Mesoamerican Reef

Protecting Quintana Roo from Poorly Designed Development

Healthy mangroves in Quintana Roo

The natural wonders of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula draw tourists from around the world, who flock to Cancún, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, Playa del Carmen, and other coastal areas in Quintana Roo. But short-sighted tourism and commercial development threatens to destroy the beauty and biodiversity of the state. Working to ensure compliance with environmental laws is a major challenge in Quintana Roo, one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean. Developers of multi-million-dollar projects often have friends in high places, or decide to risk paying a relatively affordable fine than to go through the more laborious process of complying with the law.

For more than 20 years, the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA) has worked to protect Mexico’s natural resources and the rights of citizens to a healthy environment. CEMDA is a grassroots partner of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW), an international network of public interest advocates that supports environmental law groups in the Mesoamerican Reef region.

Sandra Moguel, CEMDA director

“We work to strengthen the rule of law,” said Sandra Moguel, Director of CEMDA. “The laws and regulations are on the books, but often go unenforced.”

CEMDA’s efforts often pay off in enormous ways. The Dragon Mart mega-development project in Puerto Morelos, near Cancún, was called off after several years of legal action from CEMDA. The 1,400-acre Chinese trading center would have destroyed wetlands and exacerbated local water pollution.

To prevent other illegal and destructive developments from going up, CEMDA advocates have analyzed hundreds of projects that sought clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT).

Many of these projects failed to meet minimum legal requirements. CEMDA successfully challenged them, saving hundreds of hectares of forest and mangroves from destruction.

“A tourist destination where environmental laws are followed builds confidence and a healthy environment for investment,” explained Alejandra Serrano Pavón, a CEMDA attorney. “Truly integrated coastal zone management includes development, but only if it is appropriate to the environment and adheres to prescribed environmental standards.”

Recently, CEMDA halted three other poorly planned coastal developments on Quintana Roo:

Locations of halted developments on Quintana Roo

Riviera Cancún Hotel

Developers proposed a 15-story hotel with 565 rooms, a desalination plant, five pools, roads, paved parking, and a water treatment plant. The property would have been located on the barrier island between two protected areas: Nichupte Mangrove Area and Punta Cancún-Punta Nizuc-Isla Mujeres National Park.

Project proponents claimed there were no mangroves in the project area. However, CEMDA’s aerial photographs and a geospatial analysis showed that mangroves were clearly present.

The project violated the General Law on Wildlife and Mexican regulations tied to mangrove protection and failed to meet criteria required by the Ecological Zoning Program to protect dunes, dune wildlife, and water flow. As a result of CEMDA’s challenge, the proposal was denied, sparing the destruction of mangroves, dunes, wildlife, and water.

Fuel Storage Terminal

A fuel storage facility was proposed in a tropical forest in the municipality of Solidaridad, a few kilometers from the Riviera Maya tourist zone. The project included a storage facility for gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel, with capacity for 420,000 barrels which would have been discharged from tankers through an underground pipeline.

CEMDA learned that the project failed to meet minimum requirements established by the municipality of Solidaridad and was inconsistent with the city’s Urban Development Program. The developers inadequately assessed risk related to weather events and problems with design, construction, and maintenance. Because of the concerns raised by CEMDA, the project was denied.

Puerto Grande

In Puerto Grande, developers wanted to build a 162-hectare residential project with 1,221 homes, 704 condominiums, 628 hotel rooms, a country club, and a recreation center. The project would have fragmented the natural habitat where 62 threatened or endangered species live. CEMDA advocates determined the developers failed to show compliance with Mexican law and international treaties, or with local ecological planning and urban development guidelines. With this evidence, they were able to get the project denied.

“This victory sets a precedent,” said Moguel. “In the future, developers will be reluctant to propose projects that do not comply with local and international law.”

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