WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 6: Ocean Futures Society President Jean-Michel Cousteau speaks during a Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW) event June 6, 2002 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Members of Congress and ocean experts will examine a range of ocean exploration, education, and coral reef preservation issues during this year's CHOW events. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)Getty Images
Mexico City – Jean-Michel Cousteau, oldest son of legendary marine biologist and explorer Jacques Cousteau, told Efe that a proposed tourist project in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur would turn a coastal area adjacent to a marine preserve into "another Cancún."
In an interview at Mexico City's Chapultepec Park, where the French environmentalist received a diploma Friday from Mayor Marcelo Ebrard in honor of his defense of the environment, Cousteau warned of the environmental impact of the large-scale Cabo Cortes tourist development near the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula.
He said it posed a severe threat to an important coral reef located within the boundaries of the Gulf of California's Cabo Pulmo reserve, a marine area of 7,111 hectares (17,550 acres) that was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005 and added to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance in 2008.
"We need to be sure that whatever's going to be built there is small enough not to cause an impact similar to (what's occurred) in other areas and that they don't build another Cancún," the 73-year-old president of the California-based Ocean Futures Society said.
The tourist development, to be built by the local division of Spanish developer Hansa Urbana, would cover a 3,800-hectare (9,380-acre) expanse and feature a marina, two golf courses, seven hotels with 27,000 guestrooms for tourists and 5,000 residences for workers, all within a short distance of the Cabo Pulmo preserve.
Last March, Mexico's Environment Secretariat announced that a permit had been granted for the project, albeit with a series of restrictions; it also conditioned approval of some of the work on additional environmental studies.
Cousteau said he would not like to see "another Cancún" because the entire region surrounding that premier international vacation destination in Mexico's Caribbean is destroyed, adding that the tourist model it represents runs counter to the ideal of sustainable development that should be promoted worldwide.
"As a tourist, I'd never go there. I'm not interested. Of course I want to be with my friends, have a good time, but you can do that and be connected with nature at the same time," he told Efe.
He called instead for an environmentally sustainable project to be built at the Cabo Cortes site, saying it could be extremely successful financially while also diversifying Mexico's tourist offering by attracting a totally different type of visitor.
In addition to heading the Ocean Futures Society, a marine conservation and education organization, Cousteau runs an eco-hotel on one of Fiji's islands.