More than 12,000 schoolchildren from 111 countries signed a petition urging Mexican President Felipe Calderon to safeguard marine life in the Gulf of California's Cabo Pulmo reserve, global environmental advocacy group World Wildlife Fund said in a press release.

"Cabo Pulmo is a very pretty place with lots of marine species and we want children from Mexico and other parts of the world to be able to see them. That's why we've come to ask President Calderon to save Cabo Pulmo," a girl who was among 25 children who delivered the letter to the presidential residence was quoted as saying.

The group, made up of kids ages 8-14 from 25 countries, including Mexico, the United States, Spain, Indonesia, Britain, Lithuania, Japan, Colombia, Malaysia, Russia, Sweden and Zimbabwe, called on Calderon's government to cancel the Cabo Cortes tourist project, which critics says poses a threat to the marine reserve.

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"This park has been classfied by scientists as the healthiest marine reserve on the planet," the WWF said.

The group said it has conducted an online campaign since last November urging children to sign the petition, adding that the international community and other global environmental organizations have warned of the negative impact the tourist project would have on the diverse marine life that depends on Cabo Pulmo's coral reef.

The director of WWF Mexico, Omar Vidal, said the Cabo Pulmo village - where locals have cooperated in protecting the reef - currently "represents a model of internationally recognized, environmentally, socially and economically successful coastal development."

Numerous Mexican and international organizations and scientists agree on the "the risk that a tourist project on Cabo Cortes' scale represents for a site as vulnerable as this one," Vidal said.

The local division of Spanish developer Hansa Urbana has announced plans to build some 8,000 condominiums, 15 hotels, a marina and two 18-hole golf courses on a section of coastline adjacent to the reef, a project it says will create some 19,000 jobs.

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Last March, Mexico's Environment Secretariat announced that a permit had been granted for the 4,000-hectare (9,875-acre) mega-development project, albeit with a series of restrictions; it also conditioned approval of some of the work on additional environmental studies.

Vidal said Mexico should reconsider the type of development model it wants for its coasts and make sure it ensures the sustainability of its natural heritage for current and future generations.

The Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park in Baja California Sur state was created by decree on June 6, 1995. It has a marine area of 7,111 hectares (17,550 acres) and boasts the best-preserved coral reef in Mexico's Pacific region.

In 2005, Cabo Pulmo was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in 2008 it was added to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, the WWF press release noted.

The 20,000-year-old Cabo Pulmo reef, one of the oldest in the American Pacific, is home to 226 of the 875 fish species that inhabit the Gulf of California.

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