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The Battle for Punta Colorada

by on Wednesday 20th November, 2013   28086 Visits   Comments

The spot under threat is a world class wedge which produces cavernous pits and equally large launch sections. © 2014 Jaciel Santiago

Puerto Escondido is the beating heart of Mexican surfing, though Playa Zicatela is not its only world class wave. Extending north west of the town a wedging beachbreak known as Punta Colorada has consistently made cover shots and seduced wandering wave riders. Today this much loved stretch of sand is set to make way for a luxury marina and commercial centre, eating away at the natural capital which has enabled the region to thrive.

“The project has lacked any real planning from the early stages.” says Ralph Pace, from Scripps Institute of Oceanography. “The environmental impact statement was very weak and didn’t incorporate any real scientific data collection. There has been little to no community involvement. Back door agreement signings with a small percentage of stakeholders and a lack of interest in how the construction might be detrimental to many.

“The original proposal was a single marina at Punta Colorada that would require the dredging of a lagoon that is full of wildlife, remove part of a sea turtle nesting beach, ruin a fish nursery, a sea turtle nesting beach and remove the sand vital to create the bars needed for Colorada.”

Wave quality is not the only reason to defend this stretch of sand. © 2014 Ralph Pace

Early this year a fence was constructed along the back of the beach and has since been patrolled by armed guards. It seemed the heavy duty machinery would begin work forthwith, however, an extensive social media campaign and petition has successfully decelerated proceedings. 

“Puerto Escondido’s main tourist attraction is its waves,” says Humberto Olivera, coordinator of the local campaign against the development. “We know that it is necessary that there is a dock for fishermen, but it can be constructed in another location, one that doesn’t have such a severe impact to the ecosystem of the region. There are several possible places, such as Barranca Honda and La Barra de Navidad, etc.”

The campaign in opposition has consistently emphasised the inappropriate nature of the plan, asserting that it will result in a vacant white elephant development, an expensive consequence of deep-seated corruption.

It is clear that the location is unsuited to any type of large breakwater or jetty development or marina due to the large surf that breaks there and the presence of a large sandy beach. Rumors abound about the close political connections of the developers to local officials. Eduardo Najera, CostaSalvaje

“It is clear that the location is unsuited to any type of large breakwater or jetty development or marina due to the large surf that breaks there and the presence of a large sandy beach.” Says Eduardo Najera, director of the environmental group CostaSalvaje. “Rumors abound about the close political connections of the developers to local officials, and that it would be the Puerto Escondido municipal government that would ultimately finance the project. The state and municipal governments are in support.”

A pulled out view of one of the most idyllic spots in Oaxaca. © 2014 Ralph Pace

In addition to arguments deploring environmental destruction, many have pointed to the fiscal value of surf tourism. Once renowned surf locations such as Madeira, in the Mid Atlantic, and Pentacalo, in the Mexican state of Guerrero, have witnessed a massive depletion of visitor numbers following the destruction of waves.

The annual value associated with surfing Colorada is on nearly $13 million USD. I imagine Zicatella would be much higher than that. That is a very large amount of money to the local economy when you consider the average person is making below $20 a day.Ralph Pace, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Ralph Pace conducted a survey of visitors to Puerto, providing some quantitative backing to the hypothesis:  “Using an Individual Travel Cost Model, I was able to survey hundreds of visitors to Colorda and get a sense of what the wave is worth. These are bodyboarders that are exclusive of those surfing Zicatella. 80% said they would not come back to Puerto if Colorada was removed. The annual value associated with surfing Colorada is on nearly $13 million USD. I imagine Zicatella would be much higher than that. That is a very large amount of money to the local economy when you consider the average person is making below $20 a day.”

Opposition to third world development projects is inherently problematic. Where visitors see a pristine beach, locals might identify a source of income, or possible route out of poverty. However, the proposal at Colorada seems to be born more out of municipal greed than financial necessity.

To this point, the united voice in opposition has put proceedings on hold. If you want to add amplitude to that voice, sign the petition HERE.

"The beach is a well protected area that includes a sea turtle nesting beach (leather backs), a small coral reef, a mangrove lagoon that holds several bird species (migrant and resident) and of course excellent waves for surfing."  Eduardo Najera, CostaSalvaje. © 2014 Jaciel Santiago

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