. If it’s not within them, and it’s against my principles to say this, they’re under no obligation. An artist’s obligation is to make good art — to give the best of themselves in their songs, their lyrics, the arrangements, everything that makes up the music. Now, if on top of that they want to talk about women’s rights, or education rights, or health, the environment, whatever, then that’s the cherry on the cake. I believe many people have been inspired by Maná to protect the environment — to think globally and act locally.

Sound, Selva Negra, Maná
Fher Olvera releasing turtle with Selva Negra.

This story originally appeared in the March 30, 2024, issue of Billboard.

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