I recently wrote about the “promise and peril” of tourism in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, so I was further dismayed to hear that the San Cristobal Nature Preserve, the remaining turtle nesting site there, was in danger of being bulldozed. ResponsibleTravel.com reported that:
Since July last year the preserve has been under threat from a Sinaloa-based company hoping to develop on approximately 750 acres of the precious land. The company, with the help of corrupt government officials, was able to successfully register falsified land deeds in order to claim the land and have since been attempting to clear it for development.
René Pinal, owner of the preserve and founder of the non-profit organization ASUPMATOMA (Association for the Environment and the Marine Turtle in Southern Baja) is battling with the company to prevent them from bulldozing and building on his property that consists of more than three miles of the pristine shoreline.
So I gave Pinal a call to get the full scoop. Pinal has been a developer in the area for two decades, so he’s witnessed much of the rapid growth that I noted in my piece. But he has chosen to pursue low density buildings, use solar energy sources, and install biodegradable septic systems on this properties. He also has become a passionate conservationist in the area—leaving over 2,000 acres of his land undeveloped in order to protect wildlife and preserve the nesting habitats of several breeds of sea turtles. He created ASUPMATOMA more than 18 years ago, and maintains a series of three reserves on his property on the Pacific side of the peninsula, north of Cabo. That is, he says, until a developer used false documents to lay claim to his land. Mexican authorities signed off on the falsified papers, he claims, and he’s now fighting corrupt practices to regain his land.
“Mexico doesn’t offer very good security of private property,” Pinal said. “These particular men created false documentation, and with the help of the authorities have taken 40 percent of the ranch. Turtle season is about to begin in July, and we don’t have access to one of our [hatching] camps.” These camps typically enable several volunteers and biologists to patrol the beaches at night and transport turtle eggs to a fenced-in pen, which ensures that they can hatch safely beyond the reach of poachers. Pinal says they protect more than 50,000 eggs each year, but he’s worried that without support from local visitors
donations, he may only be able to keep one camp open. And right now, Pinal, concerned for his own safety, has left Cabo to fight his battles with the regional government.
ASUPMATOMA runs educational programs at the preserve, including a popular adopt-and-release program at its turtle nursery. The preserve also offers hiking, camping, snorkeling, and scuba diving (you can learn more about all of their activities and tours at BajaBeyond).
Nearly 2,000 children participate in the sea turtle rescue efforts and ASUPMATOMA’s Environmental Education Program, Pinal said in a statement. “If that were to stop, not only do the turtles lose, but so do we, as well as future generations. With the development of the coastline and beach traffic, the turtles have nowhere to nest.”
The disregard for the turtles is part of a much larger problem, he argues. “They’re destroying Baja—there’s no conscience there,” Pinal told me. “The land in the area has become so valuable that people are selling their souls.”
- Nat Geo Expeditions