Activists Fight to Save Cancun’s Mangrove Forests
Tiny green sprouts push past the rubble weeks after bulldozers razed a mangrove forest that lined the Mexican coast in Cancun. A recovery was beginning as birds and reptiles slowly repopulated the area, but the fight wasn’t over to save the Tajamar Mangrove from becoming offices buildings, apartments or stores in the resort town.
Hundreds of citizens and activists worked for years to protect the thriving mangrove forest, but in the predawn hours of January 16 2016 developers destroyed about 110 acres for the new development– Malecón Tajamar. Immediately the loss was felt by the community. A federal judge halted construction after developers failed to follow the law that required the relocation of all endangered species. Activists with the Salvemos Manglar Tajamar stand guard, preventing developers from pouring concrete and continuing their work.
“The project is stopped for now and that keeps us tranquil but we are still vigilant,” said Cristina Sardaneta, an activist for the group Salvemos Manglar Tajamar.
In the last couple of decades over 35 percent of mangroves have been lost in Mexico due to logging, coastal development and climate change. “The loss of mangroves is not and should never be trivial,” Greenpeace wrote in a statement after the demolition.
The Mexican National Commission for the Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO) estimates mangroves contribute significantly to the fishing industry and offer the coast protection from flooding–the areas that have lost their natural barrier experience more frequent flooding. Mangroves are also crucial for protecting the city from hurricanes, blocking a majority of the heavy winds. They also help cool the city and absorb huge quantities of carbon.
Forty years ago Cancun was a wild jungle filled with exotic fruit trees, shrubs, trees, medicinal plants, orchids and other types of flowers. Today few green spaces exist in the city, the mangrove forest was a popular area for locals to enjoy a ride bike, run or walk with their families.
The development project was stopped once before in November of 2015, after a group of a 113 youth filed a Federal Trial for the Protection of Constitutional Rights in a district court. They group demanded “their right to a healthy environment to be respected, specifically demanding for the cutting and clearing of the mangrove in the development of the project known as Malecón Tajamar to stop,” the group Salvemos Manglar Tajamar wrote in a press release.
In a historic ruling the judge granted a definitive suspension, but the joy was short lived. The youngsters were ordered to reimburse investors and developers 21 million pesos, approximately $1.1 million. This case along with another filed by a group of adults remains in court after groups filed objections to the decisions.
A law passed by the Mexican government in 2007 banned all mangrove destruction, but Malecón Tajamar project lots were sold before the law took hold. However Cristina said Salvemos Manglar Tajamar were able to file complaints and lawsuits after developers failed to relocate animals before construction. “When they devastated the area, crocodiles and other animals were there. So the law says that if you do not comply with even only one of the conditions that permit must be cancelled,” said Cristina. “So authorities can cancel the project, but there is so much money invested and they handled it so poorly that they would need to give back millions of dollars.”
Now that work has halted the next challenge is to ensure construction does not start, giving the area a chance to regrow. Greenpeace condemn the destruction but believes the mangroves and natural habitat could reestablish itself if it’s left untouched and development stops. But mangrove reforestation can take up to 10 years.
A recent gubernatorial election brought a change of power to Quintana Roo, the state that contains the city of Cancun, has activists worried. One commentator noted this doesn’t bode well for the mangroves, because the amount of money put into the election by “interested parties” will require some serious payback.
The movement started as an audio note on the social media platform WhatsApp, the Salvemos Manglar Tajamar message continues to spread, traveling across the globe via Facebook with activists from as far away as Mongolia posting images with signs declaring their support for the movement. No final resolution decision has been decided but the courts and the group continues to speak out on social media trying keep residents engaged.
“We are visiting schools to speak to children about the importance of mangroves and climate change,” said Sardaneta. “We are organizing events every one or two months in Tajamar so that people go and participate with us.”