Mexico cancels mega-resort project near Baja California reef

Cabo pulmo greenpeace whale handout

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's government on Friday halted a controversial mega-resort development in Baja California Sur after environmentalists said it would have threatened a large coral reef in the Sea of Cortes that has rebounded dramatically from years of damage.

The government canceled the proposed Cabo Cortes project by withdrawing provisional permits first granted in 2008 to the Madrid-based company Hansa Baja Investments. President Felipe Calderon said at the presidential residence Los Pinos that the company failed to provide enough proof that the project would not harm the rich biodiversity of the nearby Cabo Pulmo National Park.

The protected marine reserve of more than 17,550 acres -- most of it at sea near Cabo San Lucas -- has become  a symbol of environmental renewal after years of overfishing in the area.

"Due to [the project's] magnitude, we needed absolute certainty that no irreversible damage would be generated, and that absolutely certainty, simply and plainly, was not generated," Calderon said.

The Spanish company did not immediately react to the cancellation of the project. Hansa Baja Investments reportedly has been hard-hit by the Eurozone financial crisis.

Nonprofit groups, environmental advocates and researchers in Mexico campaigned heavily to stop the Cancun-size Cabo Cortes development, arguing that the proposed marina and 30,000-room hotel would be built too close to the reserve, one of the largest and most important in the country.

Since the Cabo Pulmo reserve was established in 1995, the total amount of fish rose by more than 460%  over a 10-year period, according to a 2011 study by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

Greenpeace Mexico said in a statement that more than 220,000 citizen signatures opposing the project were delivered to the federal government last week. The group hailed Calderon's decision as a victory but said that it would still press for investigations of authorities in Mexico's environmental agency over the Cabo Cortes development's permit process.

"The Cabo Cortes project was not only unsustainable, it was also illegal," said Greenpeace Mexico Executive Director Patricia Arendar. "Mexico needs accountability, transparency in the authorization of projects of this kind, and guarantees that environmental rights will be respected."

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-- Daniel Hernandez

Photo: An undated photograph of a humpback whale at the Cabo Pulmo National Park marine reserve. Credit: Prometeo Lucero / Greenpeace

 
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