Hundreds of species found in contested Mexican gold mine project
Since 2007 the Sierra la Laguna Biosphere Reserve in Baja California has been waiting for an open pit gold mine called Los Cardones, owned by Desarrollos Zapal and Invecture Group. Its permit is now being questioned as scientists from Next Generation Sonoran Desert Researchers released a study in June which found 877 species, 29 of which are endangered.
The expedition ran from December 4 to 11, 2015. Within the 877 species there are 381 plants, 29 mammals, 77 birds, 366 insects and 25 reptiles and amphibians. Besides the 29 endangered species another 107 are endemic to the region, meaning they're found nowhere else in the world.
The team is questioning how the Environmental Impact Statement issued by the National Environment and National Resources Secretariat found only 220 species at the site and allowed the project to go forward.
Five kilometer square of the mine concession fall within the reserve buffer zone, which was created in 1994 and recognized by UNESCO in 2003.
In an interview with Mongabay, Ben Wilder, director of Next Generation said the mine permit process raises the question, "What does a natural protected area really means in Mexico right now?"
Besides the impact on biodiversity, the open pit gold mine presents threats to the local water supply of Sierra la Laguna and the community of Todos Santos and La Paz in the Baja California Peninsula. More so, the reserve is a groundwater charging area where water travels from its northern ridge to the Gulf of California and into the Pacific.
According to a local civil society group Medio Ambiente y Sociedad consuming or polluting this water would have significant effects in the Peninsula. Also, as Baja California has high levels of seismic activity, the mine's leaching pools pose another threat as hazardous chemicals like cyanide could be spilled.
Like Sierra la Laguna 10% of protected areas have mine concessions within their territories. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto awarded land concessions at an unprecedented rate, there are 2,542 mining titles within natural protected reserves covering over 2,7 million hectares.
Despite being rejected by state officials in 2013 because it was "environmentally unviable," the National Environment and National Resources Secretariat (SEMARNAT) determined in July 2014 the mine could go forward.
Final approval is still waiting for permits from several government agencies like the National Water Commission. Next Generation's results and Wilder himself questions the lack of scientific rigor to identify the true biological importance of the area.
Conservationists will continue to watch Los Cardones and see if scientific efforts can help citizens keep industrial expansion away protected areas.