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Mexico Should Heed Lush Lesson of Costa Rica


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View Trip Van Noppen's blog posts
20 April 2013, 12:59 PM
Investment in biodiversity yields tourism riches
A three-toed sloth in Costa Rica's Cahuita National Park. (Nathan Dappen)

This month, I had the very good fortune to visit Costa Rica, home to some of greatest biodiversity in the world. In this tiny nation, plants and animals from temperate North America and from tropical South America mingle in habitats at different altitudes (including active volcanoes and rain forests at the beach)! I marveled at hundreds of leaping dolphins, huge rain forest trees with rich canopy life, miraculous birds, sloths and anteaters.

Not surprisingly, Costa Rica is an increasingly popular travel destination, especially for nature-oriented visitors. Of course, rampant tourism can ruin natural landscapes and in so doing, wreak havoc with local communities that depend on those landscapes, which is why early on many Costa Ricans made sustainability a primary focus. The country has been preparing itself for two generations, establishing and protecting national parks and other preserves, training young people as scientists and guides, and developing a sustainable travel ethic. It's a model that Mexico could follow, instead of proceeding on a path of destroying some of its most remarkable ecological treasures for short-term gain.

Costa Rica's decision to preserve and protect the area’s astonishing natural resources and to develop in a way that benefits local communities has paid off both economically and environmentally. I was enormously impressed with the number of young Costa Ricans making careers out of environmental education, nature guiding, sustainable travel and natural resource protection, supported by government policy and motivated by their own deep appreciation for the beauty of their homeland. Indeed, the country actually ranks first in the entire world on an index from the New Economics Foundation, which compares countries’ average life expectancy, ecological footprint and feeling of well-being. Thank you, Costa Rica!

Unfortunately, Costa Rica’s model has not inspired all countries to a similar path. Almost 3,000 miles northwest of the tiny Central American country, another ecologically stunning region in the Gulf of California is under threat from Mexico’s government, which is ignoring its own environmental laws by authorizing massive development projects near fragile marine ecosystems.

Aerial view of Cabo Pulmo. (Sidartha Velazquez)Aerial view of Cabo Pulmo, at the tip of Baja California.  (Sidartha Velázquez)
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The Gulf, bordering Baja California and also known as the “Sea of Cortés,” teems with humpback whales, sea lions, devil rays, giant conches and leatherback sea turtles. It also supports hundreds of fish species in numbers so robust that schools have been known to blot out the sun above divers.

Mexican communities along the Baja coastline depend on these natural treasures as a cultural, economic and recreational resource, yet despite their significance, Mexico’s government is allowing developers to plan Cancun-style tourism that would have devastating impacts. One such proposal is the Cabo Cortés—an enormous hotel and golf complex that would have been built next to Cabo Pulmo reef, the largest living coral reef in western North America and the jewel of the Gulf of California. Only a strong grassroots campaign, millions of petitioners and organizations like our partner organization, Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), convinced Mexico’s president to reject the Cabo Cortés project.

But numerous similar projects wait in the wings.

Two projects—Paraíso del Mar and Entre Mares—are planned adjacent to each other on a fragile sandbar in the Bay of La Paz, just north of Cabo Pulmo. Another, Playa Espíritu, would be built in the Marismas Nacionales, an internationally recognized wetland that supports 20 percent of the remaining mangrove forests in Mexico. Such expanded tourism will exhaust water resources in this desert region, overwhelm the sparsely populated area with tourists and pollute the sensitive marine environment.

A diver, at Cabo Pulmo. (Carlos Aguilera)A diver, at Cabo Pulmo.  (Carlos Aguilera)
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The scale and concentration of these threats has required an escalation in the fight to the international level. Earthjustice and AIDA, representing local and international environmental organizations, have petitioned the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation, an organization created by the North American Free Trade Agreement. The petition asks the commission to investigate Mexico’s failure to enforce its own environmental regulations by repeatedly permitting unsustainable projects.

Mexico’s short-sighted plans to overdevelop the country’s own resources threaten not only these rare and pristine ecosystems. Mexico’s people—present and future—will be robbed of the economic and social benefits that come from the type of long-term sustainability planning that other countries like Costa Rica have wholeheartedly embraced.

Please join us and our allies in Mexico are calling on Mexico to enforce its own environmental laws to ensure that these precious resources are protected and sustainably managed so that everyone can enjoy them for years to come.

I have spent time in both Costa Rica and Mexico and they are worlds apart in many ways. The pervasiveness and degree of corruption in the latter far outweigh that of its southern neighbor. Add to this a climate of narco-financing akin to Panamá in the late 80s, widespread lack of institutional integrity, a frightening deficit of intellectual and technical knowledge on the part of politicians and bureaucrats, an accepted and embraced culture in the Gulf of California where there are no consequences, Americans fueling the condo-ization of the coasts (see the new Article 27), and the hope that the region will follow a more visionary path for development seems distant at best. Let me know México when you want to start trying.

History reflects you destroy the land around you and reap nothing in return. How simple can it be support the land and you will reap the rewards for all time. Why would any sane person destroy the water he drinks from. Even more interesting why would people elected vote for the exact opposite of the people who voted for them? Should we stand by and let one per cent of our population destroy our planet and people? We need to unite now as the ninety nine per cent union and say enough. There is no future in saying nothing. The one per cent kings have transferred by estimate eighty per cent of the wealth. Frankly this is a democracy and no civilization thru time can survive or maintain existence on what is left. The law on stupid greed is over due.If our representatives can't fix this we as a nation in fact world need to state a new Magna Carta. We the people want the corporate kings to re build our world using the thirty six trillion dollars they stole from our economy.

You said just what I was thinking.But you put it into the right words.
I have said all my 74yrs old that the rich get richer and the poor
get poorer,I think the world is in such a mess we may never get it
back like it once was.I think that 99.5 Have no compassion and just
don't care about the old, sick and you said it Greed!!!!

I've been visiting In-laws in San Jose, Costa Rica for the last 10 years, and unless things have just changed in the last few months, they still haven't implemented a recycling system. They have garbage pick up only. It is also common to see garbage riddled all over the sidewalks and streets since they haven't developed a campaign for education in schools and for the general public about littering. I even saw a woman sweeping and burning plastic bottles right on the sidewalk, which was allowed. They still have yet to have placed any pollution restrictions on their many buses that belch out heavy fumes daily. Even though I feel a kin to Costa Rica, it has a ways to go to be considered an example to other countries.

It is noteworthy that two countries that have bannned hunting are filled with wildlife. This is no co-incidence.

I was recently in Costa Rica and agree with the author - with one big exception. Costa Rica currently allows foreigners to purchase property. Intel is the largest investor in the country and, other than employing citizens in the huge plant, I don't know what concessions they're making to Costa Rica. There is a gap in the economic status of its citizens, in spite of universal health care and education. Also, Nicaraguans are flocking to Costa Rica for the menial labor jobs - legally in seasonal worker programs or illegally. Sound familiar?

I see the property ownership by foreigners as a problem Mexico has stemmed by issuing leases only. Mexico is much larger and doesn't feel the pinch that I foresee Costa Rica having due to the limited amount of land available. Also, foreign purchases have raised the land value beyond that of the average Costa Rican's income. I fear that these foreigners (mostly U.S.) will soon seek advantage by monetary influence and could destabilize this fragile economy.

Though Eco-tourism is a wonderful industry, it ranks 4th or 5th in Costa Rica's economy, after Intel, fresh flower exports, pineapple and coffee. Many of our well-trained and intelligent guides have skipped a college education (also free) for their fairly lucrative job. I hope they get to take the time to further their education.

The other big plus in Costa Rica, the region's first true stable democracy - no military and no hunting.

I was recently in Costa Rica and agree with the author - with one big exception. Costa Rica currently allows foreigners to purchase property. Intel is the largest investor in the country and, other than employing citizens in the huge plant, I don't know what concessions they're making to Costa Rica. There is a gap in the economic status of its citizens, in spite of universal health care and education. Also, Nicaraguans are flocking to Costa Rica for the menial labor jobs - legally in seasonal worker programs or illegally. Sound familiar?

I see the property ownership by foreigners as a problem Mexico has stemmed by issuing leases only. Mexico is much larger and doesn't feel the pinch that I foresee Costa Rica having due to the limited amount of land available. Also, foreign purchases have raised the land value beyond that of the average Costa Rican's income. I fear that these foreigners (mostly U.S.) will soon seek advantage by monetary influence and could destabilize this fragile economy.

Though Eco-tourism is a wonderful industry, it ranks 4th or 5th in Costa Rica's economy, after Intel, fresh flower exports, pineapple and coffee. Many of our well-trained and intelligent guides have skipped a college education (also free) for their fairly lucrative job. I hope they get to take the time to further their education.

The other big plus in Costa Rica, the region's first true stable democracy - no military and no hunting.

Please protect Baja by following the example of Costa Rica

Margaret Mead said it best: Never doubt that a small group of committed people can make a difference. Indeed, it's the only thing that has.

With our ever decreasing water supply drying out or being contaminated by pollution, I urge you to quash any ideas to destroy or develop industrially any land or waterway in the rich areas of Baja CA. We have so few natural resource rich land that is home to many native species that has not been disturbed by what many opponents call "progress", left intact would be better to provide for our future and the future of generations to come.

Helo preserv the natural Resources of México AND plan for a sustainable development for the local settlers without allowing large interest to control their destiny

Please do not destroy the beautiful natural resources in Baja CA. You can responsibly bring tourism dollars by following others example of tourism with sustainability (i.e., Costa Rica). Please consider what will bring short-term financial gain will have irreparable consequences and will destroy your opportunity to bring tourism dollars in the future.

Thank you

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