Golf Projects May Leave Mexico Wildlife High and Dry

Eliza Barclay in Mexico City
for National Geographic News
August 24, 2007

Two planned tourism projects may leave a rare and richly diverse Mexican reserve high and dry, scientists say.

Jaguars, sea turtles, and other species in the Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve in northwestern Jalisco state may face a dire water shortage if developers move forward with their golf-oriented projects, warn researchers at Mexico's National Autonomous University (UNAM).

(See a map of Jalisco state.)

In fact, the work may irreversibly damage the area's rare tropical dry forest ecosystem, according to the experts. Unlike their rainy cousins, tropical dry forests have a sub-humid climate, limited water availability, and a dry season that lasts five to eight months.

"Every species in the reserve is sensitive to water availability, and if it becomes less accessible then the balance will be upset," said Alicia Castillo, a researcher with UNAM's Ecosystem Research Center.

"This is not a place where golf courses should go," added Castillo, who is also a member of a technical panel that analyzed the proposed development projects.

Teeming Wildlife

The 32,473-acre (13,141-hectare) Chamela-Cuixmala reserve, located between the cities of Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo, is exceptionally rich in wildlife.

Some 1,200 plant species, 427 vertebrate species, and more than 2,000 insect species reside at the site, part of UNESCO's World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

Even though the new tourism projects are planned outside the reserve's limits, use of local groundwater will affect all those plants and animals along with nearby wetlands, Castillo said.

(Related: "Wine Boom Threatens Native Argentine Water Source" [June 20, 2007].)

Scientists at the UNAM's Biology Institute in Mexico City noted in a recent study that the projects may cause the fragmentation of vegetation, the gradual loss of species, and the eventual disappearance of the egg-laying zones for sea turtles that are already at risk of extinction. (See a photo gallery of sea turtles.)

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