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Coastal communities living in Baja California Sur, Mexico, achieved a huge victory recently in blocking an offshore mining project — one of several proposed projects to dredge up minerals from the sea.

SEMARNAT, Mexico’s federal environmental authority, denied a license for the Don Diego offshore phosphate mining project proposed by Exploraciones Oceanicas, which is owned by US-based Odyssey Mining and Mexican mining giant MINOSA. The agency determined the project would be harmful to the area’s population of endangered loggerhead turtles because it would destroy the seabed-dwelling organisms on which the turtles feed.

This decision blocks an industrial project that would have been devastating to the coastal ecosystem of Ulloa Bay in Baja California Sur. In addition to being a critical habitat for loggerhead turtles, it is on the endangered grey whale’s annual migratory route from Alaska to Baja California Sur, where the whales give birth to their young. The Bay also supports a thriving fishing industry.

The project was estimated to extract, over 50 years, 350 million tons of phosphate sand from the seabed, in an area equivalent to 60% of Mexico City.

Local groups formed a broad coalition to oppose the Don Diego project. Our colleague Fernando Ochoa from Defensa Ambiental del Noroeste(DAN) told us:

“Whales, sea turtles, local fishermen and environmental groups celebrate the resolution from SEMARNAT that denies the EIA authorization for the seabed mining project “Don Diego”.  The impacts of such a project in such a pristine and rich environment would be dire and irreversible.   It was great to see so much participation from scientists, academics, local fishing cooperatives, experts and NGO’s within the EIA evaluation process as it provided SEMARNAT with sufficient information about the environmental impacts of the project.  Obviously, this participation had an influence in the decision-making process”.

Unfortunately, Mexico is not the only country where seabed mining projects are proposed — the South Pacific is a particular hotspot, with companies exploring for minerals off the coasts of countries such as Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

Even the World Bank, an institution not known for taking bold stances to protect the environment, recently released a report [PDF]  urging countries in this region to take a precautionary approach to this industry.

We echo this recommendation and call on countries to hit the pause button on deep sea or offshore mining until its long-term impacts are studied further.

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