An Important Win for Fishing Communities and Marine Life in Baja California Sur, Mexico

The Ulloa Gulf off the coast of Baja California Sur is an ecological treasure: fisherfolk harvest more than 8,000 tons of seafood from the bay each year, including clams, squid, shrimp, snail, dogfish, crab, lobster, and oysters; and it’s home to five types of endangered sea turtles, a grey whale refuge, and a mangrove ecosystem rich with biodiversity and critical to coastal communities. It’s exactly the sort of place we mean when we say “some places are just too special to mine.”

Mexican environmental authorities agreed, rejecting the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the proposed Don Diego seabed phosphate mine in the Ulloa Gulf. This decision marks the second time the Mexican authority, SEMARNAT, has rejected the controversial project.

“SEMARNAT did the right thing,” said Fernando Ochoa, director of Defensa Ambiental del Noroeste, a Baja California Sur-based public interest law organization. “It was important to protect the gray whales, the sea turtles and the Gulf of Ulloa ecosystem. We congratulate the Mexican government because this decision sets a global example to reject seabed mining projects for the dreadful impacts they pose.”   

Earthworks joined Defensa Ambiental del Noroeste, the Puerto Chale Fishing Cooperative and six other Mexican and U.S. organizations to urge SEMARNAT to once again deny Odyssey’s faulty EIA for Don Diego. The proposed mining project overlaps with the Cooperative’s fishing concession, threatening commercially important species like lobster and shellfish.

“We are extremely happy that SEMARNAT decided to protect the livelihoods of the 200 families that form part of the Puerto Chale Fishing Cooperative, and an 100 additional families organized in other cooperatives who fish inside our concession,” said Florencio Aguilar Liera, President of the Puerto Chale Fishing Cooperative.

Three Strikes Against Don Diego–But It’s Not Over Yet

This decision marks Florida-based Odyssey Marine Explorations’ third failed attempt to move the project forward. Odyssey originally submitted and then withdrew the Environmental Impact Assessment in 2014, hoping for more favorable conditions with a change in government. The Assessment was eventually re-submitted and rejected by SEMARNAT in 2016, at which point the company appealed to the courts. In March 2018, a Mexican Federal Court ruled in their favor, ordering the environmental authorities to issue a new resolution for a project already deemed too dangerous to proceed.

It was fishy, no pun intended.

“In 15 years I had never seen a developer challenge a decision from SEMARNAT,” said Fernando Ochoa. “It is cheaper, easier, less time consuming, and obviously more ethical, to resubmit an improved version of the original environmental impact statement. Clearly, they were seeking to put pressure on the authorities and force a political decision rather than a technical and lawful one.”

Now, with two unfavorable rulings on the books and unwavering opposition from local communities, it remains to be seen if Odyssey will respect SEMARNAT’s ruling or again seek an another way to push the project forward.

“We are celebrating, but we are also ready for whatever comes next,” said Aguilar Liera. “I was sued by the backers of the Don Diego project who accused me of being anti-development. But I’ll always oppose these types of projects because they aren’t compatible with fisheries and they never will be.”

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