'Unique' coral reef threatened by development in Mexico

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A thriving new coral reef in Mexico and a shining example of conservation in action is under threat from a huge development plan for the Baja California Peninsula.

The project planned by a Spanish developer would transform the village of Cabo Pulmo into a 4,000 hectare development with about 30,000 hotel rooms, golf courses and a marina on a strip of seaside desert.

Unfortunately the site is in an area which has been one of Mexico's most successful environmental rescue projects having been declared a 7,111 hectare protected area in 1995 and later a marine park. The severely degraded coral reef was transformed by local residents who embraced ecotourism and resulted in the biomass increasing by a massive 460% with fish now migrating into the area. It is now home to over 6,000 species.

Environmentalists now fear that all of this good work will be undone by the pollution and sediment created by the construction and dredging. The World Wildlife Fund has lobbied President Felipe Calderon with a petition signed by 13,000 signatures asking for him to cancel the permits allowing the project owners Banco Sabadell to build the site.

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

The developers however, say that their project won't damage the reef, as it will be around 10 miles from the main reef. They have offered 1 million pesos ($78,500) per year as a contribution to help preserve the protected area as well as a promise to preserve a percentage of the land in its natural state.

Mexican law allows developments in and around many protected areas if studies find they will not have serious environmental impacts, but the permits are being challenged in Mexican courts by the Mexican Center for Environmental Law, which argues that studies for the new project are incomplete and that insufficient impact assessment studies were carried out initially. The Environment Department has since imposed a number of additional conditions to be met before the developers could build on the site.

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