The Nightmare of James Goldsmith

“In the last one hundred years we have seen the worst disaster that the world has ever known. We have destroyed the environment, and today there is nothing more important than protecting the planet. We are going to live in a world where the only survivors will be those who adapt to the horrors we have created”. So prophesied in the last century and millenium Sir James Goldsmith; an astute businessman, successful financier, founder in his native England of the Referendum Party, chief responsible party for the creation of the Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve.

To carry out his visionary and generous project in 1988, Goldsmith established the Ecological Foundation of Cuixmala, for the purpose of protecting the ecosystems in the State of Jalisco together with their flora and fauna. The Reserve, which encompasses 13,142 hectares (328,550 acres), is located in one of the richest areas of bio-diversity in the world, and its mangroves, wetlands, and deciduous forests (which are disappearing from Mesa-America) shelter a prodigious variety of species, many of them endemic and in danger of extinction. Exactly for this reason, and in order to study this zone on Mexico ’s Pacific coast, Dr. Jose Sarukhan founded the Chamela Biology Station IBUNAM thirty years ago, and the research of national and international experts during three decades has confirmed the importance of the Chamel-Cuixmala Bioshere Reserve (RBCC). Not for naught is the Reserve included in UNESCO’s world wide network of Biosphere Reserves, and its complex of estuaries was designated as a Wetland of International Importance in the RAMSAR Convention, of which Mexico has been a signer since 1986.

Within the RBCC, 94 species of amphibians and reptiles have been listed. Of these, 58 are endemic to Mexico and among these, three are to be found only in the Chamela region – and nowhere else in the world. Two beaches in the region –Playa Cuixmala and Playa Teopason are hatching sites for marine turtles, and their protection is mandatory under the Inter-American Convention for the Protection of Marine Turtles, which Mexico is part of. Under this convention there are 271 species of birds, 36 of which are endemic to the region, and 72 species of forest mammals, of which 19 are endemic to our country. According to official Mexican regulations, the survival of one quarter (25%) of these species is at risk. This concerns cats such as the puma, jaguar, ocelot, margay; birds like the guayabero parrot, the yellow headed parrot, the aguila pescadora, the green macaw and the gaviotin; the long-tongued and white bats; the leatherback, olive ridley, black sea and carey turtles; the crocodile and the pecari; the red and white mangroves, and the hundreds of plant species that constitute a unique source of genetic material.

From the moment it was created, the Bio-sphere Reserve of Chamela-Cuixmala has been the object of pressures that threaten its integrity; such as agriculture and cattle ranching, new forms of communication, tourist projects and the increase in population. These efforts at depredation could be stopped for not complying with environmental regulations. However, in spite of objections from the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas, the green light was given to two new projects of exclusive tourism in areas next to the RBCC during the last days of the past government. Now “Marina Careyes”, over an area of 256 hectares (6,400 acres), intends to build a collection of hotels and villas for 1025 rooms, a marina for 161 yachts, access roads and a commercial zone. In “La Tambora”, 681 hectares (1,702 acres) will be transformed by the construction of a luxury hotel, 239 residential lots, a golf course, a spa, an events center, a clubhouse, and three beaches with the necessary access roads.

Carrying out these projects will means the disappearance of a half million trees, together with all the plants that grow in their branches, besides the immediate death or deprivation of habitat of the animals and birds that form part of the impacted ecosystems, besides the consequent erosion caused by the deforestation.

According to researchers from UNAM (Autonomous University of Mexico), the projects, “far from being low-impact, they will affect the buffer zone and the area itself”. They also see with alarm, “the extraction of water (more than 1.5 million cubic meters per year), a seasonal source now subject to exploitation”.

On the web site of the National Institute of Ecology devoted to the RBCC, the opinion of Dr. Gerardo Ceballos, one of the most eminent experts on biodiversity in Mexico is that: one of “the most urgent tasks for consolidating the Reserve is to protect the marine mammals in the area adjoining the Reserve”.

As he expressed it in his book The Trap (1995), for James Goldsmith the Earth should not be an object of exploitation, the victim of unbridled greed, but rather the object of a natural and cultural conservation motivated by a more permanent vision of life. After his death in July of 1997, following his wishes, his ashes were scattered in the Reserve he sponsored and loved. Doubtless it would have been a nightmare for him that the jewels of nature would be traded for tourist trinkets and that turtle eggs would be replaced by golf balls.

There is still time to cancel the permits and save this extraordinary natural heritage of Mexico included in UNESCO’s Global Network of Biosphere Reserves.