Threat to Cabo Pulmo National Park from Cabo Cortés project re-emerges

In a move that places Cabo Pulmo National Park at risk once more, a Tribunal Court in Mexico City has effectively thrown out a 2012 decision that cancelled Cabo Cortés, a massive real-estate and tourism project proposed right near the marine reserve. In a recent ruling that stems from an appeal filed by the project developer, the court ordered the Mexican Environment and Natural Resources Ministry (SEMARNAT) to re-issue a resolution regarding the environmental impact of the Cabo Cortés proposal. This means that the ministry must once more weigh in on whether the approximately 30,000 room Cabo Cortés project and its 490-slip marina can move forward.  Building a project of this scale and scope on lands neighboring Cabo Pulmo National Park, located off the tip of the Baja California Peninsula, would imperil the park’s coral reef and the scarce water supplies of local communities. It is imperative that as SEMARNAT revisits the case again, that it issues a strong resolution that, in no uncertain terms, puts an end to Cabo Cortés once and for all. Cabo Cortés today is just as bad for the environment and local communities – and just as risky a venture for potential investors – as it was when it was first proposed.

What’s clear from the recent Tribunal Court ruling is that project developer La Rivera Desarrollos (formerly known as Hansa Baja Investments) never gave up on  its Cabo Cortés plans, even as it publicly tried to put distance between itself  and  the controversial proposal. Earlier this year, backed by new investors from China, the company attempted to push forward Cabo Dorado, a slightly smaller alternative. The developers misleadingly portrayed it as a sustainable project – an anti-Cabo Cortés that would not impact fragile habitat because it no longer included a marina. But the risks it presented were still unacceptable and SEMARNAT rightly rejected the Cabo Dorado project due to its potential to harm local ecosystems and habitat.

What’s also still evident is that Cabo Cortés – under any name – is an ill-advised venture for hospitality and real-estate companies and other investors. The project is replete with risks.

Expected water demand would overburden the region’s already limited water supplies. A key consideration in an arid region like Baja California Sur is access to water, for both projects and the local communities they impact. A brand new development of the scale proposed in the various versions of Cabo Cortés would place an unacceptable burden on communities’ local fresh water supplies.

Environmental impacts could degrade the park’s fragile coral reef. The sensitivity of corals to pollution, sedimentation and other changes in water conditions is well documented. The construction and operation of a project like Cabo Cortés would mean irreparable harm to the incredible Cabo Pulmo coral reef – one of the natural treasures that distinguishes Baja California Sur from other coastal destinations. If the reef is degraded, this natural attraction could be lost.

Threats to vulnerable and endangered species. Cabo Pulmo National Park is home to 226 of the Gulf of California’s 891 species of fish. It also shelters five of the world’s seven endangered species of sea turtles, along with dolphins, whales and sea lions. A project like Cabo Cortés could impact the park’s rich biodiversity and the important regional fisheries it supports. The land where the project would be sited is also rich in terrestrial biodiversity making it a priority area for conservation that is unsuited for this type of development.

Widespread concern and opposition to the project. Over the years, tens of thousands of citizens in Mexico and beyond have repeatedly spoken out against this type of poorly planned project near Cabo Pulmo National Park. Mexican legislators have also expressed doubts about the various iterations of the scheme, most recently when Cabo Dorado was under consideration. They’ve been joined in their concern by leading scientists as well as international environmental bodies. Representatives from both the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and Ramsar Convention on Wetlands visited the site in 2011 and released a joint report recommending that Mexico consider restrictions to future large-scale development in the vicinity of the park to avoid cumulative impacts on critically important areas. The IUCN’s World Conservation Congress in 2012 also urged Mexico to guarantee the protection of Cabo Pulmo, including from large-scale tourism and real-estate developments.

Simply put, the Cabo Cortés project is just too risky to be viable. Spain’s Sabadell Bank (which inherited ownership in the project when it took over another Spanish bank, the former Caja Mediterráneo, or CAM) realized this in 2012 when it unsuccessfully attempted to move forward a slightly modified version known as Los Pericúes soon after the Cabo Cortés permits were revoked. Ultimately, Sabadell would go on to sell its interests in the project.    

Cabo Cortés is the wrong type of project, in the wrong place – just as it’s been since it was first proposed. The developers behind the project would do well to abandon plans that have repeatedly been shown to be unsuitable for the region. But right now, it’s in the hands of Mexico’s SEMARNAT to once more keep Cabo Pulmo safe from Cabo Cortés.