In a petition submitted to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation today, eleven conservation groups charged the Mexican government with failing to enforce its own environmental laws in authorizing the construction of four “mega resorts” in the Gulf of California. (See map, photos and videos.) The Commission is an international body established under the North American Free Trade Agreement to promote cooperation among Canada, Mexico and the U.S. on environmental issues of continental concern.
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“The Mexican authorities’ approval of massive tourism projects in violation of environmental laws is unacceptable and demonstrates little regard for threatened species, the environment and local communities,” said Sandra Moguel of the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense, and one of the signers of the petition. “We urge the new Administration and Minister Guerra Abud to ensure that the approval process of development projects is transparent and not arbitrary.”
The approval of projects such as Cabo Cortés, Paraíso del Mar, Entre Mares, and Playa Espíritu threatens the unique coral reefs and mangrove ecosystems of the region, and endangered species such as humpback and gray whales, whale sharks, manta rays, sea turtles, sea lions, jaguars, crocodiles and many species of migratory birds.
The petition highlights the four projects as examples of the Mexican Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources’ repeated failure to enforce environmental laws when approving large-scale tourist development projects in the Gulf of California. In particular, the government ignores laws requiring effective environmental impact assessment, protection of endangered species, and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The petitioners are requesting that the Commission investigate and develop a factual record to examine Mexico’s lack of enforcement of its environmental laws when authorizing these developments. Such a finding would pressure Mexico to comply with its own environmental safeguards.
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“These natural treasures are of importance to Mexican communities that depend on them as cultural, economic and recreational resources,” says Judith Castro with the Friends for the Conservation of Cabo Pulmo. “Mexico cannot continue to approve mega projects that displace residents, bulldoze wildlife habitat, and pollute the waters of this vital ecosystem.”
Known as the “World’s Aquarium,” the Gulf of California is considered one of the most diverse marine regions on the planet, and is home to thousands of species. Specifically, these mega projects, two of which are already under construction, threatened the following critical areas in the region:
- Cabo Pulmo National Park: One of the healthiest coral reef systems in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, Cabo Pulmo is threatened by massive developments like Cabo Cortés. The Cabo Cortés proposal included the equivalent of nearly 30,000 guest rooms in its hotels, condominiums and villas, two 27-hole golf courses, a 490 berth marina, and a system of canals and artificial lakes. Additionally, because the region has a desert climate without sufficient water to accommodate such amenities and the expected population growth, the proposal included a desalination plant that could have discharged hypersaline brine into the reef. While the project was ultimately rejected in June 2012, Cabo Pulmo is threatened by similar developments still being considered.
- The Marismas Nacionales Wetlands: Playa Espíritu, a project already under construction that includes three golf courses, two marinas, a wastewater plant, and additional infrastructure spread across more than 35,000 acres, threatens the Marismas Nacionales, the most extensive and well-preserved mangrove forest habitat on the western coast of Mexico, and home to more than 280 species of migratory and resident bird species.
- The Bay of La Paz: One of the most productive water bodies in the Gulf of California and an important area for nesting birds, the Bay of La Paz is jeopardized by two adjacent projects, Paraíso del Mar, currently under construction, and Entre Mares, proposed for construction on a sandbar extending into the bay. Combined, these two projects will develop nearly ten thousand hotel rooms, plus 4,000 homes, two golf courses and a large marina and would bring an additional population of more than 10,000 people in high season.
Earthjustice and the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) are filing the petition on behalf of the Ecological Network for Escuinapa Development (REDES), Friends for the Conservation of Cabo Pulmo (ACCP), WiLDCOAST, SUMAR, Los Cabos Coastkeepers, Alliance for the Sustainability of the Mexican Coastal Northwest (ALCOSTA), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Greenpeace México and AIDA. The petitioners are calling on Mexico to protect the marine and coastal ecosystems of the Gulf of California, particularly coral reefs like the ones in Cabo Pulmo.
“By approving these projects, Mexico is failing its obligations to protect wetlands, coral reefs and species of environmental and international importance,” said Carolina Herrera, Latin America Advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “What this region in the Gulf of California needs is low-impact sustainable development where the well-being of local communities and the environment is the first priority.”