NRDC Celebrates Tenth Anniversary of Major Victory in Laguna San Ignacio

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Jessica Lass at 310-434-2300 (main), jlass@nrdc.org

NRDC Celebrates Tenth Anniversary of Major Victory in Laguna San Ignacio

Last Pristine Breeding Site for Gray Whales Remains Protected Today

LOS ANGELES - This week marks the tenth anniversary of a monumental victory
mobilizing millions of people to protect Laguna San Ignacio - the last
undisturbed breeding place for the Pacific gray whale - located on the
west coast of Mexico's Baja California Sur. Caving to public pressure
spearheaded by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the
Mexican government abandoned plans for a massive 116-square mile
industrial salt plant proposed near the lagoon on March 2, 2000. The
salt project was a joint venture with Mitsubishi Corporation of Japan.

"This
remains one of the most significant environmental decisions of our
generation - not just for Mexico, but for the world," says Joel
Reynolds, NRDC senior attorney. "The San Ignacio Lagoon is a World
Heritage site, a Mexican ‘biosphere reserve,' a whale sanctuary and a
migratory bird refuge. We brought the full force of world opinion and
consumer power to bear on Mitsubishi and Mexico to save the gray whale
nursery. It would have been the worst place on the planet for
industrial development."

The decision was a victory of
historic proportions for the NRDC-led coalition of environmentalists,
fishermen, scientists and consumers - as well as the threatened gray
whales and other marine species who call the lagoon home. More than a
million people sent petitions, letters and emails to Mitsubishi and
Mexico demanding that they give up their plans to industrialize Laguna
San Ignacio. Still others made their wishes known by refusing to buy
Mitsubishi products and telling the company why.

"Were
are not only celebrating the defeat of the plans for a massive
saltworks at Laguna San Ignacio, but also a decade of efforts to
provide permanent protection for this true biological gem," adds NRDC
Senior Attorney Jacob Scherr. We have made great progress working with
local communities and our environmental partners to block a revival of
the saltworks scheme and to assure a sustainable future for the people
living there."

Following the victory over Mitsubishi,
NRDC provided support and encouragement for a number of projects to
provide local communities with sustainable economic alternatives,
including assisting to expand and improve the school near the lagoon.
Five years ago, we helped to launch the Laguna San Ignacio Conservation
Alliance. With strong support from NRDC members and other donors, the
Alliance purchased conservation easements on more than 125,000 acres of
land around the lagoon and increased protections on another 100,000
acres.

Laguna San Ignacio, one of the best
wildlife-viewing areas on the planet, is the last pristine breeding
ground of the Pacific gray whale. Each year, hundreds of gray whales
swim thousands of miles southward from the Arctic to mate, give birth
and nurse their young in the warm waters of this vibrant lagoon.

The Saltworks Project

Had
the saltworks project progressed, the lagoon would have faced
clattering diesel engines pumping 6,000 gallons of sea water out of the
lagoon each second, sending it into 116-square miles of evaporation
ponds diked and dug out of the surrounding terrain by fleets of
bulldozers. A mile-long concrete pier cutting right across the whale's
migratory path would have transported the finished salt to an offshore
loading area to more than 120 salt tankers a year. Every three months a
giant diesel tanker would pump its fuel onshore, increasing the risks
of oil spills and other accidents.

The Coalition to Save Laguna San Ignacio

NRDC's
work to preserve Laguna San Ignacio dates back to 1996, when an
international campaign was launched to stop Mitsubishi and the Mexican
government from building a massive industrial saltworks on the banks of
the lagoon. NRDC and its local partner organizations brought world
opinion and consumer power to bear, and in 2000, Mexico and Mitsubishi
agreed to abandon the destructive plan. The success of this
citizen-propelled effort inspired the creation of NRDC's BioGems
Initiative, which works to defend the most endangered wild places in
the Americas.

In 1994, Mitsubishi submitted its first
application to the Mexican Environment Ministry to build the salt
plant. It was rejected by the Environment Ministry as "incompatible
with the conservation objectives" of the El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve,
which was created by the Mexican government in 1988 as the largest
protected natural area in Latin America. In 1994, the reserve was
declared a United Nations World Heritage Site. The $100-million
facility would have been the largest salt plant in the world, covering
62,000 acres of the reserve - about three times the size of the
District of Columbia.

The Coalition to Save Laguna San
Ignacio, comprising 50 environmental groups in Mexico and the United
States, worked for five years to stop the project. In 1999, the
coalition's efforts were bolstered by the endorsement of 34
world-renowned scientists, including nine Nobel Laureates, who urged
Mitsubishi to abandon its plan and concluded that the salt plant would
pose "an unacceptable risk" to wildlife and the environment.

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The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.

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