The voracity with which the Campos Agüero real estate company in Sisal has acted, which has overrun more than 2,000 hectares of flora and has affected 41 percent of the fauna, is not only a serious blow to the habitat of animals, but also puts at risk the protective barriers, such as the dunes and mangroves, which protect the community from natural attacks such as hurricanes and floods, warn members of environmental defense groups.
Experts from Ducks Unlimited de México, ProNatura Península de Yucatán and the association Be’Tonal Project agree that the damage is irremediable and blame authorities such as the Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (Semarnat) and the Procuraduría de Protección al Ambiente (Profepa) for allowing land use changes in the wetlands, obeying the economic interests of businessmen who build without scruples.
Unregulated growth and lack of legislation are also part of the serious problem. “It is very difficult to preserve coastal and migratory birds when there are commercial interests, such as real estate developments like Paraíso Sisal that destroy their habitat,” they point out.
The “Sisal Cartel” is not stopped by the birds, the crocodiles or the flora; above all else are their interests.
Between 2018 and 2023, Paraíso Sisal was transformed from a Protected Natural Reserve that was part of El Palmar, to an area in the hands of private individuals who have acquired lots, some of which have already been built on, and others are in the process of being built on.
More than 2,000 hectares initially included in El Palmar, one of the best-preserved reserves in the state, have been devastated.
Although at first, in 2006, the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) denied the developers Daniel and Víctor Campos Agüero the permits to build their real estate complex, on the grounds that it would harm endemic and endangered flora and fauna in the reserve, the owners resorted to various tricks, including Decree 293 signed in 2010 by then Governor Ivonne Ortega Pacheco, without consulting the Legislative Branch.
This decree, which left Paraíso Sisal out of the state reserve, was used by Semarnat, whose head in Yucatán was Hernán José Cárdenas López, to authorize in 2018 the housing development of 416 lots, which occupy more than 2,000 hectares that previously belonged to El Palmar.
With irreversible damage to the flora and fauna of the region and to the coastal environment with the installation of more than 200 breakwaters, the Paraíso Sisal development has already managed to sell more than 200 lots, where to date some nine houses have been built.
The land where the housing and tourism development will be built is surrounded by an ecosystem made up mostly of wetlands and mangroves that is threatened by urban growth and development in the coastal areas (highway infrastructure, construction of docks and bridges), as well as contamination from agricultural runoff and sewage and increased tourism activity.
A fact sheet from the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (Conabio) states that “the region is important for a great variety of resident and migratory birds. Among the many nesting species are Phalacrocorax olivaceus (crow duck), Dendrocygna autumnalis (red-billed loggerhead). Other species found here all year round are Pelecanus occidentalis (brown pelican)…. Also noteworthy is the pink flamingo population with its 5,000 to 10,000 individuals that maintain their seasonal movements along the entire north coast of the Peninsula, where this reserve has a very important role as a habitat in perfect conservation conditions. On the other hand, 13 species of migratory ducks have been identified, as well as two that are considered residents.
Since 2018, Semarnat has endorsed a series of land use changes through the approval of Environmental Impact Manifestations, mainly to the real estate companies Sisal, S.A. de C.V., and El Palmar Sisal, S.A. de C.V., owned by brothers Daniel and Víctor Campos Agüero, as well as to them, the direct promoters.
A few meters from where residences are being built and the land is being prepared for apartments and tourist cabins, the reserve is also a Ramsar Site.
The project supervisor of Duck Unlimited de México, Consuelo Díaz Aguilar, considered that the real estate developments, as in Sisal, cause the reduction of mangroves that protect the coast from any natural event, as well as from erosion and flooding, which affects the communities economically and the way of life of the inhabitants.
Regarding the impact caused by the Paraíso Sisal real estate development, the specialist said that it is very easy to know and there is no need to make forecasts: “For the birds, their habitat is affected; if a change in land use is made, their habitat is being taken away from the birds, whether resident, migratory or aquatic, and they will have to move to other areas,” she said.
He explained that one of the main problems in Sisal is that due to the change of land use or bad design of port, highway and real estate infrastructures, the vegetation cover in this coastal town is being lost, especially in the mangroves.
The affectation of these wetlands damages the biodiversity and protection of the coast and any natural event such as a hurricane, a storm or a northerly, which is the typical phenomenon that occurs in this Yucatan town, will provoke a lot of beach erosion. “The penetration to land of strong winds will affect the life of the communities in all aspects,” he pointed out.
Diaz Aguilar indicated that “the changes in land use in the wetlands respond to economic interests and the authorities allow developments to be made there, justifying that they are generators of employment”.
“To make a good development design there has to be transversality between institutions, both government and private, and consider the opinion of the community,” he said.
“It is important to be clear, it is about using the resource in an adequate way; and that there is no formula to do so because each locality, each region has different social and environmental needs, that is why it is necessary that in the planning of a development the opinion of the community must be integrated, because it is the inhabitants who know the area and know how things should be done respecting the environmental laws; but if it is not done in an adequate way, environmental problems and social conflicts come,” he warned.