Mexico: Baja Towns Struggle After Saving Whale Sanctuary

Publisher Name: 
Environment News Service

MEXICO CITY, Mexico -- Communities surrounding Laguna San Ignacio in Baja, Mexico, will receive money from environmental groups that helped stop a plan to convert the last undisturbed nursery for the Pacific gray whale into the worlds largest industrial salt facility.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the New York based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and a Mexican environmentalist coalition spent five years fighting the Mitsubishi Corporation.

In partnership with the Mexican government, Mitsubishi Corporation wanted to pump 6,000 gallons of water from the lagoon per second, and flood 116 square kilometers of adjacent land to create evaporation ponds.

Laguna San Ignacio was declared a United Nations Educational Scientific and
Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 1993. It is home to El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve Whale Sanctuary, the last pristine birthing lagoon for the Pacific gray whale as well as home to many endangered species of plants and wildlife, including the rare pronged-horn antelope and black sea turtle.

A UNESCO team studied Mitsubishi's proposal and concluded in a report that the proposed salt factory would make a "substantial and significant change," resulting in a "transformation" that would violate the "integrity of site".

That finally convinced the Mexican government and Mitsubishi to jointly announce the project's cancellation last March.

In Mexico City today, IFAW and NRDC announced the establishment of a one million pesos (US$100,000) fund to assist the communities surrounding Laguna San Ignacio.

"We hope that our funding will help to create an environmentally sustainable future for Punta Abreojos and the other communities that were most threatened by the proposed Laguna San Ignacio salt works," said Jared Blumenfeld, IFAW habitat director.

"These communities are an inspiration to us all - they had everything to lose and yet they stood up to the worlds largest corporation to protect their childrens future - the environment."

The people of Punta Abreojos were instrumental in swaying what had become the most publicized environmental debate in Mexicos history, said Beatriz Bugeda Bernal, IFAWs Latin American director.

"IFAW and NRDC are creating this fund to help Punta Abreojos and other communities around the lagoon, which opposed the salt works, create environmentally sustainable economic opportunities."

Since the plan was cancelled, IFAW and NRDC have provided legal assistance
to the Punta Abreojos fishing cooperative to delineate their fishing rights, funded the construction of an addition to a community school, and organized English language classes for people eager to work in the growing whale watching business.

The new fund will be used for feasibility studies for oyster aquaculture and renewable energy, and to support specific measures to improve health and education in the communities.

Both groups said the former Mexican administration of Ernesto Zedillo failed to live up to promises of financial support for alternative sustainable development projects in Laguna de San Ignacio.

The government did create a general fund of US$2.5 million for Mexico's northern Pacific area, which Laguna San Ignacio will have to compete for among other applicants.

"It has been almost a year and the communities have yet to see evidence of
the Mexican Governments intent to make good on its promises," said Jacob Scherr, NRDC international program director.

"We do hope the Fox Administration will move quickly to provide funds for
sustainable projects in these communities. We see our fund being used to speed the identification and design of such efforts."

In November, Vicente Fox's Alliance for Change party overturned seven decades of dominance by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).

AMP Section Name:CorpWatch