CANCUN — What better place to hold an international conference on protecting biological diversity than one which, according to environmentalists, has so far failed to do so?
Cancún is seen by some as a perfect example of the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of natural resources by unplanned urban and tourist development, along with the systematic violation of environmental laws.
According to economic development expert Christine McCoy, in its 46 years of existence Cancún has lost 77% of the rainforest, 68% of the mangrove swamps and 64% of the coastal dunes that were originally found in the area.
Development in the region has had a negative impact on one of the city’s major assets: its beaches. McCoy reported that the original extent of those beaches has decreased by 97% — from 309,000 square meters to 8,200.
This is not only the result of powerful hurricanes but of the construction of more than 100 hotels on the coastal dunes and the removal of mangroves.
The local Ecologist Group of the Mayab (Gema) has charged that the alteration of Cancún’s original urban development program (PDU) has allowed the construction of “unthinkable” projects in areas of high environmental fragility.
The newspaper El Universal reported that on December 18 last year, while Environment Secretary Rafael Pacchiano was signing a biodiversity commitment in Paris, his agency granted the authorization for Spanish resort developer Grupo RIU to build a 15-story, 565-room hotel in the rainforest of Cancun’s Punta Nizuc.
The Hotel Riviera Cancún is to be constructed in an area of influence of two natural protected areas in a zone considered vulnerable in a report commissioned by the Tourism Secretariat.
A controversy ensued after it was revealed that the National Protected Areas Commission, Conanp, had officially warned the Environment Secretariat (Semarnat) on November 30 that Grupo RIU had denied the existence of a 21,000-square-meter mangrove swamp in the area proposed for construction.
Conanp’s assessment of the Grupo RIU project found it “unviable” but Semarnat authorized it nonetheless.
The Mexican Center of Environmental Law (Cemda) said the hotel represented a threat to the zone’s coastal dune ecosystems, beaches and wetlands, and to the natural nesting grounds of sea turtles.
The National Tourism Promotion Fund (Fonatur) originally opposed the project but changed its position after then-chief Héctor Gómez Rabasa met with Grupo RIU representatives, who agreed to the expansion of a wastewater treatment plant and the creation of a seawater desalination facility.
Semarnat has since authorized a second Grupo RIU project for Isla Mujeres, while a 10-story, 1,789-room Hard Rock Hotel is waiting to be authorized in Cancún.
The latter includes the installation of an artificial “mega-pool” to be developed by Crystal Lagoons.
“It’s as absurd as attempting to build an artificial beach 23 meters away from a sea as beautiful as the Mexican Caribbean,” said a representative from Gema.
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