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Buying Baja | Hakai Magazine

🌈 Abstract

The article discusses the fight of locals in the Baja California Sur region of Mexico against the threat of rampant development and gentrification that is transforming the coast and drying up aquifers. It focuses on the story of the village of Cabo Pulmo, which has successfully protected its marine ecosystem through conservation efforts, and the challenges it now faces from encroaching development in the surrounding East Cape region.

🙋 Q&A

[01] Cabo Pulmo's Conservation Success

1. What led the residents of Cabo Pulmo to protect their marine ecosystem?

  • In the 1980s, local fishermen noticed a decline in fish, sharks, turtles, and rays, as well as damage to the coral reefs from anchors.
  • In 1995, the Mexican government designated 71 square kilometers of ocean as a national marine park, and the locals helped implement and enforce a fishing ban within the park's boundaries.
  • By 2009, researchers found that fish biomass had increased by 463% - the largest increase ever documented in a marine reserve. The biomass of top predators like sharks increased tenfold.

2. How has Cabo Pulmo's conservation efforts benefited the local community?

  • In the 1970s, Cabo Pulmo had only 6 houses, but today it has 300 residents with its own elementary and middle school, and a variety of locally owned restaurants, dive outfitters, and guest houses.
  • The village and its marine park are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, providing an economy that allows residents to stay instead of migrating to cities for work or school.

[02] Threats to the East Cape Region

1. What are the key threats to the East Cape region surrounding Cabo Pulmo?

  • Real estate speculation, megaresorts, and unplanned/poorly planned/possibly illegal developments are threatening to displace people and harm biodiversity, even in the waters that Cabo Pulmo has fought to protect.
  • The population of the East Cape nearly doubled between 2010-2020 and is expected to surpass 138,000 by 2040, driven by second-home owners, investors, digital nomads, and retirees from the US, Canada, and Europe.
  • Development projects like the Costa Palmas megadevelopment are impacting wetlands, aquifers, and beach access for local communities.

2. How are local activists trying to address these threats?

  • Activists are trying to document the impacts of development projects and challenge them through legal and regulatory channels, but face challenges with enforcement and developers finding ways around regulations.
  • The article highlights the story of Reina Macklis, an activist from La Ribera who is concerned about the impacts of the Costa Palmas development on the local community and environment.
  • There are efforts to revise zoning plans and give locals a greater voice, but activists face risks and some have become disillusioned with the fight.

[03] Preserving the East Cape's Future

1. What are the hopes and challenges for preserving the East Cape's environment and communities?

  • There is hope that the East Cape can avoid the fate of over-development seen in places like Los Cabos, and that activists and visionaries can disrupt the patterns of mass tourism and disenfranchisement.
  • Successes like the restoration of public beach access in La Paz and the protection of Cabo Pulmo National Park provide reasons for optimism.
  • However, enforcement of environmental regulations remains a major challenge, with developers often finding ways around the rules or facing minimal consequences.
  • The cumulative impact of individual homes and developments is also difficult to control, and some locals have become discouraged and disengaged from the fight.

2. What is the significance of the Día de los Muertos ofrenda in Cabo Pulmo?

  • The ofrenda, featuring placards with illustrations of extinct animals, serves as a powerful symbol of the lessons that unchecked greed can lead to loss, and the importance of protecting the region's biodiversity and community connections to the land and sea.
  • Despite the challenges, the article ends on a hopeful note, with the children of Cabo Pulmo running freely down the sandy roads that still belong to them, for now.
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