The Cabo Cortez Project Halted by President Calderón
Mexican President Calderón kills the exclusive resort development on East Cape as 'not worth the environmental price'.
This past week local headlines decried "Calderón Cancels $2 Billion Dollar Tourism Project for Baja California Sur." The articles, from the media perspective, was the loss of what was estimated to be a $2 billion tourist development in Baja California Sur. The articles in local papers and in some foreign press made it sound like a developmental program for tourism had been canned by the president. This was not the case.
What really happened was Mexican President Felipe Calderón removed the government approval of a real estate development project on East Cape. The estimated $2 billion dollars of planned investment by the Spanish development corporation Hansa Urbana would have developed about 10,000 acres of the pristine East Cape with a large marina, hotel complex and exclusive residences. This would not have been your 'average Joe' resort mind you, exclusive and expensive would have been the key words. Slips for mega yachts outnumbered those for personal pleasure craft for example and there was a private jet port planned.
The development of the project would have made a positive economic impact on the region without a doubt. But contrary to the massive loss local press bemoaned, most of the laborers and contracting companies come from the mainland on projects like this, and the money goes right back there too. Once the project is complete the jobs created are relatively menial, management staff is historically imported and the corporate profits would certainly not have much impact on the local economy.
What Calderón chose to place greater value on was the environmental value of East Cape and specifically the Cabo Pulmo Reef. The Cabo Pulmo Reef is the only live coral reef in the Eastern Pacific. it has been threatened by fishing, anchoring and climate change, as the coral dwellers, once common in the Sea, are very sensitive to temperature change and pollution. Coral reefs, and oyster beds once were common in the Sea of Cortez, but man's influence over the last 100 years has been the major factor in nearly exterminating both.
Opponents to the development claimed the construction activities on land, combined with the significant contamination caused by dredging a marina would be the first death stroke to the coral reef. The coffin nail would be the dramatically increased boat traffic and tourist traffic to the National Underwater Park.
A prime example is what has happened to other Baja dive sites that have become 'over-accessible'. Nearly two decades ago I took a virtually private Cabo San Lucas dive charter, (not a cattle boat) out for a recreational dive. Having scuba dove much of the Caribbean and the kelp forests of California I would have still given it the rating of a 'decent dive'. Last summer I took a friend for a rather pricey dive in Cabo San Lucas, only because she didn't have time to drive to La Paz. The dive was a waste of the price of the fill, let alone the $120 for the boat! There was NADA on the bottom, except for a broken open beer can. The famous Land's End Sand-fall, where Baja is slowly disappearing into the Pacific was a few cups of sand stimulated to falling by the dive masters' glove!
Unfortunately, in a free market economy we can't say "Stupid people can't go to the Cabo Pulmo Reef." So by limiting the number of people by difficulty of access and cost, the number of damaging visitors and contamination to the doomed reef. Killing this project was a significant victory for those who seek to prolong the life of the reef and the unique more relaxed community lifestyle that currently exists on East Cape.
Please note I said "prolong" the life of the reef. Human development, over-fishing and climate change have absolutely doomed the reef some time in the future. This unique location will eventually disappear into history, just like every other coral reef and oyster bed in the Sea of Cortez has. But human efforts to delay the inevitable, or at least reduce our impact on the reef during its life cycle are admirable.
Property owners will not have the potentially value-raising benefits of an exclusive resort in their community, but this author believes that the benefits will outweigh the costs.
On the other side of the coin, there have been a number of significant high-end tourism developments that have fallen flat in the last few years, Loreto Bay and the La Paz Magote project. it may be a blessing in disguise or a cheap way out for Hansa Urbana in a market where high end exclusive real estate is more stagnant than single family retirement homes and recovery may yet me years away.
The project isn't entirely dead either. Hansa Urbana still holds the land and development rights, just not to this project. A change of administration and economic winds will probably see the arrival of these large exclusive projects up and down the Sea, as we become the next Mediterranean style vacation playground for the wealthy.
But for today the victory is won by those seeking to save what is so special about Baja and the East Cape region. We congratulate President Calderón on his decision and to those who sought to derail this invasive project over the last several years.