Subject: Case Study - Whales stall proposed Mexico salt mine (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Wed, 22 Apr 1998 08:47:32 -0400 (EDT)

          "Mother, Mother Ocean, I have heard your call,
   Wanted to sail upon your waters, since I was three feet tall"
                        Jimmy Buffett

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 20 Apr 1998 07:28:39 -0400
From: Dagmar Fertl <>
Reply-To: Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion
Subject: newsclip - Whales stall proposed Mexico salt mine

     Whales stall proposed Mexico salt mine

     April 17, 1998

     By Environmental News Network staff

     (ENN) -- Scientific institutions from Mexico and the United
     States are conducting an environmental impact study to
     see if a proposed salt mine in Baja California would disrupt one of
     the last gray whale breeding habitats in the world.

     The Mexican government and Mitsubishi Corp. would like to
     construct a salt mine in the San Ignacio Lagoon. Environmental
     organizations are opposed to the project because they fear the
     mine would disrupt the ecological balance of the region, which
     includes historic mating and birthing grounds for gray whales.

     In response to growing concern about the potential impacts of the
     salt mine, Mexico and Mitsubishi have agreed to halt development
     of the project until the completion of an environmental impact

     After the study concludes in the summer of 1999, a panel of
     prominent scientists will review the results and make their

     According to Joaquin Ardura, technical vice president of
     Exportadora de Sal, S.A. (ESSA), "If the environmental authorities
     say no to the project, we will not continue with it. We will give
     respect to the decision, to the final decision from the authorities."

     Although the gray whale was removed from the U.S. endangered
     species list two years ago and populations are said to be thriving
     worldwide, localized pollution along their 12,000-mile migration
     route and human overfishing continues to reduce the quality of its
     habitat, said Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the late Jacques

     "Here, California gray whales enjoy a safe refuge for mating and
     giving birth," Cousteau said. "The proposed project threatens to
     disrupt the delicate ecological balance among the mangroves,
     birds, whales and other species in the lagoon."

     In 1954, the San Ignacio Lagoon was declared a sanctuary by the
     Mexican government. In 1988, the area surrounding the lagoon
     was set aside as the El Vizcaino Desert Biosphere Reserve. The
     area, of which the lagoon is a part, is a World Heritage Site.

     Cousteau, upon return from a recent visit and study of the lagoon,
     said that the proposed project is "incompatible with the goal of
     preserving wildlife in and around the Sebastian Viscayno
     Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site, of which San Ignacio
     is an important part."

     However, ESSA has said that the project is unlikely to harm this
     ecosystem, and will in fact draw new wildlife to the area through
     the creation of wetlands.

     From ESSA's perspective, San Ignacio is an ideal location for the
     what it considers to be "a model sustainable development project
     that takes renewable resources -- sea water, wind and energy
     from the sun -- to create a mineral vital to human life and in high
     demand around the world."

     The proposed mine includes more than 116 square miles of
     evaporation ponds, pumps and processing works, a pier and
     improvements to the nearby town of Abreojos, which would
     supply the workforce of 200 needed to operate the facility.

     Even though Joel Reynolds, senior attorney and director of the
     Marine Mammal Protection Project for the Natural Resources
     Defense Council, doesn't believe that there is a current international
     need for a new salt mine, he said that "if economic development is
     the issue, there are many other locations where Mitsubishi may
     build their facility."

     Reynolds said that the elements needed for a salt mine include lots
     of sun and salt flats, elements that can be found all over the world
     in places like Australia, France and, of course, Mexico.

     However, ESSA says there are few places in the world suitable
     for salt production, and the conditions needed to produce
     salt by solar evaporation are extremely rare.

     To produce salt, ESSA says they need: vast, barren salt flats or
     desert plains to accommodate shallow ponds impermeable soils to hold
     water so it can evaporate high temperatures and windy conditions to
     speed evaporation safe access for ships a natural salt-water source

     Reynolds believes that ESSA has decided to locate the facility at
     San Ignacio because it has a plant 150 kilometers north of San
     Ignacio in the town of Guerrero Negro, which would make it
     cheaper than operating a mine at a more distant site.

     "If we have learned anything in the last century," Cousteau said, "it
     is that many development activities have long-term environmental
     impacts far beyond the ability of humans to foresee, or to limit."

     "The issue is much bigger than whales," he said. "My concern is
     that with the proposed workforce will come a population increase
     that will disrupt the delicate ecological balance of the area. There
     is potential for huge human impact on populations of fish, birds,
     geese and marine species as well as on the Mangrove forest on
     which so many species depend."

     "I have come to the conclusion that major developments such as
     that planned for San Ignacio Lagoon are fundamentally
     incompatible with protecting wild places and species," Cousteau
     said. "It is time to err on the side of prudence, and not at the
     expense of the future."

     ESSA says their experience in the similar facility in Guerrero
     Negro does not indicate any reduction in the fishing industry and it
     appears that the only change in tourism has been positive, based in
     part on improvements in the basic travel infrastructure and
     available services.