Is generating more tourist income more important than preserving the environment? According to the Mexican governments policies the answer is “YES.” American tourists love to vacation in Mexico and Mexicans like receiving the influx of American dollars brought by visitors. Tourism is the third largest industry in Mexico and developers are wasting no time trying to expand the market. In an attempt to draw more and more American and European tourist dollars, the Mexican government may be slitting its own throat. The Mexican government’s department of tourism, FONATUR, has big plans for developments throughout Mexico. If the developments are successful it could mean big money for the Mexican government. Nevertheless, in the long run, the costs might be too high. These developments could be destroying the very thing that draws tourists to Mexico. The developments have the potential to destroy the natural beauty of Mexico. Tourist resort developments are not worth the cost because of the environmental destruction they cause for questionable returns.
FONATUR (National Fund to Promote Tourism) is the government agency responsible for much of the tourism related development in Mexico. FONATUR was founded in 1974 to develop resort communities and to avoid problems. Mexico wanted to avoid what happened in Acapulco. Uncontrolled and unplanned construction caused the city to be disorganized and ugly. The streets were dirty and the beaches polluted. This all caused tourists to go to other vacation spots (Call).
The biggest development in Mexico is a plan to build marinas all along the coast of the Baja Peninsula. The marina project, called Escalera Nautica or Nautical ladder, is being developed to attract American boating tourists. The $1.9 billion plan calls for more than 2 dozen marinas to be built, each no more than 120 miles away from another. A highway across the peninsula is also part of the project. The road is envisioned to allow tourists the haul their yachts across the peninsula into the Gulf of California, also know as the Sea of Cortex. The road would cut down on the distance boaters would have to travel to enjoy the waters that Jacques Cousteau called “the world’s aquarium” (Ferriss). FONATUR predicts the nautical ladder will bring an influx of 860,000 tourists a year, directly generating 50,000 jobs and indirectly generating 200,000 jobs (Weiss). On the surface the plan looks great. If FONATUR’s figures are accepted the marina project will generate millions of dollars for local and federal government. Alas, the environmental impact of the project is staggering while the actual economic value is questionable.
Many of the proposed marina sites are on locations that are important habitats for endangered animals and nature preserves. Bahia de los Angeles is a habitat of sea turtles and whale sharks. (Ferriss) Ports planned for Loreto, San Felipe, Puerto Penasco and Puerto San Carlos are within or adjacent to protected wildlife areas (Aridjis). The road crossing the peninsula also crosses through the unique boojum forest, a one of a kind arid ecosystem. The Gulf of California is the breeding grounds for gray whales and home to important pearl fisheries. Opponents of the plan are concerned that the marinas will encourage further development in the area. For example, huge hotels and restaurants and golf courses could be built along the coast near the marinas. This further development could cause the destruction of the ecological beauty of the Baja peninsula and the Gulf of California. This destruction could affect more than just the Baja Peninsula. Some scientists believe that the breeding grounds along the peninsula are essential to marine life throughout the Pacific Ocean (Roper).
If we look at past developments by FONATUR we can see the ecological impact this plan would have. Before Cancun became the resort town that attracts 4.3 million visitors a year, it was a nearly uninhabited lagoon that provided nesting grounds for birds and sea turtles. Now over 80 % of Cancun is paved. Developed in the 1970s, Cancun was originally supposed to be a small, high-priced resort. Instead it developed into a huge resort community with 3 million visitors a year and supported by a community of 500,000 workers (Roper). The groundwater is contaminated with sewage and every time it rains pollutants run off the street into canals that drain into the decimated lagoon.
Cancun isn’t a unique ecologic problem for FONATUR. In Huatulco, Oaxaco FONATUR created another resort. FONATUR attempted to avoid some of the problems in Cancun by promising that 75% of the land would be ecological preserved. However, FONATUR’s idea of ecologic preservation doesn’t match with most peoples. Anything that isn’t paved is considered ecologically preserved, including golf courses and strips of grass along the highway. The resort development in Huatulco displaced many local farmers who have moved further from the coast. These farmers have reduced the forest coverage to farm the land. The reduced forest canapy caused soil erosion and thereby decreased the water supply. The water supply is already strained by attempts to keep a lush green resort year round in an area that is essentially a desert 75 % of the year. It is estimated that the water supply in Huatulco will be exhausted by 2020 (Call).
Many of the marinas would also destroy current tourist industry. Tourism associated with surfing is a big industry is some of the small coastal communities along the Baja Peninsula. When the marinas are built they will destroy the surf breaks in the area. Major surfing areas threatened by this development include: Cabo Colonett, Punta Abreojos, Santa Rosaliita, Scorpion Bay and Puerto Magdalena (Pesenti). The sacrifice of the environment for this project doesn’t seem to make much sense because many people question weather the project will actually be a success.
There are already Ports in Lorento and Puerto Escondido that are largely unused now. Developed in the late 1980′s, the ports are now full of abandoned RV parks and half finished condos. Now, what was once natural productive land is covered with concrete. These former projects of FONATUR are failures. As Weiss described it, “Weeds and rusting hulks of junked cars fill the spots once slated for American RVs.” If we compare the Nautical ladder marinas to similar projects in the United States we can see that FONATUR’s projections are flawed. Marina projects in San Diego County, California failed to produce the promised economic boost (Aridjis). Overall it looks like the environment is being put in jeopardy for uncertain gains.
Wanton development in the name of tourism is occurring all over Mexico and causing negative environmental impact. Development in Xcaret, south of Cancun, is threatening the Great Maya Reef, the world’s second largest coral reef. There isn’t one development that can be pointed to as causing the damage, but the cumulative effects of many developments have caused extensive damage. In the past construction ripped out large amounts of the mangrove swamp that filters the coastal waters. Now developers want to expand the current port to allow cruise ships to dock in Xcaret. The construction of the dock is by Carnival Cruise line and is being called Home Port. The Mexican government likes the idea of the Carnival Cruise port. They hope this port will draw more European tourist to Mexico. More of the coral reef will have to be cut out to make way for this port. Already developers have moved 45 small islands of coral (Varney). The increased traffic and construction would also cause damage to the reef by kicking up sand and silt that will choke out the coral (Williams). The reef has already been threatened by over use from scuba divers along the coast in Cancun (Varney). “Coral is dwindling and turtles are dying out” (Williams). The additional hardship that the construction of the new port will cause to the coral will surely destroy the Great Maya Reef. The waters surrounding the reef will also be damaged by the construction of a cruise ship port. With a new port their will increased traffic of cruise ships. Each day the average cruise ship generates 210,000 gallons of raw sewage. This sewage can legally be dumped three miles off of shore. Cruise ship also generate over a million gallons of gray water every day that can be dumped anywhere (Call). All this dumping will surely pollute the waters around Baja and destroy the marine ecology.
Coastal waters around the community of Zihuatanejo are also polluted. The once small fishing community now houses the support staff for the resort town of Ixtapa. The tourist trade in the area has outgrown its current sanitation abilities. The region went from a population of less than 15,000 to over 150,000 in less than a decade. The area also sees about 800,000 visitors a year. While there have been huge hotels and resorts built, the sanitation has not been upgraded to account for the greater number of people. This lack of forethought threatens this small community that gets 80% of its income through tourism (Weiner). If tourist stay away, what becomes of the locals in the region? The destruction of the environment in Zihuatanejo could also cause the destruction of the local economy. So, in an attempt to boost existing tourist dollars by developing the region the Mexican government may have actually completely destroyed the regions economy.
FONATUR seems to believe that building more and more resort towns until Mexico’s entire coast is covered with them can solve Mexico’s economic problems. While there may be some initial economic windfall from these projects, there is no guarantee that they will produce the anticipated growth for Mexico. However, there is strong evidence that these developments will destroy the environment and surrounding communities. The dubious potential income from these resorts and marinas doesn’t justify the destruction to the environment and loss of current tourist income.
Aridjis, Homero. “War on Nature in La Paz.” Reforma 4 Mar. 2001. Trans. Unknown.
Call, Wendy. “Lines in the Sand: A Tourism Debacle in Southern Mexico.” Dollar’s & Sense 238 (Nov./Dec. 2001): 27-29
Ferriss, Susan. “Locals Concerned About the Development in Remote Baya.” Seattlepi.com 9 Dec. 2002. 18 Feb. 2003. <www.seattlepi.com>.
Pesenti, Chris. “Marinas Development Threatens Baja California Surf Breaks.” Making Waves 18.3 (May/June 2002) 27 Jan. 2003 <http://surfrider.org.temp-url.com/makingwaves/ makingwaves18-3/10-11.pdf>.
Weiner, Tim. “For all to read: a Mexican Resort’s Dirty Secret.” New York Times on the Web 13 Feb. 2003. 13 Feb. 2003 <http:www.nytimes.com/2003/02/12/international/Americas/ 13MEXI.html?e+1046167819&ei=1&baf4f4d92216ab89>.
Weiss, Kenneth R. “Baja’s Great Leap: Is Marina Plan Boon or Bane?” Seattle Times 26 May 2002. Proquest. 18 Feb. 2003 <http://www.proquest.com>.
Williams, Carol J. “An Ugly Fight at Pretty Site; Developers Join Environmentalists to Oppose a Cruise-Ship Pier on Mexico’s Great Maya Reef. A Glut of Tourists Endangers the Area.” Los Angeles Times 20 Jan. 2003: A.1: ProQuest. 18 Feb. 2003 <http://www.proquest.com>.