Thursday April 25, 2013, 5:25 pm
Trip Van Noppen
Mexico Should Heed Lush Lesson of Costa Rica
Investment in biodiversity yields tourism riches
A three-toed sloth in Costa Rica's Cahuita National Park. (Nathan Dappen)
This month, I had the very good fortune to visit Costa Rica, home to some of greatest biodiversity in the world. In this tiny nation, plants and animals from temperate North America and from tropical South America mingle in habitats at different altitudes (including active volcanoes and rain forests at the beach)! I marveled at hundreds of leaping dolphins, huge rain forest trees with rich canopy life, miraculous birds, sloths and anteaters.
Not surprisingly, Costa Rica is an increasingly popular travel destination, especially for nature-oriented visitors. Of course, rampant tourism can ruin natural landscapes and in so doing, wreak havoc with local communities that depend on those landscapes, which is why early on many Costa Ricans made sustainability a primary focus. The country has been preparing itself for two generations, establishing and protecting national parks and other preserves, training young people as scientists and guides, and developing a sustainable travel ethic. It's a model that Mexico could follow, instead of proceeding on a path of destroying some of its most remarkable ecological treasures for short-term gain.
Costa Rica's decision to preserve and protect the area’s astonishing natural resources and to develop in a way that benefits local communities has paid off both economically and environmentally. I was enormously impressed with the number of young Costa Ricans making careers out of environmental education, nature guiding, sustainable travel and natural resource protection, supported by government policy and motivated by their own deep appreciation for the beauty of their homeland. Indeed, the country actually ranks first in the entire world on an index from the New Economics Foundation, which compares countries’ average life expectancy, ecological footprint and feeling of well-being. Thank you, Costa Rica!
Unfortunately, Costa Rica’s model has not inspired all countries to a similar path. Almost 3,000 miles northwest of the tiny Central American country, another ecologically stunning region in the Gulf of California is under threat from Mexico’s government, which is ignoring its own environmental laws by authorizing massive development projects near fragile marine ecosystems.
Aerial view of Cabo Pulmo. (Sidartha Velazquez)Aerial view of Cabo Pulmo, at the tip of Baja California. (Sidartha Velázquez)
The Gulf, bordering Baja California and also known as the “Sea of Cortés,” teems with humpback whales, sea lions, devil rays, giant conches and leatherback sea turtles. It also supports hundreds of fish species in numbers so robust that schools have been known to blot out the sun above divers.
Mexican communities along the Baja coastline depend on these natural treasures as a cultural, economic and recreational resource, yet despite their significance, Mexico’s government is allowing developers to plan Cancun-style tourism that would have devastating impacts. One such proposal is the Cabo Cortés—an enormous hotel and golf complex that would have been built next to Cabo Pulmo reef, the largest living coral reef in western North America and the jewel of the Gulf of California. Only a strong grassroots campaign, millions of petitioners and organizations like our partner organization, Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), convinced Mexico’s president to reject the Cabo Cortés project.
But numerous similar projects wait in the wings.
Two projects—Paraíso del Mar and Entre Mares—are planned adjacent to each other on a fragile sandbar in the Bay of La Paz, just north of Cabo Pulmo. Another, Playa Espíritu, would be built in the Marismas Nacionales, an internationally recognized wetland that supports 20 percent of the remaining mangrove forests in Mexico. Such expanded tourism will exhaust water resources in this desert region, overwhelm the sparsely populated area with tourists and pollute the sensitive marine environment.
A diver, at Cabo Pulmo. (Carlos Aguilera)A diver, at Cabo Pulmo. (Carlos Aguilera)
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The scale and concentration of these threats has required an escalation in the fight to the international level. Earthjustice and AIDA, representing local and international environmental organizations, have petitioned the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation, an organization created by the North American Free Trade Agreement. The petition asks the commission to investigate Mexico’s failure to enforce its own environmental regulations by repeatedly permitting unsustainable projects.
Mexico’s short-sighted plans to overdevelop the country’s own resources threaten not only these rare and pristine ecosystems. Mexico’s people—present and future—will be robbed of the economic and social benefits that come from the type of long-term sustainability planning that other countries like Costa Rica have wholeheartedly embraced.
Please join us and our allies in Mexico are calling on Mexico to enforce its own environmental laws to ensure that these precious resources are protected and sustainably managed so that everyone can enjoy them for years to come.
Thursday April 25, 2013, 5:34 pm
Noted, signed, twittered and google shared. We need every country around the world to follow Costa Rica's example and start preservation and conservation tactics immediately. Thanks JL.
Thursday April 25, 2013, 9:27 pm
The petition is to Mexico regarding the Baja CA coastal areas.
You are welcome Tamara and Terry!
You cannot currently send a star to Terry because you have done so within the last day.
Thursday April 25, 2013, 10:46 pm
An inheritance squandered, with nothing left for the next generations. Very intelligent. Over and above the environmental and ecological concerns, development as proposed would be a draw for some of the people you don't want --- criminals in the drug cartels etc.
Interesting article, though this has become an economic boon for Mexico to build up areas to catch those touristia dollars, I can see them changing much.
*Thank you for speaking out about unsustainable development threatening the Gulf of California's waters. If you are active on social media, share this petition with your friends on Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter.
Earthjustice has represented—for free—more than 1,000 clients over the years. Earthjustice looks for cases that help build strong, lasting partnerships with national and local groups. These regional partnerships greatly contribute to our success in court.
Friday April 26, 2013, 9:14 am
You cannot currently send a star to Natasha because you have done so within the last day.
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Friday April 26, 2013, 3:02 pm
Mexico is not the only country which should follow Costa Rica's enviornmental plan. How many people would travel to the Amazon Forest if it were safe and not being destroyed? The same question applies to the Andees. Most of Central and Soth America would do well to follow suit as the majority have unique areas that are home to some of the most endangered animals.
Sunday April 28, 2013, 11:14 am
Once again Costa Rica proves to be a model for how a country should be run. Not just environmentally, but in every aspect of making life a worthwhile, productive endeavor.