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Barra de Potosí, Mexico: Development Endangers a Fragile Ecosystem and the Future of a Community

  • Ali Zerriffi
  • 22 June 2011

This article was first published by our friends at The International Ecotourism Society, who have agreed to its republication here.
 View the original article on their Your Travel Choice blog.

Barra de Potosí is a small coastal village at the mouth of a lagoon, part of a complex and interdependent system of lagoons, which runs along the coast of the Municipio de Petatlan. The lagoon network regulates the lives of both human and animal lives and has a balanced ecosystem that has kept its people gainfully employed and its environment protected.

Barra de Potosí beach. Photo courtesy of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES)

Barra de Potosí beach. Photo courtesy of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES)

A Mega-Development Threat

The people of Barra de Potosí are now confronted by a development project that they believe will destroy the existing ecosystem, in spite of Mexican laws protecting the environment and in contradiction with industry trends that seem to point toward interests in sustainability and ecotourism.

Fonatur, a branch of the Ministry of Tourism, and its subsidiary Fonatur Operadora SA de CV are planning a mega project in the area of Petatlan that includes Barra de Potosí. The proposed development would include construction of a cruise ship pier in the bay, as well as the expansion of an existing installation in the bay of Zihuatanejo. The official document published in the Gazetta Official refers to a concession in the bay of Potosí covering 1,500 hectares and an almost 8,000-square-meter pier. Indicating the intention to go ahead with these plans, developers a few miles south of Barra de Potosí have recently built a road that will block the natural flow of water from one of the rivers that feeds the lagoon.

Residents of Barra de Potosí and neighboring communities have tried to obtain detailed information about this development project, but have only received evasive answers. The people have stood up in protest, for example in Zihuatanejo and Petatlan, to convince civil servants as well as representatives of Fonatur and its subsidiaries that this project goes against all national environmental laws. It would also annihilate the unique biodiversity of this region in a just few years, while depriving the population of its traditional means of existence.

Local fisherman hard at work near the mangroves. Photo courtesy of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES)

Local fisherman hard at work near the mangroves. Photo courtesy of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES)

An Irreplaceable Ecosystem

The Potosí lagoon and those interconnected with it, together with long stretches of adjoining beaches, are home to over 200 species of birds, endangered butterflies, rare mammals and reptiles, nesting sea turtles, coral reefs, breeding whales and many species of threatened plants.

Preliminary studies by biologists from the Independent University Metropolitan (UAM) indicate that within the ecosystems of Barra de Potosí there are hundreds of species of flora and fauna, of which 46 are endangered or at risk according to the official Mexican regulation NOM-059. For example of the seven surviving species of sea turtles in the world, the leatherback, olive ridley and hawksbill all nest on the beaches of Barra. The Laguna de Potosí contains 450 hectares of mangrove swamps and three threatened species of manglar: botoncillo, black, red and white listed in NOM-059.

Other species threatened by extinction are the rare Tamandua anteater, the puma jaguarundi, the jaguar or Panthera onca, Mexican white tail deer, boa constrictor, iguana and American crocodile. Over two hundred species of birds – including 22 on the NOM-059 list – have been sighted by UAM scientists including roseate spoonbills, painted buntings, trogans, white and brown pelicans and woodstorks. The nearby islands of Los Moros are rookeries for brown boobies, tropicbirds and magnificent frigates, to name a few. The waters off the beach form part of the migration route for humpback whales, bottlenose and tropical dolphins, among other endangered species.

Over 200 species of birds have been sighted here in the pristine Potosí lagoon, and in the surrounding ecosystem. Photo courtesy of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES)

Over 200 species of birds have been sighted here in the pristine Potosí lagoon, and in the surrounding ecosystem. Photo courtesy of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES)

Barra de Potosí’s Youth: Ideas to Sustain the Community

Some of the local youth, well-educated sons and grandsons of fishermen have been working on developing an economic plan that would help preserve their way of life along with the precious natural environment. These future leaders of the community have been working on an ecotourism project alongside academics from various national universities. They believe very strongly that this project is not only an economically and environmentally sound venture, but also acts as a line of defense against predatory mega-tourism enterprises which often ally with short-sighted government agencies.

The youth’s efforts in this grassroots ecotourism project are strongly supported by the great majority of the population, which has seen the unfortunate results of devastating mega-tourism projects in Huatulco, Cancun, nearby Ixtapa and elsewhere in Mexico. A defense fund has been created and an environmental lawyer has been hired to help on the legal front, while an informational campaign has been launched with the aim of enlisting help from the general public as well as from international organizations.

A young protester at a public march. Photo courtesy of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES)

A young protester at a public march. Photo courtesy of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES)

How You Can Help

This fight against a huge government institution out of touch with its own public policies is proving to be a difficult one, and the people of Barra de Potosí can use all the help they can get. Consider offering your support of this community by participating in one of these easy ways:

1. Send an email to Mexican decisionmakers. See here for a sample template and instructions for how to address your letter.
2. Spread the word on Facebook. Join the Barra de Potosí “Causes” page.
3. Post a message of support on the Save Barra de Potosí guestbook page here.
4. Use your voice! Tell popular cruise lines that you don’t want them in Barra de Potosí, and let them know that Barra residents have international support. See more information here on how and where to send an email or letter to cruise lines.
5. Inform yourself and others about this important issue.
6. Spread the word! Share this link with your friends and colleagues!

Let the decisionmakers know that the small town of Barra de Potosí is not alone in its fight against over development, destruction of an irreplaceable ecosystem and disregard of an entire community.

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The International Ecotourism Society

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) is a non-profit association committed to promoting responsible tourism practices that benefit conservation and communities. Representing the voices of stakeholders from all corners of the world, TIES' global network supports and is supported by members from over 90 countries, who are leading the vital efforts to make travel and tourism more sustainable. Your Travel Choice Blog is an interactive platform supporting TIES' mission to engage, educate and inspire everyone to make travel choices that make a difference.
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animal conservation, ecotours, local knowledge, marine conservation, Mexico, North America, Northern America, opinion, responsible travel, responsible travel news,

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