From the archives
With 210 million dollars in public funds and a projected 1.7 billion dollars in private investment, Fonatur launched a project called the Escalera Nautica which would include the construction of 10 new marinas, dozens of hotels and more than 30 golf courses along the coastlines of the four states bordering the Sea of Cortes.
Several of the ports are located within or adjacent to protected areas: Loreto (Parque Nacional Bahia de Loreto); San Felipe (Alto Golfo Biosphere Reserve); Puerto Pe”asco (Alto Golfo Biosphere Reserve); Puerto San Carlos is adjacent to a gray whale calving grounds. The Bahia de los Angeles port would be developed in a fragile wetland and adjacent to the fragile Islas del Golfo Biosphere Reserve. Punta Abreojos is within the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve.
Critics have questioned the project on both environmental and economic grounds. According to Mexican environmentalist Homero Aridjis:
“Because it clashes with the conservation objectives of the Biosphere Reserve of the Gulf Islands (Islas del Golfo), the Loreto Bay National Park, the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve and the Upper Golf of California Biosphere Reserve, from an environmental point of view the project is totally incompatible with the Sustainable Development Program of the Sea of Cortes.
Fonatur calculated 52,000 owners of boats 16 feet or longer would visit the Sea of Cortes if the Nautical Route project was already completed – the region currently attracts 8,000 annually, according to Fonatur.
These numbers are pure fantasy, according to Richard Spindler, publisher of Northern California-based sailing magazine Latitude 38. “I think they’re misreading their market terribly,” said Spindler. “50,000 boats would empty every marina in the state of California. I would be stunned if there are more than 5,000 boats going to Mexico 10 years from now.”
“Fonatur is mired in a development model from the 1970s,” says Serge Dedina, director of Wildcoast, a conservation organization that works with local communities to establish protected areas in Baja California. “What people want in the U.S. is lower-end adventure and ecotourism.”