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The Gray Whale Nursery at Laguna San Ignacio
Briefing Book

Top of Report

1. Introduction

The gray whale -- recently returned from the brink of extinction -- is threatened again. In 1994, barely a month after the gray whale was removed from the endangered species list, its breeding and calving grounds on the western coast of Baja California were selected as the site for the world's largest saltworks. The area slated for this massive new industrial facility is Laguna San Ignacio, the last remaining pristine calving lagoon for the species. This new saltworks facility will not be the first disturbance to the whales' few nurseries. A saltworks is already operating in one of the two other calving lagoons, Guerrero Negro, and a 2,000 ha tourist resort development has been proposed for Bahia Magdalena. If El Grupo de los Cien, one of Mexico's most prominent environmental groups, had not brought the proposed saltworks to international attention, construction might now be underway. Instead, Mexico is allowing for a new environmental impact statement (the earlier one having virtually ignored the whales' plight) and Mitsubishi has pledged not to proceed with the project "if [it] causes significant environmental damage." The lure of the saltworks for Mexico, however, remains powerful: export earnings and jobs. Without ongoing international attention, it is likely that, after this hiatus, the project will move forward, with unknown consequences for the magnificent gray whale.

2. Background

2.1. The proposed project at Laguna San Ignacio

The gray whale is one of North America's truly shared resources in that it migrates through Mexican, US, and Canadian waters. Over many years, the safe harbors these whales have used to give birth have become filled with human activity and noise. Now an expectant mother whale must travel from the Arctic all the way to Baja California to find a quiet and safe lagoon. At least half the time, she cannot wait until the end of the trip and gives birth in the open sea, often with tragic results. As gray whale nurseries, lagoons constitute essential habitat. Protected waters of a lagoon are warmer and calmer than the open ocean, increasing the success rate of the whales' delivery and the calves' survival. Laguna San Ignacio (Baja California Sur), located on the Pacific Ocean side of the Baja California Peninsula, is a large, undeveloped coastal lagoon and one of three remaining lagoons which form the primary destination for migrating gray whales where they can give birth free from noise, container ships and urban pollution. San Ignacio also provides habitat for numerous marine and terrestrial plant and animal species, many of which are threatened or endangered.

Mexico considers itself a leader in species and habitat protection, and has been committed to protecting whales since the 1930s. San Ignacio is part of Latin America's largest Biosphere Reserve, "El Vizca'no", formed by Presidential decree in 1988 to protect, among other things, gray whales. The 2,546,790 ha Vizca'no Biosphere Reserve includes bighorn sheep habitat, the extensive pre-Columbian cave paintings of the Sierra de San Francisco, and portions of the Western Gulf of California shoreline. The declaration of the Reserve established a 363,438 ha nuclear zone, in which human activities are extremely limited or prohibited. In the remaining buffer zone, a few human activities are permitted. Although development activities within the nuclear zones are not permitted, they can be authorized in the buffer zone as long as they conform to Mexico's 1988 General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection. The Reserve decree stipulates that new human settlements are not permitted anywhere within the Reserve boundaries. The Reserve extends from just south of the lagoon northward to the northern shore of Laguna Ojo de Liebre, and eastward to the Gulf of California, and includes Isla Natividad, Isla Asuncion, and Isla San Roque along the Pacific Coast.[1]

The Mexican government and Mitsubishi, through a joint venture known as Exportadora de Sal, S.A. ("ESSA"), are pursuing the construction of a large industrial salt evaporation facility adjacent to Laguna San Ignacio. According to ESSA, the new project will be located in the buffer zone of the Vizca'no Biosphere Reserve. The project was first proposed in 1994, and rejected in 1995 by the Mexican environmental authorities as incompatible with the status of the place as a biosphere reserve. On October 3, 1997, Mitsubishi and ESSA announced that the proposed saltworks had been redesigned to address some of the concerns raised by Mexican and international environmental groups. [2] The project will again go through a environmental impact assessment which, it is estimated, will require 18 months. The stakes are now higher. In addition to Mexico's standard EIA requirements, the Mexican National Institute of Ecology, with advice from an international scientific panel, has set up additional scientific, economic and social requirements for the proposal to meet (discussed below in section 2.2).

If built, the saltworks may destroy habitat by changing the characteristics of the lagoon and the surrounding area through noise, population growth, physical disturbances and indirect economic development. According to current plans, 6,000 gallons of saltwater per second will be pumped out of the lagoon by a battery of 17 loud diesel engines. Earthen dikes created by earth-moving machinery to contain the 116 square miles of evaporating ponds will radically alter rainfall drainage patterns. A 1.25 mile-long pier for transporting the salt to ocean-going ships will be built in a key abalone and lobster fisheries area, and in the whales' migration paths.

Even though the Mexican government owns 51% of the joint venture, Mitsubishi undoubtedly has greater control of the management of the company, because only Mitsubishi has the capital to fund operations and expansion. The Mexican federal government will gain direct revenues from taxes paid by ESSA and from its share of profits from the sale of the salt. However, the economic benefit to Mexico is small in comparison to the main beneficiaries which are Japan's strategic industry users of salt in chemical compound. While approximately 208 jobs will be created, it is estimated only half will be available to Mexican nationals. Moreover, none of the salt processing jobs will be in Mexico. Also, there will be no direct or indirect jobs for Mexico from Japan's strategic industries which use salt. Finally, there is a suspicion -- denied by ESSA -- that Mitsubishi wants to close ESSA's pre-existing Guerrero Negro saltworks and open a facility instead at Laguna San Ignacio because it would be less expensive to operate. Such an action would result in no net economic benefit to the area, and would have negative environmental results.

While we can celebrate that our efforts have already forced some design changes of the saltworks, and the establishment of the additional scientific and socio-economic requirements, the Mexican federal government may still decide the saltworks can proceed. In other words, the majority shareholder in the project will determine whether the project complies with its own environmental laws and is a use consistent with the area's biosphere reserve designation.

2.2 The environmental assessment of the project.

Mexico has more stringent requirements for environmental impact assessments than the United States. Assessments are required more often, and there are four levels of assessments which can be required. In contrast to the U.S. system of command and control, Mexico's system could promote prevention of environmental harm. Properly applied and reviewed, the assessments can be used in a flexible manner to prevent construction of environmentally harmful projects. Unfortunately, as with many regulations, enforcement is not uniform.

The first impact assessment regarding the San Ignacio saltworks, prepared by Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del Noroeste ("CIB") in 1994, was rejected by the Mexican National Institute of Ecology ("INE") primarily because the project was not appropriate for a buffer zone of a Biosphere Reserve. [3] Among the many reasons stated, the rejection was because:

1. . . . the project is incompatible with the area's conservation objectives and is also incompatible with land-use zoning and other legal provisions. . . .

3. In the area of the project, one finds plant and animal species under various categories of protection . . . 14 plant species (4 rare, 2 threatened, 2 under special protection and 6 endemic) and 72 animal species (15 rare, 39 threatened, 6 in danger of extinction, 7 under special protection and 5 endemic). These species could be directly or indirectly harmed by habitat alteration and construction and operation of the project in question.

4. . . . it is our opinion that there are no valid reasons which justify the loss of the natural environment in such as extensive area and within a biosphere reserve. . . .. [4]

ESSA first appealed the rejection, then decided to prepare a new impact assessment document. In response to allegations of conflict of interest, [5] Mexico's environmental secretariat, SEMARNAP, created an international science advisory committee to advise INE and ESSA on what to include in the environmental assessment.

In July 1996, the international science advisory committee issued scientific terms of reference ("TORs") for the new environmental impact assessment. Concurrent with the issuance of these terms, INE issued socio-economic TORs which must also be addressed by the assessment. The scientific TORs begin with some background and introductory material, including disclaimers that the scientific TORs are not all inclusive and are very focused on biological and ecological concerns. The scientific TORs call for the following items:

Unfortunately, the socio-economic TORs issued by INE for the environmental impact assessment are not complete. [6] The TORs do not call for an evaluation of alternative sites for this project, nor do they call for an evaluation of alternative types of activity which might be beneficial for the local economy and be more consistent with the appropriate management of a biosphere reserve. They have numerous other flaws related to improper cost-benefit analysis and scope of analysis. The socio-economic TORs also do not discuss the potential impacts of opening salt production at San Ignacio on the current activities in Guerrero Negro. If the salt harvesting is more labor intensive at Guerrero Negro than as proposed at Laguna San Ignacio, and if Guerrero Negro will be closed, we can assume a net loss of jobs. It is unclear how many direct, or indirect jobs will be lost. Also unclear is the cost to restore Guerrero Negro if the saltworks there are abandoned. The TORs also do not address the future potential privatization of the project, or the rights over the Lagoon that ESSA/Mitsubishi will garner from the deal.

It is clear that Mitsubishi and ESSA intend to continue to pursue the construction of the proposed saltworks. As noted above, ESSA has redesigned the project. According to ESSA and Mitsubishi, the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur ("UABCS") in La Paz and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla have been retained to undertake the environmental impact assessment of the new design with the assistance of one or more international firms. The current estimate for the completion of the assessment is Spring 1999. [7] If the statement is approved by INE and construction begins, it will be 8 years before any salt is produced. At first, the goal will be 1 million tons per year, building up to a production capacity of 7 million tons per year over 30 years. ESSA's Technical Subdirector, Joaquin J. Ardura made it clear that ESSA would not go through with the project, if, after this second EIA process, the project fails to win approval. [8]

2.3. The existing salt evaporation facility in Guerrero Negro.

The process of producing salt takes two years from the time of pumping water from the lagoon until the salt in that water is harvested. There are two main steps, concentration and crystallization. Ocean water enters the lagoon at 3.5% salt and at the far end of the lagoon where the water is pumped out, it is already at 4.0%. The water is then moved through a series of concentration ponds over a period of 18 months using solar and wind evaporation to raise the salt content to 27%. The salt water is then moved to shallow crystallization ponds where it sits for 6 months until the crystallized salt can be harvested, cleaned and loaded onto barges for the 100 Km transshipment to Isla Cedros. On the island, the salt is loaded on ocean going freight ships. [9] According to ESSA, the 7 million ton per year Guerrero Negro facility has no more room to grow. For this reason, ESSA seeks to open operations at Laguna San Ignacio where very similar conditions exist. Low rain fall, high evaporation rates, little vegetation and impermeable soils make San Ignacio ideal for the saltworks.

3. Politics

3.1. International

3.1.1. International Whaling Commission

The International Whaling Commission ("IWC") has helped in previous efforts to restore the gray whale population by agreeing to ban whaling. At its 1995 annual meeting, the IWC helped SEMARNAP put together the Science Committee which prepared the terms of reference for the second environmental impact assessment for the ESSA project. However, there is little else we expect the IWC can or will do regarding the issue. There is substantial opposition, particularly from Japan, toward the IWC acting on anything not related to the regulation of whaling. This said, Art. 6 of the International Convention for Regulation of Whaling allows the IWC to make recommendations on any matters relating to whales and whaling, and thus the IWC ought to be able to take a position. [10]


In 1994, El Vizca'no was named a MAB[11]/UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Three parts of the Reserve were named to the list of World Heritage Sites (Sierra de San Francisco, Laguna Ojo de Liebre and Laguna San Ignacio). [12]

Unfortunately, according to a recent publication of the Mexican Environmental Secretariat regarding the proposed Laguna San Ignacio saltworks, there is an "absence of an incontrovertible interpretation of the environmental law in terms of the projects that can be authorized in a biosphere reserve." However, based on a review of international norms and standards, including the UNESCO Statutory Framework, as well as Mexican Federal law, and the Vizca'no reserve decree and management plan, it is our conclusion that there is an "incontrovertible interpretation" of the environmental law regarding whether the ESSA project can be authorized in a biosphere reserve buffer zone. Under this interpretation of law, Mexico was correct to reject ESSA's first proposal in 1995, and will be correct to do so again.

Biosphere Reserves serve three main purposes (in order of priority): conservation, research, and development. Biosphere Reserves are not like other protected areas because they are intended to promote sustainable use of natural resources and not just preservation. No human activities are permitted in the core of a biosphere reserve other than non-manipulative research and monitoring. Human activities in buffer zones which surround the cores are to be closely regulated and limited to those which protect the core, and are consistent with conservation objectives (for example, environmental education, passive recreation and ecotourism, and traditional uses). Surrounding the buffer zones are "transition areas" in which rational exploitation of natural resources may take place in cooperation with local populations.

If the general definitions were applied, there would be fewer questions about the efficacy of the saltworks if it was outside the buffer zone. This said, the proposed Laguna San Ignacio saltworks is not consistent with international, federal or specific biosphere reserve obligations because it is not a conservation activity, it does not maintain cultural values, it does not protect the core of the biosphere reserve, and it does not come from, aid or educate the local community. In addition, while the ESSA project may constitute an "economic development of natural resources," the major benefits from the resource exploitation will be from the value-added by chemical manufacturers in Japan and will insufficiently benefit the reserve, or the region. [13] The project is too large, it may adversely affect endangered and endemic species habitat, it will serve to deteriorate the reserve's natural beauty, it will flood important parts of the reserve, it will significantly alter hydrological and watershed systems, and it threatens the existing economic base. Finally, the project is being proposed before a reserve management plan is fully articulated and implemented; and before regulations (norms) have been drafted to implement the December 1996 amendments to Mexico's general environmental law. [14]

3.1.3. NAFTA's Commission for Environmental Cooperation

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation ("CEC") has established a North American Conservation Program. One of the objectives of this program is to encourage communities, NGOs and individuals to participate in the conservation of North America's protected areas such as parks and reserves. [15] In addition to the CEC's conservation program, the CEC also has investigative functions[16] and quasi-complaint functions[17] which may be helpful in bringing international attention and pressure to bear on resolving the issues related to San Ignacio.

3.2. Federal

3.2.1. SEMARNAP [18]

SEMARNAP is a newly formed Secretariat in the Mexican government which is intended to bring all environmental issues under a single umbrella. The Secretary is Julia Carabias Lillo. Carabias is also in charge of one other independent agency, the Attorney General for the Environment ("PROFEPA") and the three undersecretariats: Fisheries, Natural Resources, and Planning. The Federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over the proposed saltworks project for two reasons. First, it falls within a federally designated "Protected Natural Area." Second, the exploitation of salt directly from sea water is a federally regulated activity (presumably because the salt and the sea water it is drawn from belong to the people/government of Mexico). For these reasons, ESSA must provide a federal environmental impact assessment on the saltworks project to the National Institute of Ecology (INE). [19]

So far, SEMARNAP appears to be trying to "do the right thing" regarding San Ignacio. SEMARNAP has asserted "its firm promise" that through INE, the saltworks "project will only be authorized if it complies with applicable environmental regulations".[20] It proposed the formation of the Science Committee to act as an advisory group to INE. SEMARNAP asked for IWC cooperation in recruiting the world's top whale experts to serve on the Committee. Most importantly, and despite some flaws, this Science Committee process is a marked improvement in public participation and transparency in decision-making in Mexico. The Committee received the public's comments and produced terms of reference for the new environmental impact assessment (see section 2.2. above). The Committee will next be called upon to act in an advisory capacity to INE in reviewing the assessment once it is complete. [21] SEMARNAP has also pursued another form of participatory communication involving the use of Internet web pages for a more static, but still transparent, discussion of the issues surrounding San Ignacio. [22] This web site describes the background on the proposed project and the concerns raised by interested parties. It includes verbatim transcriptions from a public hearing, public comments submitted via E-mail, and now the scientific and socio-economic terms of reference.

3.2.2. INE [23]

A few of INE's relevant functions are planning and environmental impact assessment; environmental regulation; and conservation and ecological exploitation. It is also in charge of international cooperation issues. To carry out these functions, INE has state delegates that deal with local issues. INE rejected the first environmental impact assessment from ESSA, and it will be responsible for reviewing ESSA's second environmental impact assessment.

3.2.3. Protected Areas Management

Ten Presidential decrees issued this century have created 374 protected areas in Mexico. As a result, nearly 60% of the country falls under some form of protection. Unfortunately, many of these decrees disregarded local interests and even disregarded then-existing conditions of development. Most importantly, there have been no funds to administer the protected areas. In 1994, protected areas management responsibilities were transferred to the newly created SEMARNAP/INE; however, because there were still no funds for administration, the transfer has had little impact. The appropriation for protected areas management for 1995 was U.S.$575,000. It was increased for 1996 to just over U.S.$1 million. SEMARNAP's request for 1997 is U.S.$1.7 million. This amounts to only ten cents per hectare. [24]

In addition, in 1995, INE received some funds from the Global Environmental Facility ("GEF") with which it identified the 10 most important protected areas and drafted management plans for these areas. A new agency within INE, the Sistema Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas ("SINAP") was put in charge of protected areas management. SINAP is currently restructuring its administration to establish a regional basis, budget and directorships. The biggest and most important reserves are slated to receive more federal appropriations. In addition, and as part of this effort, ECONAP has been established. It has 60 members from many sectors in society and is intended to raise private sector support for the national reserve system. As of 1997, funds will also be available through a nationwide trust for protected areas, the Fideicomiso Nacional para las Areas Naturales Protegidas ("FNANP"). The trust will consist of U.S.$20 million from the Global Environment Facility, U.S.$7 million from the World Bank Northern Border Initiative, and an as yet unspecified sum from the Mexican government. The goal is to use the corpus of the trust to generate $200,000 in annual income per reserve in Mexico.

The Director of the Vizca'no Biosphere Reserve, Victor Sanchez, is worried about development in general, but most importantly "urban" development. There is no way to provide water to new immigrants to the area, and disposal of wastes has become a monumental problem (in part because of impermeable soils). [25] The reserve has 20 employees, including 6 patrol units. In addition, PROFEPA (Mexico's environmental attorney general) is taking an active interest in environmental enforcement in the area. However, a key problem with this reserve is that a very small part of it is federal land. According to an INE map, most of the reserve (all but 20% according to Sanchez) has some other claim as well -- ejidos, private ownership, collective fisheries, or the state. It is thus unlike many other reserves. The "core areas" even overlap existing development and look like gerrymandered congressional districts in their haphazard shape (i.e. an after-the-fact designation of protected areas). [26] Much of the reserve's work is funded by ESSA (as Sanchez discussed his many projects, he noted that some were being totally underwritten by ESSA, including a fisheries economy study). [27]

3.3. State

The State of Baja California Sur ("BCS") is pressing for the approval of the saltworks. The governor of BCS, Guillermo Mercado Romero, according to Grupo de los Cien, has expressed strong support for the saltworks project. He is hoping the U.S.$120 million investment will "jump-start" the local economy. [28] Mexican state governments have created agencies or ministries charged with the administration of environmental laws. States are also given many powers in the General Environmental Law of Mexico. [29] For example, states and local governments can enact environmental regulations which are more stringent than the federal standard. [30]

3.4. Local

San Ignacio is within the jurisdiction of the municipality of MulegŽ, however the local government has played no role in the management of the lagoon. [31] As with many reserves or protected areas throughout Latin America, a key issue in management is how to reconcile the conflict of people living in and using the Reserve, while at the same time achieving its protection. Unfortunately, the Mexican governmental agencies have done a very poor job in public outreach and communications with the local communities.

The people from the area have spoken of their concerns and perspectives, especially problems that have occurred since development of the first saltworks in Guerrero Negro. They have raised strong concerns over the secondary effects of the proposed Laguna San Ignacio saltworks project. Road building will increase access to the lagoon (or if ESSA limits the use of the roads, may prevent those with need for access for fishing to be shut out). The potential secondary effects include the other businesses which have sprung up around the ESSA facility in Guerrero Negro. If the pattern of suppliers settling near by, followed by restaurants, hotels, and tour operators is repeated, the secondary impacts could be very serious.

4. Economics

4.1. Mitsubishi Corporation

Mitsubishi was founded in 1870 as a shipping company. The current Mitsubishi Corporation was established in 1950. Mitsubishi is now one of Japan's leading trading companies and has 230 offices in 85 countries. Few, if any, other companies in Japan have more experience in international trade than Mitsubishi. Worldwide, Mitsubishi is involved in about 73,000 business relationships and has a hand in producing approximately 10,000 different products. Mitsubishi's consolidated assets were U.S.$91.9 billion at the end of fiscal year 1996. Mitsubishi is a horizontally integrated business (called keiretsu in Japan) that allows it to be a producer of raw materials, a manufacturer and a retailer in many sectors. Mitsubishi is comprised of seven groups: Information Systems & Services, Fuels, Metals, Machinery, Foods, Chemicals, and Textiles & General Merchandise. Solar salt manufacturer Exportadora de Sal (ESSA) is part of the Chemical group, along with U.S.-based Aristech Chemical Corporation and methanol manufacturer METOR. [32]

4.2. The existing economy

The 28th parallel divides the 28,369-square-mile state of Baja California Sur ("BCS") from its northern neighbor Baja California ("BC"). BCS is bounded on the east by the Gulf of California and on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean. [33] The State Capitol is La Paz. The population of BCS is 317,764 (1990) with approximately 140,000 in the capitol city itself. [34] Rapid economic development in the United States - Mexico border region in the 1920's and 1930's led border-area municipal leaders to lobby for the division of Baja California, then one territorial unit, into Northern and Southern territories. Strong growth in the North continued in the ensuing decades, leading in 1952 to the declaration of Baja California as Mexico's 28th state. Meanwhile, the Territory of Southern Baja California saw little economic development in this period due to its extreme isolation from the rest of Mexico. [35] The desire to stimulate development in BCS provided the impetus for the construction of the Transpeninsular Highway (Mexico 1). The Highway was completed in 1973, linking Tijuana with Cabo San Lucas. Less than one year later, the population of Baja California Sur surpassed 80,000, and the territory became Mexico's 30th state. [36] Today, agriculture, fishing, mining and tourism are the main revenue-earners of Baja California Sur. U.S.$108,339,393.90 worth of mineral products were extracted in BCS in 1994. [37] ESSA's Guerrero Negro Salt operation accounted for over 60% of this figure. [38]

4.3. History of the Salt Industry in Baja California

Salt was first produced at Guerrero Negro in 1957 by a U.S. firm for export to the Northwest U.S. for use in paper production and industry applications. In that year, 50,000 tons were exported. Other similar solar salt evaporation facilities exist in San Francisco, San Diego, and in the Bahamas and Australia. Other sources of salt are usually from underground mines (e.g. in Texas and Louisiana). In 1960, Guerrero Negro started to export salt to Japan. It now supplies 50% of Japan's needs. Guerrero Negro also exports to the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and various countries in South America. [39]

4.4. A brief analysis of the World Salt Market.

World salt production was approximately 183 million tons in 1995. Worldwide, important uses of salt include: as a raw material in chemical production; in human and animal nutrition, including food processing; for roadway safety; and in water treatment. [40] At 43.3 million tons, the United States is the world's largest producer of salt. [41] Mexico is the world's seventh largest producer of salt, and the world's second largest salt exporter. Production has hovered around 7.5 million tons annually during the 1990's. [42] Most of Mexico's salt comes from ESSA's Guerrero Negro facility, the world's largest solar saltworks. ESSA salt is one of the purest in the world; because of this, a "...major part of all exports will always be consumed by the chemical industry, and only a fraction will be used as de-icing salt or for nutrition." [43] The salt produced at ESSA's proposed Laguna San Ignacio operation can be expected to be exported as well because of its purity and the lack of a strategic chemical application within Mexico. The estimated 7 million ton per year capacity of the San Ignacio saltworks translates into a 3-4% increase in the supply of salt on the world market. Such an increase would undoubtedly have a downward effect on the price of salt unless demand increases proportionately. On the other hand, while there appears to be little current need for the saltworks project, over the long term this may not be the case. It may be quite (economically) reasonable for Mitsubishi to seek to build the facility if it has inside information regarding the salt industry, or if it has calculated that there is a reasonable expectation for growth in the salt market.

4.5. Eco-tourism and Fisheries

While whale watching has been a popular tourist attraction in Laguna San Ignacio for many years, it has only recently become an organized industry. As a result of some training exercises, it is evolving into an instructional eco-tourism activity. Initially the industry was unregulated; then the government required tour guide/boat captains to obtain permits from Mexico City and to abide by well-developed whale watching regulations. However, for a long time there was no one on site to enforce or direct activities. The whales there are "friendly"; they will bring their young to the boats to be touched, an apparently learned behavior. In the past, individual boats would stay in the lagoon for 3 days. More recently land-based eco-tourism has developed. Locals have been trained in both language and biological information, and local boatmen and fishermen are making money from this.

The fisheries sector of the current economy appears to be sustainable, but at risk from overfishing by non-locals. Views expressed by local fishermen indicate no desire to change their lifestyle. The people in the area want to remain there, fishing, living and growing. [44]

5. Civil society

In general, there has only been a limited group of people in Mexico involved in opposing the San Ignacio saltworks project up until now. For the most part, Mexican environmental groups and the communities near Laguna San Ignacio are the groups that have and can continue to make a difference.

5.1. International Groups

Natural Resources Defense Council
International Fund for Animal Welfare
World Wildlife Fund
The School for Field Studies
RARE Center for Tropical Conservation

5.2. National Groups

Grupo de los Cien
Pro Natura

5.3. Baja Peninsula Groups

Pro Esteros
Pro Natura (Baja California Chapter)
Amigos de la Laguna
Kuyima Servicios Ecotur'sticos
The fishing cooperatives
Ejido Luis Echeverria Alvarez[45]
Grupo Sierra de la Laguna


1. Excerpt (citations omitted) from Serge Dedina communication dated April 4, 1996 regarding Laguna San Ignacio (copy on file with author).

2. Although they have yet to be documented for our review, the design changes described by ESSA are as follows:

3. The over 300 page document contained only 23 lines of information regarding the impact of the project on gray whales.

4. Instituto Nacional de Ecología, Environmental impact assessment rejection letter from Gabriel Quadri de la Torre to Juan Bremer Gonzalez. (27 February 1995) at pps. 3-6.

5. Mexico owns 51% of the shares of ESSA, and its Secretary of Commerce is the Chair of the ESSA Board of Directors. Thus, a potential for a conflict of interest was raised by one Secretariat, SEMARNAP, reviewing a project under the direction of another arguably more powerful Secretariat.

6. The socio-economic TORs (roughly translated and summarized) are as follows:

7. October 3, 1997 press release, "Environmental Study to Begin on Proposed San Ignacio Salt Project," copy on file with author.

8. Meeting with ESSA Technical Subdirector Joaquin J. Ardura (November 15, 1996). [hereinafter "Ardura Meeting"].

9. Ardura Meeting supra note 8.

10. Personal interview with Ray Gambell, Chair of the IWC (November 1997).

11. Man and the Biosphere.

12. Secretaria de Medio Ambiente, Recursos Naturales y Pesca, Sustainable Development Network www page: [hereinafter "SEMARNAP Sustainable Development Web Page"].

13. While speaking about Guerrero Negro, Juan Bremer, ESSA's General Manager, indicated the Mexican Government returns 33% of its profit to the region. ESSA has recently begun to give some funds and services to the community. However, apparently, Mitsubishi returns none of its after tax profits to the community. Personal conversation with Juan Bremer, July 1997.

14. For more information on the international standards for biosphere reserves, see Furze, Brian, Terry de Lacy, and Jim Birckhead, Culture, Conservation and Biodiversity: The Social Dimension of Linking Local Level Development and Conservation through Protected Areas John Wiley & Sons (1996), at pp. 207 - 17; Price and Humphrey (eds.) Application of the Biosphere Reserve Concept to Coastal Marine Areas UNESCO/IUCN (1993), at pp. 1 - 7; and UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, 1972.

15. Commission for Environmental Cooperation Project Brief (Undated).

16. North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, 32 I.L.M. 1480 (1993), at art. 13.

17. Id. at arts. 14-15.

18. Secretaría de Medio Ambiente, Recursos Naturales y Pesca (Secretary of the Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries).

19. SEMARNAP Sustainable Development Web Page supra note 12.

20. Secretaria de Medio Ambiente, Recursos Naturales y Pesca, Informa Los Resultados De Los Primeros Trabajos Realizados Por El Comite Cientifico Que Asesora Al Instituto Nacional De Ecologia, En Relacion Con El Proyecto "Salitrales De San Ignacio" (May 22, 1996) (press release, copy on file with author) [hereinafter "SEMARNAP Press Release"].

21. Advice which SEMARNAP has agreed in writing to follow.

22. See:

23. Instituto Nacional de Ecología (National Institute of Ecology).

24. Secretaria de Medio Ambiente, Recursos Naturales y Pesca, Programa de Areas Naturales Protegidas de Mexico 1995 - 2000 (1995), at 113.

25. Meeting with Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve Director Victor Sanchez (November 14, 1996) [hereinafter "Sanchez Meeting"].

26. Sanchez Meeting supra note 25.

27. Sanchez Meeting supra note 25.

28. Homero Aridjis, Gray Whales vs. Pesos: Which Should Prevail? L. A. Times, March 12, 1995, at M1.

29. The General Law of Ecological Equilibrium and Environmental Protection, 1988.

30. Serge Dedina and Emily Young, Conservation and Development in the Gray Whale Lagoons of Baja California Sur, Mexico (1995) (submitted to Marine Mammal Commission, Washington, D.C., copy on file with author), at 20 [hereinafter "Dedina and Young"].

31. Dedina and Young supra note 30, at 20.

32. This information in this section is from the Mitsubishi Corporation www page:

33. Instituto Nacional De Estadistica, Geografica e Informatica, Anuario Estadistico Del Estado De Baja California Sur: Edicion 1995, at 3.

34. Id., at 71.

35. Baja California (Lonely Planet Publications, 1994), at 45 [hereinafter "BAJA"].

36. Id., at 45.

37. All dollar figures in this section are based on the 1994 average exchange rate of 3.3 pesos per dollar.

38. Id., at 213, and Baja supra note 35, at 21.

39. Ardura Meeting supra note 8.

40. The Salt Institute Internet www page: [hereinafter "The Salt Institute"].

41. Dennis S. Kostick, Salt, United States Bureau Of Mines Minerals Yearbook (1996).

42. The Salt Institute supra note 40.

43. Ursula Ewald, The Mexican Salt Industry, 1560-1980 (1985) p.185.

44. Statements of Laura Martinez Ríos of Pro Esteros at the Environment Committee of the San Diego - Tijuana Region monthly meeting (June 7, 1996).

45. Presumably, this ejido was created as part of the redistribution of land following the 1917 Mexican Revolution. The nation's new constitution established Mexico's ejido system. The creation of this system was intended to achieve agrarian and land ownership reform to eliminate peonage and landlessness. Land expropriated from wealthy families was combined with national and church lands and was redistributed for use by the poor. Once granted an ejido, the recipients could not lose it as long as they were using it. Regardless of how, or how well they used it, it could not be taken from them by creditors of any kind. However, they were not given any property rights other than the right to use. Ejidos were not transferable. In 1992, as part of his unilateral preparations for NAFTA, President Salinas amended Article 27 and terminated the ejido redistribution program. The ejido lands can be owned by those who occupy them. More importantly, they can be sold or taken by creditors. However, because much of the Laguna area is in the "coastal zone", transfers of ownership to foreign buyers are severely limited. Under present law, even if there were a willing seller, Mitsubishi probably can not buy this land.

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