Mexico tourism adds environmentalists to list of foes

Mexico gets bad press for a number of reasons causing travelers to use extra caution when visiting south of the border. Attractions, like UNESCO biosphere sites along the Baja California Peninsula, draw travelers but a newly thriving coral reef is under threat from a mega-development planned for the area, adding environmentalists to Mexico tourism’s list of foes.

In Cabo Pulmo, Mexico, the shallow reef was a typical degraded reef 17 years ago that had been damaged by commercial boats dragging their anchors through the coral to get at valuable species that lived there.

“We started noticing there were fewer fish, and we were having to go farther out,” says Judith Castro, a local commercial fisherman. “We just saw the reef as a garden. We didn’t know the importance of it.”

Aided by local residents, the economy was gradually transformed from fishing to ecotourism, and the amount of life on the reef blossomed, increasing by 460 percent.

Now, a new sprawling project would transform the sleepy little village of Cabo Pulmo into a major tourist destination with about 30,000 hotel rooms, golf courses and a marina on a strip of seaside desert about a 90-minute drive northeast of the Los Cabos resorts.Opposing the project, The World Wildlife Fund recently brought schoolchildren bearing the flags of 70 countries to present almost 13,000 signatures from around the world asking President Felipe Calderon to cancel permits for construction at the site.

“It is unique, not only in Mexico, but in the world,” says Omar Vidal, the head of the WWF in Mexico. “It is a nursery for marine species to repopulate many areas of the Gulf of California.”

Mexico is a land rich in natural beauty and wonderful places to visit, making the country still one of the most visited in the world. Of course, this means tourism is an important part of the economy. At a time when cruise lines have canceled stops at Mexican ports and an updated US Department of State Travel Warning does not help matters, a new tourist destination is going to be awfully hard for Mexico’s government to pass up as it weighs its options.

Flickr photo by NOAA’s National Ocean Service