ENVIRONMENTALISTS TRIUMPHANT OVER CABO PULMO
In mid-June outgoing president Felipe Calderón made the surprise announcement that he would not allow development of a huge Cancún style resort to be built in Baja California.
Mexican environmental groups led by Greenpeace Mexico had campaigned vigorously against the plan, claiming it would threaten the nearby Cabo Pulmo reserve, which contains the only coral reef in the Gulf of California.
Spanish developer Hansa Baja has been granted provisional approval in 2008 to go ahead with the Cabo Cortés resort complex, covering some 4,000 hectares on Mexico’s north-western coastline.
Estimated to cost some US$2 billion, the project included a marina, the provision of some 3,000 hotel rooms in 15 hotels, several golf courses, and new infrastructure projects including an airstrip along the desert Baja California coast.
The new complex would have been only 10 kilometres from the Cabo Pulmo reserve. This reef was fished commercially until 1995, damaging the coral and depleting important fishing stocks.
In 1995, the local fishermen, with help from a state university, decided to protect the reef, stop fishing there, and to promote eco-tourism in the area instead. The Mexican government declared the reef a protected marine reserve.
These efforts to preserve the reef have been so successful that a recent study by a Californian oceanography institution showed that the total weight of living species on the reef had increased more than fourfold.
The fight against the new resort became a focus for environmentalists in Mexico and in Spain. Greenpeace Mexico organised a petition to stop the development which gathered more than 220,000 signatures in three months, and called on well-known artists and actors to back their efforts.
(See video: in Spanish:http://www.trino.com.mx/salvemos-cabo-pulmo/)
On Friday 15 June, President Calderón said he was withdrawing the construction permits because the developers had been unable to prove their plans would not harm the environment.
‘Because of its size, we have to be absolutely certain that it (the project) wouldn’t cause irreversible damage, and that absolute certainty simply hasn’t been proved,’ Calderón said. “To sum it up, Cabo Cortes won’t be built.’
Omar Vidal, head of the environmental group WWF Mexico, called the announcement ‘an important victory, because it shows that when the public organizes, it can achieve great things.’
“This sets an important precedent and sends an important message to Mexican and international investors, that this type of tourist development, based on mass scale and golf courses, is no longer acceptable in Mexico,” Vidal said.
Patricia Arendar, director of Greenpeace Mexico, said: ‘the cancellation of Cabo Cortés is a triumph for those Mexicans who raised their voices to demand that the Presidency to take a stand in protecting the environment and stop favouring the interests of rapacious companies, not just in Baja California Sur but throughout Mexico. The economic and touristic growth of our country is not sufficient reason to destroy our biodiversity. The cancellation of the Cabo Cortés project sets a precedent that this kind of project should not be authorised again in Mexico.’
However, the head of ocean campaigns at Greenpeace Mexico, Alejandro Olivera, sounded a note of caution: ‘we are concerned that President Calderón might leave the door open or the possibility that a new proposal approved by the Environment ministry (Semarnat) might be presented, when the authorities know it’s impossible in a semi-desert region like this one. The Cabo Cortés project was not only unsustainable, it was illegal.’
The developers have said they will rework their plans, adding further environmental safeguards. The new PRI president Enrique Peña Nieto has made no statements about the project, but in the past his party has promoted massive tourist developments in Cancún, Oaxaca, and other Mexican states.
The Cabo Cortes project website welcomes visitors with this image.