Gray whale conservation in Mexico

The Honorable Julia Carabias Lillo
Secretaria De Medio Ambiente Recursos
Naturales Y Pesca
Periferico Sur No. 4209, 5 Piso
14210 Mexico, D.F.

Dear Secretary Carabias:

The Society for Marine Mammalogy is an international scientific organization whose membership conduct research on marine mammalsaround the world. The Society currently includes approximately 1,400 marine science professionals and students living and working in North, Central, and South America, Europe, the South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Asia, and elsewhere.

The Committee of Scientific Advisors to the Board of Governors of the Society acknowledges the concern for the continued health of the Eastern North Pacific gray whale population posed by the proposed Eportadora De Sal evaporative salt manufacturing facility at Laguna San Ignacio. The facility would be located adjacent to an important lagoon breeding habitat for these whales. This unique wildlife area is also utilized by scores of species of marine birds, and it supports economically important populations of fish, and shellfish. In recent years the Laguna San Ignacio area is the center of a growing eco-tourism industry that promises to bring prosperity to the local community.

As you are aware, the recovery of the Easern North Pacific population of gray whale from endangered status was the result of international protection since 1936, and particularly the decision by Mexico to provide protection to this species’ breeding and calving lagoons along the west coast of Baja California. Scientific evidence indicates that these lagoons are preferred habitats for gray whales, and that a large portion of the population gives birth to their young and breed each winter in these lagoons and adjacent coastal areas. In recognition of the importance of these areas, in the 1970’s Mexico established by Presidential decree gray whale refuges in the lagoons of Guerrero Negro, Ojo De Liebre, and San Ignacio. In addition, all three of these areas are located within the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve that was established in 1988 and is also a World Heritage Site.

The conservation of marine species, their habitats and ecosystems need not impede economic development or prosperity. However, neither should development activities disadvantage marine species and their habitats. Scientific advice, based on biological, social, and economic considerations, should be an integral part of the planning and development process. This advice must identify critical uncertainties as well as established facts, and inform managers, developers, and the public of the potential consequences of alternatives before development begins. In addition, it is essential that research and monitoring programs precede and accompany development to allow detection and analysis of any changes in the affected species status or their habitats may result from the development. In this way, potentially detrimental actions may be identified and avoided before problems develop.

For these reasons, the Board of Governors of the Society for Marine Mammalogy supports the decision of the Secretaria De Medio Ambiente Recursos Naturales Y Pesca (SEMARNAP) to incorporate the expert advice of recognized international scientists in your evaluation of the proposed Eportadora De Sal project, and to seek the views and opinions of the residents of Baja California that would be most affected by the proposed development. Incorporation of this information into the decision making process is fundamental to developing an informed decision on an issue as important as the proposed salt manufacturing project.

The Society for Marine Mammalogy has in its membership many internationally recognized scientists with expertise on marine mammals, complex marine environments, and the conservation of marine species. We would be pleased to provide SEMARNAP with the names of scientific experts who would be able to provide information about marine mammals and marine environments in areas relevant to your specific conservation concerns.

Sincerely yours,

Jeanette A. Thomas, Ph.D.