CABO PULMO, Mexico — What’s happened at the Cabo Pulmo marine reserve off the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula is fishy — in a good way.
Once severely depleted of fish, the reef system off Cabo Pulmo now teems with marine life, thanks to fishing restrictions imposed more than 10 years ago.
But environmentalists are worried that that ecological advance will be lost if the Mexican government allows a $2 billion development plan to go ahead that would place a “new Cancun” less than three miles north of the Cabo Pulmo marine sanctuary.
Mexico’s Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources has given Spanish developer Hansa Urbana all but final approval for the project, which would turn desert scrubland into a bustling development of hotels, condos, golf courses and a large marina.
The government says such a resort would have no impact on the marine reserve.
That makes environmentalists seethe. They say the secretariat’s speedy approvals are questionable and without scientific merit.
“This development is completely unjustifiable, especially since it’s right next to the marine reserve,” said Alejandro Olivera of the Mexico office of Greenpeace, the international activist group on conservation issues.
Olivera called the revival of Cabo Pulmo, the northernmost reef system along the Pacific coast of the Americas, “one of the best examples of marine conservation in Mexico.”
“These fishermen realized that the waters were being overfished. So they changed from being fishermen to becoming providers of eco-services,” he said.
Their action to halt commercial fishing brought about such a dramatic transformation of the reef system that oceanographers say it’s an example not only for Mexico but also for other parts of the world.
The Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, one of the world’s premier proponents of ocean health, described Cabo Pulmo as “the world’s most robust marine reserve.”