Improve Laws to Protect Corals in Latin America

by Asociacion Interamericana Para La Defensa Del Ambiente (AIDA)
Improve Laws to Protect Corals in Latin America
Improve Laws to Protect Corals in Latin America
Improve Laws to Protect Corals in Latin America
Improve Laws to Protect Corals in Latin America
Improve Laws to Protect Corals in Latin America
Improve Laws to Protect Corals in Latin America
Improve Laws to Protect Corals in Latin America
Improve Laws to Protect Corals in Latin America
Improve Laws to Protect Corals in Latin America
Improve Laws to Protect Corals in Latin America
Improve Laws to Protect Corals in Latin America
Improve Laws to Protect Corals in Latin America
Aerial of Cabo Pulmo | Siddartha Velazquez
Aerial of Cabo Pulmo | Siddartha Velazquez

Eight fingers of hard coral branch off from the coastline of Baja California Sur, stretching through the crystal blue waters at Cabo Pulmo. In the shelter of the Cabo Pulmo reef, marine life comes for refuge: electric fish color the waters; devil rays fly briefly through the air; migrating humpbacks feed on bountiful schools of fish; and leatherback sea turtles arrive to nest. 

Life on the ancient Cabo Pulmo reef has been this way for more than 20,000 years. Yet not too long ago, that life was being overfished from these waters.

A century ago, the shores of Cabo Pulmo were dotted with small wooden shacks—their wood gathered from nearby shipwrecks—and the town was not much more than a fishing camp. For generations, residents sustained themselves solely from the sea without understanding the limits of the ecosystem, and coastal marine life suffered the consequences.

But then, in the 1980s, descendants of the same families who had long fished these waters led the charge to save them. The small community learned of the reef’s importance. They saw the value in its biodiversity, lobbied intently to protect it, and met the challenge of learning new ways to live beside it.

In June 1995, the Mexican government declared the waters of Cabo Pulmo a National Marine Park—7,111 hectares of marine territory that would soon after become completely free of fishing and extraction.

In the 20 years since, the small marine park has made an unprecedented recovery. The biomass of sea life has increased by 460 percent, with species sometimes reaching numbers too high to count accurately. Scientists have called Cabo Pulmo “the most successful marine reserve in the world.”

But, despite its success and the lessons of its history, Cabo Pulmo is once again at risk—this time from development. Tourism developers have for many years been trying to build mega-resorts on Cabo Pulmo. Since 2007, AIDA has been helping to protect the reef alongside a coalition of organizations and community members.

When Mexico’s Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) approved an environmental permit for construction of a mega-resort named Cabo Cortéz, AIDA sprung to action. In 2011, we petitioned the Ramsar Convention Secretariat and UNESCO—organizations that protect natural sites of global significance—to visit Cabo Pulmo and recommend measures to protect it.

Together, they issued a report. They concluded that in issuing the permit for the resort’s construction, SEMARNAT had not considered the resort’s indirect and cumulative impacts on the environment. For example, SEMARNAT overlooked the fact that sediment from earth moving would bury the reef in mud, sewage and runoff from the completed resort would pollute the reef’s pristine water, and an entire city would need to be built to house the resort’s employees. In 2012, the government withdrew its approval and the project was cancelled.  

In this victory, AIDA won an important battle… but the war wages on. Developers continue proposing resorts for the area, including the massive Cabo Dorado. AIDA’s Marine team is monitoring this development closely, as well as other tourism and infrastructure developments that threaten the health and biodiversity of sensitive marine environments.

Through our work, we seek to empower communities—like the families in the small town of Cabo Pulmo—to protect the natural world around them from undue harm. Our recently published Guide to International Regulatory Best Practices for Coral Reef Protection gives communities like theirs—and their government representatives—insight into the laws and processes that can help them defend the reefs they love.  

The people of Cabo Pulmo reshaped their lives to ensure the reef’s health. They fought for protection, and were rewarded with bright, beautiful, bountiful underwater life. Developers who value profit above environmental integrity mustn’t be allowed to reverse their victory. 

Thank you for supporting our work to protect Cabo Pulmo and the sensitive marine ecosystems of the Americas. 

Panama Porkfish | Alejandro Olivera
Panama Porkfish | Alejandro Olivera
Whale Shark | Carlos Aguilera
Whale Shark | Carlos Aguilera
Green Turtle | Alejandro Olivera
Green Turtle | Alejandro Olivera
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On April 10th AIDA will put on a party for corals!  Our second annual dance party will raise funds for and increase awareness of our efforts to protect increasingly threatened coral reefs in Latin America.

At the event, AIDA will debut our newly-released guide - International Regulatory Best Practices for Coral Reef Protection. The guide will be distributed to government decision-makers throughout Latin America to provide them with examples of effective regulatory tools for protecting coral reefs.  Increasingly endangered by human activities and climate change, corals need our advocacy more than ever!

The "Best Practices" tools can be adapted to the circumstances of various jurisdictions in the Americas where reefs are at risk. It is a compilation of approaches that countries around the world have implemented to regulate human activities that harm coral reefs. 

Following two years of research and analysis, the guide presents basic legal and regulatory tools and practices that can be modified, improved, strengthened, and applied according to the national objectives and unique circumstances of countries seeking to implement stronger protections for coral reef resources. 

In addition to presenting the guide, the "Dance for Corals" on April 10th in Oakland, CA will feature:

  • Presentations by AIDA's attorneys on work to protect coral reef ecosystems
  • A screening of the Earthjustice video “Coral and Parrotfish: A Love Story”
  • Complimentary hors d’oeuvres and cash bar
  • Live music by Latin groove dance band Makru
  • Raffle door prizes

Tickets for the Dance are being sold online in advance for $20/person via AIDA's website -

If you're in the Bay Area, please join us!  Thank you for supporting this important work and helping us to protect these jewels of the sea!

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The corals and fish of Veracruz. Jose Luis Tello
The corals and fish of Veracruz. Jose Luis Tello

In the Gulf of Mexico, 27 coral reefs form a submerged mountain range that runs between six islands in an area stretching for miles. Hundreds of colorful fish species, sea urchins, starfish, and sea grasses share the reef with an abundance of other life forms. This is the magnificent Veracruz Reef, the largest coral ecosystem in the Gulf.

The Veracruz Reef System is one of Mexico’s National Protected Areas, and listed as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

Unfortunately, however, the reef and the creatures that depend on it are at risk. Development of the Port of Veracruz was proposed in 2013, and expansion was recently approved. The project will also harm the nearby Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve, a jewel of Mexico’s Emerald Coast, because developers will mine it for rock to use in port construction.

In response, AIDA and the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA), representing 13 organizations and individuals, sent a letter (in Spanish) to the international Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The letter requests that the Secretariat assess the harms that the expansion will cause and ask Mexico to stop the project because of the serious impact it will have on the diversity of life on the reef.

AIDA’s marine team also recently produced a report on the status of reefs throughout Mexico and proposals for their protection: The Protection of Coral Reefs in Mexico: Rescuing Biodiversity and its Benefits to Mankind (in Spanish). The report has been distributed to advocates and decision-makers in Mexico and internationally. Primary objectives of the report are to raise awareness of the threats to corals, and to advocate for adequate protections.

"We want to interest and inform people working in wetlands protection that there is a diverse array of legal tools at their disposal," said Sandra Moguel, an AIDA marine attorney. "In addition to describing our strategies to protect Mexico’s corals, we discuss the power of international treaties and commitments that nations must abide by."

AIDA selects emblematic cases like these of Mexico to illustrate environmental problems that recur throughout the hemisphere. By targeting such cases, we aim to set precedents for improved protection and management of natural resources throughout Latin America.

Your donation supports our work to provide advocates and decision-makers with the practical resources, recommendations, and tools needed to improve coral reef protection in the Americas.

Thank you for your support!

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Organization Information

Asociacion Interamericana Para La Defensa Del Ambiente (AIDA)

Location: San Francisco, CA - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @AIDAorg
Project Leader:
Haydee Rodriguez
San Jose , Costa Rica

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