Mazatlán: “The Perfect Storm of Environmental Degradation”

Panelists

The prognostic today from an incredibly prestigious panel of Mexican biologists gathered in the Art Museum to celebrate Son Playas’ third anniversary: Mazatlán is in a “via crucis” or “perfect storm” regarding its natural environment. Beaches here will continue to erode and disappear due to over-building, damming of rivers, relocation of sand, destruction of mangroves and internationally rising tides. Already beaches are impassable in various places. There are obvious irregularities to federal laws, as well as even state and local ones. These experts say that Mazatlán seems to be following the same environmentally and economically destructive path as Acapulco, rather than learning from it. If this path continues, tourism will be greatly curtailed, as there will be no more gorgeous and seemingly endless beaches. While the 100+ towers under construction in the city are hoped to benefit the local economy, the unplanned-for growth and lack of coordination between the three levels of government (federal, state, and local) is causing a trajectory toward the opposite.

Panelists

This article will focus on the main points and learning gained from the panel today, but first allow me to congratulate Raquel Zapien and her team at Son Playas on their third anniversary. Son Playas is one of a very few journalistic outlets in Mexico dedicated to environmentalism, and Mazatlán is blessed to have this resource. Their reporting has served a hugely needed role in our community. Today, Saturday 28 May, was also a blessing, as their anniversary brought together this prestigious panel, a capacity audience, all-day cultural programs, as well as an exhibition of thirty sustainability and environmental organizations—governmental, private and non-profit—all in one place. What a huge gift to be able to learn about so many different organizations and opportunities all in one place!

If, like me, you get frustrated by the fact that local “federally protected environmental areas” are so frequently developed and cemented over, you may find some of the main points below interesting.

Points Made by the Panel:

  1. A lack of coordination between the three levels of government—federal, state and local—is a huge contributing factor to environmental degradation in Mexico.
  2. Even though the city likes to say, “the municipality has no power; that was a federal (or state) decision,” per law municipalities have control over the “suelo” or “ground.” Municipalities pass zoning and usage laws and can prosecute irregularities, thus curtailing federal or state permits. We need to remember that municipalities benefit financially from the use of beaches.
  3. There has not been a census of the beaches in Mexico, so there is no official count of how many there are.
  4. There are few if any systems of control and vigilance for environmental laws, and no incentivization to comply.
  5. I have always been told that as non-citizens we should not participate in political activities, protests, or voice our concerns over development. Today we were told that as foreigners we may not be (or maybe you are) legal citizens (tener ciudadanía), but we are residents (ciudadanos). Those of us who own property are also property owners. Thus, there are two reasons why we are legally able to voice our concerns, particularly about events which affect our lifestyles as residents or our property values as owners.
  6. The federally mandated right of all Mexicans to have free and open access to beaches provides excellent leverage to those seeking environmental sustainability, as does protection of endangered species.
  7. Every resident in Mexico has the right to transparency on the part of the government. Yes, this made most in the room chuckle. But we were assured that this is the law. We were told that federal projects are on the federal transparency site, as are many of the projects in Mazatlán as well. If we go to city hall or the municipal archives and ask for building permits, etc., we are entitled to see them. Sheila Arias stood up from the audience to tell us she would help anyone who needs public information.
  8. Sinaloa does have earthquakes, and the building of such tall towers on the beach is a disaster waiting to happen.
  9. 40% of the species fished in Sinaloa are in danger of extinction.
  10. Municipalities can pass and enforce laws to keep our beaches clean. Some cities prohibit the introduction of cans and single-use plastics to the beach, others require that beach visitors return with everything they brought to the beach. Cities have power.
  11. “Natural disasters” are not natural but man-made, caused by us building where we shouldn’t, taking what we shouldn’t, destroying and degrading the protections nature offers.
  12. The key to environmental sustainability is in the people, the residents of a location. We need to use our voices to make our desires heard, to ensure that government acts on our behalf. We need to plan to prevent disasters.
  13. Any new building project requires a public hearing, input from the public. We should all be making sure these happen, that our voices are heard.
  14. Corruption everywhere is rampant. One of the best remedies is the court system: suing those projects that are built “irregularly.” We were assured there are lawyers who help with this pro-bono.

Regular readers of this blog know that I am very concerned about the “irregular” building in the Delfin area of our city: apartment buildings and homes right on the beach with no setback, and private piers appearing in the Escopama Estuary. During the Q&A period I asked the panel about this, specifically what we private citizens and residents could do. Below is the recording of that answer.

Expert’s answers to my questions about development in Estero de la Escopama

Summary of the experts’ responses to my question about building on federal lands in Delfín and Estero de la Escopama:

Dr. Abril Montijo, CIAD:
It’s a lack of political will, but there are mechanisms for citizen participation, including protests. She just heard about two upcoming opportunities. IMPLAN and the municipal government will hold two events in June. One will be a workshop to help people understand the diagnostics conducted, and the other will be an open meeting. We all need to attend and make our voices heard. Our government is combatting corruption, but there are so many realities that make us doubt that. We probably can’t destroy towers already built but we can prevent more from starting. Please attend the meetings and speak up.

Dr. Omar Cervantes, President Pro Playas:
In theory the towers must have a permit, and those are public information. That is the place to start: verify who did it, did they have permission. It’s called “Uso del suelo.” Could be that they are not following what they were approved for. Someone would need to denounce them. Other places people have filled in the ocean and the waterways; that’s illegal.

Dr. Esteban García Peña, President Oceana México:
How did they give those permissions? SEMARNAT and the Secretary of Federal Maritime Zones and the municipal government, all three must give permission. El Químico is an open person; talk to him to verify if the buildings have these permissions. What is happening with environmental planning in our country? We have laws that regulate development, especially in federal zones, but the sticking point has been an abuse of the words “por excepción”…  The law agreed to only give permissions to those who are going to respect the environment. But nowadays, politicians give so many “by exception” permits. They will agree to have a developer plant a few trees on the street as compensation for destroying a wetland. He is sure those buildings in Delfín were built under this laxity. These out-of-control towers create wind tunnels, impede the flight of birds, impede access to the beach by the people, and erode the beaches.

Omar:

The politicians follow through on what pleases them. The exception, as Esteban said, is the chain around our necks. Meet the Químico and talk to him. They are political points.

About Dianne Hofner Saphiere

There are loads of talented people in this gorgeous world of ours. We all have a unique contribution to make, and if we collaborate, I am confident we have all the pieces we need to solve any problem we face. I have been an intercultural organizational effectiveness consultant since 1979, working primarily with for-profit multinational corporations. I lived and worked in Japan in the late 70s through the 80s, and currently live in and work from México, where with a wonderful partner we've raised a bicultural, global-minded son. I have worked with organizations and people from over 100 nations in my career. What's your story?

7 thoughts on “Mazatlán: “The Perfect Storm of Environmental Degradation”

      • Sigh. Thanks Dianne for an excellent post and all your hard work!
        It is terribly sad to see the environmental degradation, I wish there was more
        we could do. Pave paradise, put up a condo tower, to paraphrase Joni Mitchell.
        I see no end to it until all rivers, streams, lagoons and estuaries in MZT are destroyed.
        I can’t bear to be witness to that.

  1. Thank you for the excellent article Dianne, the greed factor seems to be prevailing in Mazatlan. No one seems to be able to see the future damage it will cause.

  2. Thank you so much for your report! It is heartbreaking to watch what is going on. It is also so sad that you might be thinking of relocating – along with quite a few others. It feels like the forces of greed are so much stronger than the power of people. Of course, this is a defeatist attitude… The first step is to gain information and this meeting and your report offer a good first step towards knowledge. Gracias!

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