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Puerto Penasco, Mexico:
natural beauty turned
environmental nightmare

by Karen Dale

Don't pick up the shells if they are
still being used by sea creatures!
Puerto Peñasco/Rocky Point is a beach town at the north end of the Sea of Cortez/Gulf of California that has, until now, been a hidden treasure for Mexican tourists. In the last decade, however, large-scale developers have “discovered” it and are now transforming it into a beachfront Mecca with hopes of attracting more American vacationers and retirees. Construction has taken off and now every possible scrap of land has or has plans for large-scale development. This sudden, explosive growth seems to be benefiting few and destroying another of our diminishing natural wonders.

Many of the issues affecting Rocky Point are factors common to almost all Mexican beach areas. Of primary concern is that Mexican businesses are not held legally liable for their actions, and ethics have no bearing when there is money to be made. This system certainly benefits builders and vendors, some of whom are actually Mexican. And for tourists who want to ride ATVs like a maniac, drink and party ‘til they puke, send eight year old children unattended on Jet Skis, or set off fireworks at all hours it’s pure heaven. But it's terrible for the environment and for anyone concerned about traveling with respect and reverence for nature.

The truth is that Mexico does not have the infrastructure to guide and manage this development so that the area grows in a thoughtful way. The part of the city where the hotels are is quite a distance from the main shopping/eating and  "town" areas, so it's necessary to drive or take taxis, which creates a huge amount of traffic, smog, and congestion. The surrounding dunes are being bulldozed at an alarming rate, and the delicate rock/sand hill at the end of the main beach (giving the area the American name 'Rocky Point') is wide open to ATVs and motorcycles.

The seawater rises and falls by hundreds of feet twice a day (quite a sight) and at low tide rock formations, coral, and tiny sea creatures are exposed. Of course, every tourist in the area is trampling all over those little animals' homes and picking up pocketfuls of shells, most of them with the creatures still inside. No guidance, even in the form of a sign, is offered to tourists who may not be educated in tide pool etiquette.

Mexican tourists are less informed about caring for the environment, so to watch their beach behavior is pretty appalling. Most Mexican beaches quickly become polluted because garbage is simply thrown on the ground and it all just washes right into the water, which makes for really gross swimming. The beach waters are packed with Jet Skis and boats pulling banana rides and Para-sails, so there is a film of gasoline and debris on the surface of the water every afternoon. You can't swim without being surrounded by boats and asphyxiated by all the fumes. What’s more, my experience in this area was not even during the high season, which I imagine must be unbearable.

Finally, Mexico’s idea of a vacation includes: hotels that are very "family friendly" and have no rules to control the children; music being pumped in day and night (and it's not lovely tropical stuff, but American grunge and techno); and hours of fireworks on the beach every night which make the area sound and feel like a war zone. Rocky Point is a perfect example of a beautiful area which is soon to be completely destroyed by bad planning and uncontrolled tourism. It is/was a lovely area with dunes, teeming sea life, clear waters, and beautiful natural features. But nowadays, travelers in search of the relaxation and natural beauty promised by the seashore are sure to be greatly disappointed by what they find in Rocky Point.

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