Tourism VS. Mangroves

Uh oh. That’s never good
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

Crocodile tears.

Mexico has many mangroves and natural preserves which are world recognized, and have become tourist points of interest. There used to be more, of course; but with the growing economy and the rush for the injection of more tourist dollars into the economy, many of them have disappeared, only to be replaced by new hotels and homes.

mangroves.jpgIn July 2005, the Malecón Tajamar tourist  project was approved by SEMARNAT (The federal  environment and natural resources government agency), and the permit for the land use change was approved in February of 2006.

Both permits had an expiration date set for February 8th 2016, however according to Fonatur, another federal agency, this one in charge of tourist infrastructure, the urbanization started in 2006. Part of the conditions of the project was to relocate the mangroves on the property, which the developers and Fonatur said was done, but according to Greenpeace and assorted activists, that never happened. As a result, many species perished when the land was cleared, say the eco activists.

Tajamar, located in Cancun, in the state of Quintana Roo, was a natural preserve which was home to multiple species of crocodiles, frogs, reptiles, birds and crustaceans.

On the night of January 16th of this year, big bulldozers and many workers entered the mangrove, and despite the 15 or 20 activists camped out there, surrounded by police officers, all 140 acres of mangroves were bulldozed down and carted away.  Protestors say there is no proof the animals and vegetation were relocated as Fonatur says they were.

Activists say many special animals have been killed while others are left to die. In  particular, a female crocodile, they say, has been seen roaming around looking for her youngsters. Turns out she was quite famous and popular with the locals, and it is speculated she lost her babies during the destruction of their habitat, and now there is nothing for her to eat, since all the critters of the swamp land have been killed or run off. Locals have sworn they have seen her cry. Big crocodile tears, no doubt. They say all they see out there these days are birds of prey looking for whatever’s left of the carcasses.

According to a university activist in Mexico City, who is an authority in the field of reefs, that due to the increasing urbanization around this land, it was just a matter of time. “They just rushed to tear it down before the permits expired,” he said, “it will be a landmark to human stupidity in 10 years”.

But after that night, the area has not been further disturbed, which leaves the activists with a little hope that if the area is left alone it will somehow be able to restore itself. Slowly, yes, but surely and eventually.

What’s A Mangrove, And Why Should We Care About them?

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Mangroves are a natural hurricane barrier, and they help purify the water that runs into the ocean because they can withstand the salinity of the ocean that they have their roots in, acting as a natural filter. Environmentalists and biologists say that tropical mangroves are effective at capturing carbon dioxide as well as protecting certain fish and marine species within their habitat. Healthy mangroves are believed to equate to healthy fisheries, and cleaner air and water reservoirs for birds, reptiles and mammals. They play a big part in holding back flood waters in times of storm surge, and prevent erosion of the banks.  In moderation, mangroves are also a big part of the local economy as a source of wood and natural renewable resources, as well as providing fishing and hunting grounds. In recent years, mangroves have been looked to as a possible source of some control over climate change.

According to regular monitoring carried out by Conabio, Mexico’s biodiversity commission, the country ranks fourth worldwide in terms of total mangrove coverage. The highest concentrations of mangroves are found in Campeche, here in Baja, and Oaxaca.

Government agencies SEMARNAT, and  Fonatur, along with Cancun’s governor, all declared everything was done according to the law, and had all the necessary permits were in order, but still there are many people who are not accepting this.   They say that’s the way it’s been in recent years in Mexico: tear down paradise to build up concrete jungles.

Investors are considering demanding a full refund from the government agency that promoted the project in the first place, the National Tourism Promotion Fund (Fonatur).

One of the investors declared that Fonatur must answer for the legal and social controversy because neither he nor any of the other investors acted illegally. Founder of the Mayan Riviera parks Xcaret and Hel-Ha,  paid US $2.1 million for a 10,000 square foot  piece of land directly from Fonatur. This company had already obtained the permits and hired a biologist to look after the transportation of the wildlife, but in April 2015, Fonatur summoned the 22 investors and signed an agreement with them, giving the agency full responsibility for the removal of wildlife and the clearing of  the mangrove forest.

The head of the Environmental Secretariat (Semarnat), Guillermo Haro, has stated that the work carried out at Tajamar was conducted “with full environmental impact authorization. Fonatur complied with all terms and conditions in the removal of the vegetation, but failed to do so in the rescue of wildlife,”  according to Profepa, the environmental protection agency, which visited Tajamar on January 26 and found five crocodiles.

Haro said that his agency has received 112 written complaints regarding the Malecón Tajamar development, but that many of them “did not correspond to reality.” He claimed that many of the photographs used online by groups opposed to the project were fake. As an example, Haro pointed to the picture of a dead crocodile that had its tail cut off. In actual fact, he said, the crocodile had died in Cozumel several months before. When asked about the origin of such pictures, Greenpeace distanced itself from the organization called Saving Malecón Tajamar, the original source of the pictures, and claimed that the picture was part of a campaign orchestrated by Profepa to discredit the opposition to the development.

Tajamar development will have more than 5,000 accommodation units, 2,600 residences, malls, a hotel, and a church. Fonatur has predicted millions of dollars and more than 5,000 direct jobs and 10,332 indirect jobs will be generated by this project, but the activists don’t care about that. 

Former president Felipe Calderon has been blamed for the ecocide, because the permits were issue during his presidency, but even he has backed away from this, saying he passed a law against the damage to mangroves back in 2006.

On Tuesday Jan 23rd, a little boy accompanied by an adult handler filed a petition to CNDH (the national commission for human rights) for the project to be temporarily suspended, demanding his right for a healthy environment be respected.  His motion was granted a temporary suspension of the Tajamar project and the trial will begin soon.

One part of the confusion stems from the changes to the law since the permit was issue so many years ago. Laws have become much more rigid in regards to mangrove forest destruction. Those laws apply to all subsequent projects, but do not apply to Tajamar, according to the developers who hope to sneak in under the wire of the old standards.