In a win for local citizens and civil society the company behind Los Pericúes, a new mega-resort project proposed near Mexico’s Cabo Pulmo National Park, retracted its environmental impact statement from the official evaluation process last week. When Rivera Desarrollos first presented the Los Pericúes proposal a couple of weeks ago, environmental groups were quick to flag the striking similarities between the new project and the Cabo Cortés tourism and real-estate complex that President Calderón had cancelled two months earlier due to the risks it posed to Cabo Pulmo’s fragile marine ecosystem and coral reef. In response to this public mobilization Rivera Desarrollos decided to withdraw the project from consideration in order to allow for appropriate consultation with the local community. For now, Cabo Pulmo is safe. Yet the Los Pericúes proposal highlights the importance of remaining vigilant. It also brings to the forefront the need to ensure adequate public participation to ensure development near Cabo Pulmo does not negatively impact fragile ecosystems and local communities.
A comparison of key characteristics of Los Pericúes and Cabo Cortés illustrates why there was significant concern that the new project could be more of the same:
- Cabo Cortés entailed constructing the equivalent of 27,000 guest rooms – Los Pericúes would have build 23,400 rooms.
- Cabo Cortés included two 28-hole golf courses and a 490 slip marina – Los Pericúes called for two 18-hole golf courses and a 300 slip marina. In both cases the marinas would have required building an artificial access canal through sand dunes – despite a local prohibition on construction on dunes.
- Both projects also required massive amounts of water upon completion and would have needed to rely on both a new desalination plant and a concession to use 4.5 million cubic meters of water from a local aquifer to meet its demand. In arid Baja California Sur, this is an issue of particular concern to local residents who rely on the aquifer’s already limited supply for their own needs.
All of this was proposed in a largely untouched region of the East Cape region of Baja California - on approximately 3,800 hectares just north and adjacent to Cabo Pulmo National Park.
Now that the company has opened a space for dialogue by retrieving the Los Pericúes environmental impact statement from consideration it will be important to ensure that the local community is adequately informed and engaged. The Cabo Pulmo community played an instrumental role in the creation of Cabo Pulmo National Park. They also helped restore what was once a degraded coral reef system by voluntarily re-orienting their economy from unsustainable fishing to low-impact eco-tourism activities. An unsustainable project that damages the Cabo Pulmo reef could overturn all their years of conservation work. It will be important for them to be part of development decisions that may impact them in the future. It is also critical for any future projects in the area to comply with all environmental laws and regulations and even go beyond minimum requirements to truly ensure long-term sustainability.
Withdrawing the Los Pericúes proposal from consideration was a good first step. Going forward it will be essential to work closely with the community, scientists and civil society to ensure that the Cabo Pulmo marine reserve is adequately protected and that any development project proposed in the region is not merely a repeat of Cabo Cortés.