“Maybe we will be saved by the economic crisis in Europe,” said Judith Castro, a village activist working to protect the Cabo Pulmo reef. Castro’s family settled here in 1900, and her grandfather, and then her father and uncles, dived for pearls in the gin-clear waters, until the pearls were all gone, and fished the reefs, until they were depleted, too.
“They knew they had a beautiful garden in the ocean, but each year, less fish, smaller fish, farther away,” she said. “The university came to study the reef and said, ‘Hey, do you know what you have here?’ We saw the damage, a lot of damage, and we knew we had to change, and we supported the creation of the national park, and we think we did the right thing.”
The Castro family now makes its living running a dive shop and other concessions, and the local community zealously guards the reef.
“The place is astounding, and I’ve dove in the most pristine waters in the world — in the Galapagos, in Antarctica. And I have never seen anything like this,” said Soames Summerhays, the award-winning documentary-filmmaker. “This” being the health and biodiversity of Cabo Pulmo reefs.
“I dove the reef in 1993, before the park was established, and to be honest, it was not very impressive,” said Exequiel Ezcurra, director of the University of California’s Institute for Mexico and the United States. “But now nobody can believe how it has rebounded.”
‘Nobody’s for it’
The scientists say that the resort development could flush its sewage and silt into the ocean, whose polluted currents may flow south and smother Cabo Pulmo. They say there is not enough water to sustain the resort and that, in Mexico’s laissez-faire way, the project will spur more development.
“Nobody’s for it. It will hurt us all — reef, fish, local businesses,” said Mike O’Dell, a master angler who has caught (and mostly released) more than 1,300 marlin and runs a local RV park.
Hector Flores, who builds houses in the area, said: “We need some more work around here, true, but I agree, the project is just too big. The permits were shoved through by the thieves in Mexico City,” meaning the government.
Hold on, said Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada, the cabinet-level secretary of Mexico’s department of natural resources and the environment, which is overseeing permissions.
“Without a doubt, this is the most important project of this administration,” Elvira said, “and our priority is to protect the coral reefs, which are the most precious in the entire Sea of Cortez.”
Elvira said that although the resort city has been given preliminary approval, the government is demanding that the developer prove that the ocean currents will not flow south loaded with silt, salt or sewage.
No construction has begun, he said. “I realize the company is upset. They are not happy because, they say, you give us a permit but you don’t allow us to do things.”
The Calderon government is consulting with expert marine biologists and U.N. officials.
The deadline for submission of data from the Spanish developer, or whoever ends up owning the property, is January 2013 — a month after Calderon leaves office.
Such timing makes environmentalists nervous.
“You could say that it is very fishy,” said Vidal of the World Wildlife Fund, referring to the permitting process. “But it is not funny. The project should be stopped now.”