The Gulf of California teems with devil rays, humpback whales, sea lions, 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.
Cabo Pulmo, the jewel of the Gulf of California, is nestled at the southern tip of Baja California. The 20,000-year-old reef is one of just three of its kind on the Pacific coast of the Americas. Many of the 800 species of marine animals in the Gulf of California seek refuge in the reef, and it plays a critical role in the greater ecology of the region.
But this ecological treasure is under threat. Developers are planning significant tourism construction in the region, such as Cabo Cortés—a massive hotel and golf complex that was proposed for construction next door to Cabo Pulmo reef.
A strong grassroots campaign by local groups and millions of petitioners worldwide convinced Mexico's President Calderón to reject the Cabo Cortés project. But numerous similar projects are waiting 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. Another, Playa Espíritu, would be built in the Marismas Nacionales, an internationally recognized wetland that supports 20 percent of the mangrove forests in Mexico.
Such massive tourism development will exhaust water resources in this desert region, overwhelm the sparsely populated area with tourists, and pollute the sensitive marine environment. Only a strong public campaign kept the Cabo Cortés project from reaching completion, but the Cabo Pulmo reef and the larger Gulf of California remain under threat. In evaluating the environmental impacts of tourism development projects, the Mexican government has consistently failed to enforce its own environmental regulations, repeatedly permitting unsustainable projects.
Enforcement of environmental laws is critical to preserving unique natural resources such as the Cabo Pulmo reef and accomplishing the twin goals of ocean conservation and sustainable development. Responsible ecotourism provides a source of income for the local community. Coral reefs and mangroves act as fish nurseries and their protection boosts fish populations in adjacent areas, improving the livelihoods of fishing communities throughout the region.
Mexico Should Heed Lush Lesson of Costa Rica
Earthjustice and Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), representing local and international environmental organizations, are petitioning the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation to investigate the Mexican government's lack of enforcement.
The Commission's investigation into whether the Mexican government could more effectively enforce its environmental laws in the context of coastal tourism development would contribute greatly to the protection and sustainable management of precious resources for this and future generations.
AIDA is an environmental law organization that protects threatened ecosystems and the human communities that depend on them. Learn about some of their most important work.