Albion Monitor /News

Whale Mexican Breeding Grounds Threatened

by Eduardo Molina y Vedia

Now the site of Japanese-financed project to recover salt
(IPS) MEXICO CITY -- Greenpeace has begun a campaign in northern Mexico to protect the breeding grounds of the gray whale.

The whales have mated for centuries in an area around San Ignacio Lagoon, now the site of Japanese-financed project to recover salt.

Greenpeace has mobilized a perpetual vigil in front of the governmental palace in La Paz, the capitol city of Baja California Sur. Last weekend, representatives from the organization, including crewmembers of the Greenpeace ship "Rainbow Warrior," inflated a huge rubber whale, 50 feet long and 15 feet high. It is draped with a tarp which reads: "Stop the Salt Works at San Ignacio Lagoon. The Area is a Nature Preserve."

Pressure to industrialize 30,000 acres of salt flats located on the shore of the Lagoon
Greenpeace has denounced the salt works, a project co-financed by Mitsubishi and the Mexican government, as reckless endangerment of a protected natural resource, one of only three habitats where the gray whale reproduces.

Mitsubishi owns 49 percent of Salt Exporters, Inc., while the Mexican government owns the controlling share. Mitsubishi manages the project.

Greenpeace has denounced "undue pressure" by the Japanese firm and the Mexican government whose purpose is to railroad environmental groups and other politically concerned constituencies so that they will submit to the industrialization of 130 thousand acres of salt flats located on the shore of the Lagoon.

Monique Mitastein, director of Greenpeace, Mexico, says that "the salt project does not comply with the specified goal of protecting areas such as San Ignacio Lagoon, even though clear legislation has existed since 1972."

Mitastein points out that along with affecting the gray whale, the salt project also endangers another waterborne mammal known as the "barrendo" and a wide range of bird species. "Simultaneously, the project will degrade a significant tourist attraction."

Mexican authorities contend that with appropriate modification, the salt project can comply with minimal requirements insuring environmental integrity, and that the project has immense advantages for economic development.

Nevertheless, steps leading to final authorization of the project have been suspended since Mexican authorities in charge of environmental supervision have not yet issued key permits. The gray whale embarks a migratory path which begins in the arctic and then wends south to breeding grounds in the pristine waters along Mexico's coast.

Every year, whales return to three particular lagoons along the western coast of Baja California Sur. In addition to San Ignacio lagoon, breeding sites include Ojo de Liebre and Bahia Magdalena.

Both Ojo de Liebre and San Ignacio have enjoyed legal protection for the last 25 years. A series of legal decrees has declared these areas nature preserves because of the role they play in the life cycle of whales and aquatic birds, as well insuring the area's future as a tourist resort.

In 1988, the Vizcaino Biospheric Preserve was created to extend legal protection to both Ojo de Liebre and San Ignacio. Mitsubishi and the Mexican government intend to mine salt within the confines of this preserve.

The North American Wetlands Council has also declared the San Ignacio lagoon a "first order wetland" and thus in need of special protection.

That the very fact the salt works are still being discussed reveals the Mexican government's determination to go through with the deal
In July, 1994, Salt Exporters Inc., complied with a stipulation of Mexican law by submitting an environmental impact study (EIS) which quickly came under attack by many interest groups including those in the environmental community. Although the impact study was rejected by the Mexican government in 1995, Mitsubishi proceeded to obtain so-called "reference terms" which allow it to re-submit a new EIS.

Since 1957, Salt Exporters Inc. has worked a mineral concession in Ojo de Liebre lagoon which produces seven million tons of salts each year. These salts are then exported for use in Japan's chemical industry.

Mexican salts are used to make chlorine, which, in turn, is a key element in the production of plastics, insecticides and pulp and paper bleaches. According to Mitastein, the San Ignacio Lagoon project raises doubts concerning the Mexican government's willingness to comply with international accords protecting the gray whale, delicate wetlands and areas designated "human patrimonies."

Mitastein says, "The law is broken by industrial projects that do not recognize legally prescribed limits for what is acceptable within biospheric preserves."

Mitastein adds: "These salt projects have nothing to do with the people who live near these lagoons. And the industrial activity that exploits them doesn't even make use of their labor. The only effect these mining interests have on the local populace is to limit the native population's access to natural resources while eroding their overall quality of life."

The Greenpeace director stresses that "it is absurd to destroy mangrove swamps which are critical breeding grounds for many marine species. These delicate ecosystems are essential to fisheries that have tremendous ecologic and economic value. These shoreline areas are utterly unique ecosystems."

Hugo Galletti, a forester and environmental engineer, says that the very fact the salt works are still being discussed -- even though pending calamity is obvious -- reveals the Mexican government's determination to go through with the deal.

Galletti says, "The whole affair shows how difficult it is for the Environment Ministry to act impartially when it confronts well-financed commercial interests."

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Albion Monitor May 27, 1997 (

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