Cabo Pulmo Again Under Threat

Sea life in Cabo Pulmo National Park. | Credit: Alejandro Olivera
Baja California Sur, Mexico

Cabo Pulmo is an ecological treasure in Baja California Sur, Mexico. More than 20,000 years old, it is one of three coral reefs on the American Pacific coast. Many of the 800 marine species in the Sea of ​​Cortez take refuge at the reef, which studies show plays a key role in the ecology of the region.

In June 2012, Felipe Calderon, then Mexico’s president, said that the Cabo Cortés mega-resort proposed for construction near Cabo Pulmo “will not take place.”

The decision, which won wide public support, came in response to a lawsuit filed against a environmental assessment evaluation that the government had conditionally approved for the project.

Despite the victory, tourism developers have not stopped in their quest to build at least two resorts near Cabo Pulmo.

Cabo Cortés’ developers have refashioned their project as Los Pericues, while another developer, La Rivera Desarrollos BCS, requested an environmental permit from Mexico’s Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) in March 2014 to build the Cabo Dorado resort with investment from Chinese and U.S. companies.

Spread over ​​3,770 hectares (9,316 acres), Cabo Dorado includes a 22,503-room hotel, an airstrip, a museum of technology and centers for education, culture and trade, as well as a scientific research center, a high-performance sports club, a visitors center, three beach clubs and two golf courses.

All of this would overwhelm and contaminate this sparsely populated region with a huge influx of tourists. To operate the facilities, a vast amount of permanent workers would be needed. This would require the construction of homes, amenities and additional infrastructure in this highly sensitive ecological region.

The biggest concern about Cabo Dorado is the provision of fresh water. The project has concessions to extract 4.8 million cubic meters of water annually from Santiago, the only river that supplies the local population.

Coral reefs like Cabo Pulmo are extremely vulnerable to the impact of such poorly planned development. The sedimentation from these developments can bleach and kill corals. If a resort like Cabo Dorado was built, for example, the sewage and wastewater runoff would cause a surge in the growth of algae that would block the sunlight needed by the reef for photosynthesis. The fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides needed to maintain the golf courses would also contaminate ocean currents and upset the delicate ecological balance of the area.

This is not the first time that Cabo Pulmo has faced a serious threat. Overfishing almost killed the reef in the 1980s. But the Mexican government intervened in 1995 to declare it a national park. Since then, the reef has grown and the surrounding ecosystem has prospered.

Unfortunately, Mexico 's environmental laws and their enforcement authorities may be too weak to protect the site now.

Understanding the need to strengthen the efforts of the civil society with international legal strategies, AIDA has partnered with communities and local and international organizations to fight the resorts that violate environmental laws.

In 2007, AIDA joined a coalition of organizations seeking to protect the site. In 2011, we helped present a petition to the Ramsar Convention Secretariat and the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO -- two international conservation treaties -- to recommend specific measures to protect Cabo Pulmo.

These international authorities sent a mission to the reef and its report (in Spanish) concluded, among other things, that the Mexican government had not considered the indirect and cumulative impacts of Cabo Cortés when providing its provisional authorization.

AIDA also worked with Earthjustice to represent 10 local and international organizations in filing a citizen petition before the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) of the North American Free Trade Agreement to urge the Mexican government to comply with its own environmental legislation during the environmental impact assessment of mega-resorts in the Gulf of California. Cabo Cortés is one of the cases referred to in the petition.

Now with Cabo Dorado posing a threat to Cabo Pulmo, we will continue to defend the ecosystem. We will closely follow the developer’s efforts to gain approval for the project from Mexican authorities with the aim of using international law to preserve a unique ecosystem on the planet.


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