Established more than 300 years ago, the municipality of Loreto sits between the foothills of the Sierra La Giganta Mountains and the shores of the Loreto Bay National Marine Park in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur. This popular tourist destination possesses nearly 250 kilometers of coastline, 750 square kilometers of sea, and is dotted with 14 islands.
Created in 1996, the Loreto Bay National Marine Park, now recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers visitors the opportunity to participate in activities such as whale watching, snorkeling, and kayaking. The surrounding Sierra de la Giganta mountain range, the tallest and most spectacular on the Baja California Sur Peninsula, provides climbers and hikers with breathtaking panoramic views. The land is rich with unique plant and animal life and the Sea of Cortez teems with marine activity.
In the 1960s, Loreto was identified for ‘tourism development,’ a process that is now fully under way. Loretanos have taken an active role in planning development that will continue to transform Loreto into a sustainable and active outdoor destination. By expanding upon conservation efforts that are already in place, our intention at The Ocean Foundation (TOF) is to add an additional layer of protection for this outdoor haven, guaranteeing the necessary ecological equilibrium of the sea, islands, and coasts.
The Mexican government owns 8,000 acres in Loreto, of which 3,000 is being developed into a tourist resort. The remaining 5,000 acres have been informally set aside for conservation – containing the headwaters of the Primera Agua River, cardon forests, upland desert, and coastal habitat.
Given its popularity, unsustainable development on this land is a serious pending threat. Permanent federal protection would promote the success of Loreto by ensuring this biologically significant and scenic area is preserved for conservation and recreational purposes in perpetuity.
That is why, with the generous support of The Conservation Alliance, The Ocean Foundation is now working to establish formal protection of the 5,000 upland acres in an effort we are calling the Loreto Park Project. To date, TOF has created and circulated four versions of a petition to demonstrate grassroots support for the creation of a park: one to be signed by Mexican citizens; one to be signed by Loreto owners; one to be signed by Baja California Sur residents; and one to be signed by “others” who want to express they care about creating a park.
TOF conducted two site visits to hold workshops to bring together the community and to talk to local leaders, business owners, and non-profit staff about the best way to ensure that Loreto’s landmark ecological ordinance is implemented as intended. We already have gained support from a list of local stakeholders, and have a local consultant working on gathering additional support.
Without formal protection, much is at stake. Unsustainable development and irresponsible land use are all too real and present dangers to the ecological integrity and natural beauty of this land. Mining in particular is a looming threat as Loreto and its surroundings are mineral rich areas. Currently, 16.64% of Loreto’s surface area is under mining concessions, representing a more than 800% increase in concessions since 2010. Legal research indicates that a large mining company is working on establishing a copper mining operation nearby. Because mining operations often do not share the same long-term interests as the local community, their shortcuts in process and procedure can have rippling effects: Mining puts the water resources of Baja California Sur at risk, potentially impacting Loreto’s agriculture, livestock, tourism, and other economic activities.
Formal land protection would permanently thwart the threat of mining in this ecologically rich and environmentally sensitive area.
A window is closing to protect this outdoor enthusiast’s haven, but expeditious efforts to gather community support and secure a national park nomination can save this land. So far, our work is being met with success and we are excited for what the next year will bring!