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Cholla Bay Marina STOPPED!

April 7th, 2008 The Federal Environmental Authorities (SEMARNAT) in Sonora determined that the construction of the Sandy Beach Marina on top of Estero La Cholla was not viable due to the potential environmental damage it could cause. This controversial project threatened the integrity of the Upper Gulf Biosphere Reserve and the productivity of this wetland. Estero La Cholla, along with the other wetlands in this region, is of great importance for the health of the Sea of Cortés, as it is a nursery for several marine species such as shrimp, flounder and blue crab. Also, its nutrient contribution to the Gulf of California represents the base of the food web, making this place one of the five most diverse ecosystems in the world. Apart from its ecological importance, Estero La Cholla represents one of the most visited beaches by the local community of Puerto Peñasco, and nowadays this is one of the few sites that tourism development has not closed to locals.

In an initial stage, the marina proposed by Sandy Beach Resorts contemplated the construction of 450 slips on top of one of the most important reefs in the Northern Gulf of California. In a second stage it planned to develop almost 300 residential lots in the estuary plus 260 lots in the desert. The first stage had been authorized but due to a great opposition by the local community and valuable scientific information available, this authorization is being reviewed by the Federal Environmental Authorities. The review process was requested by the 2003 National Conservation Award wining community group, a cooperative of commercial divers that has developed marine reserves in those reefs as a strategy for sustainable use of their resources. For the second stage of the project, the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans (CEDO), the 2007 National Conservation Award winning NGO, carefully reviewed the marina Environmental Impact Statement, involving the fishing sector, as well as researchers and other community members. This evaluation was submitted to the environmental authorities so that they could incorporate hard science into the decision process.

These arguments together with strong legal support provided by the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA) and Northwest Environmental Defense (DAN) were the basis for the decision taken by the SEMARNAT to halt the destruction of Estero La Cholla. Alejandro Castillo, CEDO's Assistant Director commented that "the decision taken by the Federal Authorities has great value for the local and the international community as proof of the commitment that Mexico has for its wetlands and their stakeholders. This time we noticed that social wealth and long term sustainability was valued over short term economic development and environmental degradation". The Estero La Cholla - Sandy Beach Marina case is a perfect example of how communities, environmental organizations and governments can work together, basing decisions on the best scientific information available and traditional knowledge, to achieve sustainability.

CEDO hopes that this example is replicated in other cases, such as the illegal approval to destroy voluntary marine reserves in the Northern Gulf of California by developers in Puerto Peñasco. For further information please communicate with Alejandro Castillo, Assistant Director at the Intercultural Center for the Studies of Deserts and Oceans.

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