Story originally posted to Ecolutionist on June 22, 2012.
Often, it’s hard to stay optimistic with a plethora of bad environmental decisions made by those in power. In the context of development, however, great strides are being made, as Mexican President Felipe Calderon has rejected the construction of a $2 billion tourism area that was set on the periphery of one of the world’s most pristine protected areas.
Planned by a Spanish real estate developer, the Cabo Cortes development was slated to erect on Baja California’s coast and in close proximity to the fishing village of Cabo Pulmo. The history of this area is rich – in an effort to prevent overfishing, many fishermen traded their nets to preserve their reef, creating a protected area and no-take zone within the area in 2002. The area was then turned into a small tourist destination, with local personnel offering snorkeling tours and a variety of smaller activities.
When the Cabo Cortes development was presented, local fishermen and tourism operators knew that such a plan was disastrous to their local ecosystem. The reports from the developer about the project forgot to take water management into account – a crucial aspect of the project that would undoubtedly impact the protected area.
Even some government officials thought the idea was a ‘conservation nightmare’, but had very little policy and legislation to defer the project. To defer or reject the project, the assessment process has to prove impossible things – one being that the development would drive a species to extinction (if anyone has any idea on how to prove this, let the Nobel prize office know).
So what actually caused the project to be declined? Good ol’ civil action. Many international organizations (WWF and Greenpeace) both took great efforts to engage citizens on this project, hosting rallies and offering support to smaller, more localized non-profit groups. Initially, the governmental branch responsible for project regulation approved the project, sending these groups and citizens into an uproar, which didn’t desist until the President’s recent declaration.
Having visited the area last month, I saw first-hand what this area meant to the people of Baja California. The area is pristine – very few people, rolling waves, and wonderful reefs full of life. The thought of the are turning into a mega-resort, full of paved roads and poorly managed waters still makes my stomach turn.
Although the project is currently rejected, this may not always be the case. As it is an election year in Mexico, a new leader will come into power shortly after voting on July 1. This new power may shift the mission and mandate of Mexico in such a way where this development could prosper. I hold hope that these fishermen and other local people take a stand for their protected area during the remainder of the campaign period, and that a new leader keeps those people in mind for the duration of their term.