A 20,000-Plus Room Resort Threatens This UNESCO Site in Mexico

For twenty years, conservation efforts have protected the beach and its coral reef; a new development could harm them both

Photo: Christophe Boisvieux/Corbis

The ecological integrity of Cabo Pulmo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Baja California Sur, Mexico, is being threatened by a development project. The 20,000-plus room resort called Cabo Dorado would sit right on the park's border, jeopardizing both its unique land-based and marine habitats, researchers warn

For twenty years, conservation efforts have protected the beach and its near-pristine coral reef. Natural Resources Defense Council's Switchboard

Nearly twenty years ago the local community decided to work with the Mexican government to establish the protected area when they realized that decades of unsustainable fishing practices had degraded the reef. They also re-oriented their local economy from fishing to small-scale, low-impact ecotourism activities in an effort to restore the reef’s health. The result was astounding. In the first decade after the reef’s protection, marine life in the park recovered by over 460 percent. 

Developers argue that the land-based sections of Cabo Pulmo aren't important for wildlife. But until recently no one really knew what kind of plants and animals lived there. When researchers from the University of California, Riverside, conducted a formal survey there last year, though, they found that "these desert lands mirror the tropical waters in importance." They call the dunes surrounding the sea a "biodiversity hotspot" and report that 42 species of endangered plants and animals use that habitat. All together, the researchers documented more than 500 species living there. 

As for the coral reefs, they're not safe, either. Here's NRDC with more on that problem: 

The developers have irresponsibly claimed that since the project will have no components sited directly on the water, it won’t affect marine habitat. Yet as technical and scientific experts explained during the information meeting and on this website, this is just not true. For example, Cabo Dorado proposes two 18-hole golf courses and the nutrients, pesticides and other chemicals needed to maintain these areas can filter into the ocean where marine currents could carry them into the reef and over time prove fatal to the corals. The toxic impact of such chemicals on corals has already been documented in the Caribbean.

Destroying that biodiversity, the research team points out, would also put an end to many community members' ecotourism-based livelihoods. 

"We need to take a careful look at such large scale development projects," the authors said in a statement. "Far too many times along the coasts of Mexico we have seen the destruction of areas of great biological importance and subsequent abandonment." 

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