New Chinese Mega-Resort Plan Threatens Rare Coral Reef in Baja
In mid-June of 2012, following months of protests by environmentalists and residents of the East Cape of Baja Sur, the Mexican government announced the cancellation of permits to build a massive resort complex along the shoreline of the only productive coral reef in Baja’s Gulf of California. At the time, a Spanish developer had plans for some 30,000 hotel rooms, golf courses and a marina beside the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park. But scientific studies showed that marine life had exploded since the reef received protection from overfishing in 1995. This, coupled with Madrid builder Hansa Urbana’s financial instability, resulted in the project’s being abandoned.
But not for long, it turns out. Cabo Cortés has now reared its ugly head as Cabo Dorado. In mid-March, a Chinese consortium submitted an environmental impact statement to Mexican authorities, seeking to construct an “integrally planned development….of 9 hotels totaling 4,080 rooms and 6,141 residences” over a ten-year period. Not to mention 4,380 commercial spaces, restaurants and condos; an improved airfield, a shopping center, several beach clubs, two golf courses, a shooting range and a wellness center. An investment that the developers say will reach $3.6 billion will be scattered across some 9,316 acres. The builders’ press release claims they “will employ directly and indirectly around 18,000 people” and “will have an economic spillover of around $900 million dollars per annum.”
On the “plus side,” the Cabo Dorado plan doesn’t include a marina or a desalination plant – both on the drawing board for the earlier Cabo Cortés project, and both considered to pose huge risks to the marine reserve. The latest developer alleges that the Cabo Dorado Project will maintain “around 67% of the land….as a natural reserve dedicated to the conservation of the environment.” But it’s all to be erected adjacent to what National Geographic has called the most robust coral reserve in the world – home to more than 260 marine species including manta rays, sharks and sea turtles, and a critical stopover for migrating humpback whales. About half a million tons of food (marine nutrients and fish) are exported annually from the park’s environs. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site (as of 2005), and a RAMSAR global wetland of international importance (2008).
The Chinese apparently bought the water rights that its Spanish predecessor had put in place, which allow the pumping of more than four million cubic meters annually from the Santiago and Cabo Pulmo aquifers. This is a desert region where rainfall is already down dramatically. (Over the past decade, the supply of water per resident in the nearby Los Cabos municipality has dropped by half.) And the Santiago aquifer is the last remaining water reserve of consequence in all of Baja California Sur. It’s been estimated that the amount of water consumed only by Cabo Dorado’s proposed hotels – without considering water demands from any other infrastructure – would be more than 11 million cubic meters of water per year. That’s almost three times the allotted water rights.
So it makes you wonder where the rest is going to come from. Of course, even if the land deal again goes bust, the developer’s water concession would put them in a position to sell the water back to the people of the area (as the Nestle corporation did in Bolivia). If you find the notion of draining the pesos from the locals a bit diabolical, consider that the newly-elected PRI government just forced through legislation to denationalize and sell off the Mexican oil fields to the highest bidders. Consider, too, that the environmental impact statement for Cabo Dorado was prepared by the same people who did one for the previous Cabo Cortés project. And consider that the Mexican promoter is, yet again, a shadowy fellow in Mexico City named John McCarthy, who used to head up the country’s tourism development agency, Fonatur.
In this case, Mexico’s deal is with La Rivera Desarrollos BCS, holding company of Cabo Dorado properties, with the majority owner being two companies: Beijing Sansong International Trade Group and Glorious Earth Holdings. The latter is based in Irvine, California, founded as Glorious Earth Group in 2013 and privately held. An Internet search doesn’t reveal much that’s glorious. In fact, the company’s website sounds like it was put together by someone just starting to master the English language. It’s allegedly “a construction company with worldwide projection….a solid company with extensive experience in the design and implementation of infrastructure for ground transportation.” Under the heading of “Hydroelectric Plants,” we are informed that “Glorious Earth Group is known for offering our best effort in every work.” Supposedly the company “has huge experience in Renewable Energy,” although nothing is specified. The registered agent for the (not-so) Glorious Earth Group is Yurong Zhang.
As for Beijing Sansong, it’s a multimillion-dollar company whose partners include the top three international contractors by total revenue in the world. The China State Construction and Engineering Corporation, slated to build Cabo Dorado, has completed over 5,000 projects in 116 countries over the past three decades. It reported $57 billion in international revenues in 2011. Two years before that, it was one of seven companies debarred by the World Bank for attempted bid-rigging in a major bank-financed project in the Philippines.
Octavio Aburto-Oporeza is a marine biologist and Assistant Professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, whose studies revealed that Cabo Pulmo’s biomass of marine life more than quadrupled in the decade after the reef received protection. As he describes the Cabo Dorado project: “It’s not like asking to build a bathroom in your backyard. If you look at the scale of the project in the long-term, it is building a city of 250,000 people.” Agustín Bravo, Northwest Coordinator of the Mexican Center for Environmental Law, see many factors that could affect the marine reserve, including the large increase in visitors, polluted runoff from golf courses irrigated by treated water, and changes in the sediments that flow into the Sea of Cortés. Bravo has called this “a privatization of environmental services and socialization of environmental liabilities. It’s crony capitalism.”
Clearly, the latest fight to protect the reef and its surrounding environment has only begun. To keep regularly abreast of what’s going on, visit the websites of two grassroots organizations involved in the effort: www.wildcoast.net and www.cabopulmovivo.org.
Editor’s Note: In 2011-12, as a winter resident of Cabo Pulmo, I was part of an extraordinary convergence of Mexican environmentalists, local residents (Mexican citizens, ex-pats who have become Mexican citizens, and part time residents like myself), internationally respected oceanographers, and international environmentalists who mounted a multi-pronged campaign to stop the Cabo Cortes development project. We had meeting after meeting to develop our community into a sustainable eco-tourism destination in our desert region.
The threat of development, the depletion of our aquifer and the potential die-off of our coral reef brought people together who had not spoken to one another; and opened up an opportunity for something new to happen: a chance to build tourism sustainably with respect for a desert environment. I met Dick Russell at one of those meetings.
There are many players in this story, and in the coming months Wild River will invite them to speak and we will also tell their stories. Our fight to save the Cabo Pulmo Coral Reef and the sea creatures it nourishes rivals any epic you might have read or any horror movie you might have seen. For, in my mind, this potential destruction of the region will have consequences that cannot be reversed. Joy E. Stocke
For backround regarding the fight against the Cabo Cortes dvelopment, click here: East of an Aquatic Eden and into the Desert.
Dick Russell has published eleven books on subjects ranging from natural history to the assassination of President Kennedy. Of five books co-authored with former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, four have reached the New York Times Best-Seller list: They Killed Our President! (2013), 63 Documents the Government Doesn’t Want You to Read (2011), American Conspiracies (2010), and Don’t Start the Revolution Without Me (2008). A monumental biography, The Life and Ideas of James Hillman, Volume One: The Making of a Psychologist, was published in 2013 and will come out in paperback in autumn 2014 – which will also see hardcover publication of a memoir, My Mysterious Son.
“On the Trail of the JFK Assassins,” Russell’s second book examining the conspiracy behind what happened to President Kennedy, appeared in 2008, when Russell was also a consultant on the web-based documentary film, “The Warning” and was featured in a National Geographic documentary on whales.
For most of the past twenty years, the primary focus of Dick Russell’s magazine writing and personal activism has been the environment – particularly the crisis impacting the world’s fisheries and oceans. A longtime sports fisherman, Russell spent the better part of three years fighting for stronger regulations to protect the endangered Atlantic striped bass. He organized a national conference in Washington, D.C., and appeared on numerous radio and TV programs. For his efforts, Russell was awarded the citizen’s Chevron Conservation Award in 1988. Today, the return of the striped bass is considered the foremost example of the resiliency of the oceans – provided a species is given a chance to recover. His new book on this subject, Striper Wars: An American Fish Story, was published by Island Press/Shearwater Books in Summer 2005 and is now available in paperback. The book has been described as “one of the most amazing fish stories…ever” by the Philadelphia Inquirer and “a can’t-put-down read” by the Boston Globe.
Russell’s previous book is Eye of the Whale (Simon & Schuster hard-cover; paperback edition by Island Press/Shearwater Books), which upon publication was named among the Best Books of 2001 by three major newspapers: the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It is an account of his following the migration of the California gray whale, from Mexico’s Baja peninsula all the way to northern Alaska and Siberia. According to L.A. Times’ reviewer Richard Ellis, this book “will change the way you think about the natural world.”
Russell has written dozens of articles about other environmental issues, for publications ranging from The Nation toParenting, and served for eighteen years as a Contributing Editor for OnEarth (formerly Amicus Journal), the award-winning quarterly publication of the Natural Resources Defense Council. He has also been a recipient of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation’s Golden Swordfish Award (1984), and is an active member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and PEN USA.
He has published two other widely-acclaimed books. The Man Who knew Too Much (Carroll & Graf, 1992) was hailed byPublisher’s Weekly as “a masterpiece of historical reconstruction” focusing on the Kennedy assassination. The book was reissued in a revised, updated edition in 2003, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of that tragic event. Black Genius: And the American Experience (Carroll & Graf, 1998) is a path-breaking study of African-American artists, writers, musicians, educators, and scientists, past and present. According to one reviewer, the book “signals a maturity in our sea-to-shining-sea culture that’s long overdue.” Including a new chapter about Barack Obama, “Black Genius” was reissued in a revised, updated paperback edition in 2009 by Skyhorse Publishing.
In earlier “incarnations,” Russell was a staff writer in the Hollywood Bureau of TV Guide Magazine (1977-79), and a staff reporter for Sports Illustrated (1969-70) in New York. His free-lance articles have appeared in numerous publications, fromFamily Health to the Village Voice. His work has been published in ten other books. He has been a guest on many national TV and radio programs, including the Joan Rivers Show and NBC Nightly News, and has been a guest lecturer at universities including Harvard and the University of California, at the National Arts Club, and elsewhere.
Married and with one child, Russell divides his time between Boston and Los Angeles. He has traveled widely in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Far East, and Central America. He is a 1969 graduate (BA, Humanities) of the University of Kansas.
Works by Dick Russell