Mexico's government on Friday announced the cancelation of the proposed Cabo Cortes mega resort at the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, saying the Spanish developer has not scientifically shown the project would not threaten a nearby marine reserve.
In a ceremony at the Los Pinos official residence, President Felipe Calderon said there still was no "absolute certainty" that the Cancun-style development "will not cause irreversible damage" to the environment.
"A few years ago, the company Hansa Baja began steps for the construction of a tourist mega-development called Cabo Cortes," Calderon said in reference to Hansa Baja Investments, a unit of Spain's Hansa Urbana.
"Because of the ecological significance of (the nearby) Cabo Pulmo (marine reserve), the possibility that the Cabo Cortes tourist development would be built on 3,800 hectares (9,380 acres) adjacent to the national park sparked concerns among the local communities, academics and environmental groups," he added.
Several non-governmental organizations, local communities and environmentalists protested against the project, saying it would threaten Cabo Pulmo, declared a natural protected area by Mexican authorities in 1995.
Being "such an important area for the Gulf of California and the country ... we should all be absolutely certain that (the project) will not cause irreversible harm and that absolute certainty simply has not been generated," Calderon said,
He said, however, that though the project as originally conceived has been canceled, investors are not completely in the lurch and can start from scratch with a project that is compatible with Cabo Pulmo's sustainability.
The Mexican government "is determined to respect investors' rights and protect the value of their assets," he said.
The goal is for a project to be designed that creates employment and increases tourist visits to that natural area while also fully protecting ecosystems and generating funds that ensure their preservation, Calderon said.
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.
It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005 and three years later was added to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.
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.
The original Cabo Cortes project called for the construction of a marina with 490 boat slips, 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.
In remarks to Efe, the president of the Mexican Center for Environmental Law, Gustavo Alanis, hailed the government's decision as "a triumph for conservation, environmental protection and nature."
It is "a message in favor of legality and the rule of law in the environmental sphere" and tells investors that "all are welcome as long as they respect nature and comply with" existing environmental laws, he said.
Alanis said the decision was the product of "a collective effort" by individuals and non-governmental organizations that have tried over the past five years to halt the Cabo Cortes project due to the environmental risks. EFE