Subject: Gray whale/Environment: Whale breeding gr (fwd)

Mike Williamson (pita@www1.wheelock.edu)
Fri, 23 May 1997 11:09:05 -0400 (EDT)

To: marmam@uvvm.uvic.ca, pita@whale.simmons.edu
Subject: Environment: Whale breeding gr

Environment: Whale breeding grounds in Mexico

  MEXICO CITY, (May 21) IPS - The environmental organization
Greenpeace has begun a campaign in northern Mexico to protect the
breeding grounds of the gray whale.
   The whales have mated for centuries in an area around San Ignacio
Lagoon, now the site of Japanese-financed project to recover salt.
   Greenpeace has mobilized a perpetual vigil in front of the
governmental palace in La Paz, the capitol city of Baja California
Sur. Last weekend, representatives from the organization, including
crewmembers of the Greenpeace ship "Rainbow Warrior," inflated a
huge rubber whale, 50 feet long and 15 feet high. It is draped with
a tarp which reads: "Stop the Salt Works at San Ignacio Lagoon. The
Area is a Nature Preserve."
   Greenpeace has denounced the salt works, a project co-financed by
Mitsubishi and the Mexican government, as reckless endangerment of
a protected natural resource, one of only three habitats where the
gray whale reproduces.
   Mitsubishi owns 49 percent of Salt Exporters, Inc., while the
Mexican government owns the controlling share. Mitsubishi manages
the project.
   Greenpeace has denounced "undue pressure" by the Japanese firm and
the Mexican government whose purpose is to railroad environmental
groups and other politically concerned constituencies so that they
will submit to the industrialization of 130 thousand acres of salt
flats located on the shore of the Lagoon.
   Monique Mitastein, director of Greenpeace, Mexico, says that "the
salt project does not comply with the specified goal of protecting
areas such as San Ignacio Lagoon, even though clear legislation has
existed since 1972."
   Mitastein points out that along with affecting the gray whale, the
salt project also endangers another waterborne mammal known as the
"barrendo" and a wide range of bird species. "Simultaneously, the
project will degrade a significant tourist attraction."
   Mexican authorities contend that with appropriate modification,
the salt project can comply with minimal requirements insuring
environmental integrity, and that the project has immense
advantages for economic development.
   Nevertheless, steps leading to final authorization of the project
have been suspended since Mexican authorities in charge of
environmental supervision have not yet issued key permits. The gray
whale embarks a migratory path which begins in the arctic and then
wends south to breeding grounds in the pristine waters along
Mexico's coast.
   Every year, whales return to three particular lagoons along the
western coast of Baja California Sur. In addition to San Ignacio
lagoon, breeding sites include Ojo de Liebre and Bahia Magdalena.
   Both Ojo de Liebre and San Ignacio have enjoyed legal protection
for the last 25 years. A series of legal decrees has declared these
areas nature preserves because of the role they play in the life
cycle of whales and aquatic birds, as well insuring the area's future as a
tourist resort.
   In 1988, the Vizcaino Biospheric Preserve was created to extend
legal protection to both Ojo de Liebre and San Ignacio. Mitsubishi
and the Mexican government intend to mine salt within the confines
of this preserve.
   The North American Wetlands Council has also declared the San
Ignacio lagoon a "first order wetland" and thus in need of special
protection.
   In July, 1994, Salt Exporters Inc., complied with a stipulation of
Mexican law by submitting an environmental impact study (EIS) which
quickly came under attack by many interest groups including those
in the environmental community. Although the impact study was
rejected by the Mexican government in 1995, Mitsubishi proceeded
to obtain so-called "reference terms" which allow it to re-submit
a new EIS.
   Since 1957, Salt Exporters Inc. has worked a mineral concession in
Ojo de Liebre lagoon which produces seven million tons of salts
each year. These salts are then exported for use in Japan's
chemical industry.
   Mexican salts are used to make chlorine, which, in turn, is a key
element in the production of plastics, insecticides and pulp and
paper bleaches. According to Mitastein, the San Ignacio Lagoon
project raises doubts concerning the Mexican government's
willingness to comply with international accords protecting the
gray whale, delicate wetlands and areas designated "human
patrimonies."
   Mitastein says, "The law is broken by industrial projects that do
not recognize legally prescribed limits for what is acceptable
within biospheric preserves."
   Mitastein adds: "These salt projects have nothing to do with the
people who live near these lagoons. And the industrial activity
that exploits them doesn't even make use of their labor. The only
effect these mining interests have on the local populace is to
limit the native population's access to natural resources while
eroding their overall quality of life."
   The Greenpeace director stresses that"it is absurd to destroy
mangrove swamps which are critical breeding grounds for many marine
species. These delicate ecosystems are essential to fisheries that
have tremendous ecologic and economic value. These shoreline areas
are utterly unique ecosystems."
   Hugo Galletti, a forester and environmental engineer, says that
the very fact the salt works are still being discussed -- even
though pending calamity is obvious -- reveals the Mexican
government's determination to go through with the deal.
   Galletti says, "The whole affair shows how difficult it is for the
Environment Ministry to act impartially when it confronts
well-financed commercial interests."