BAJA CALIFORNIA SUR
Baja California Sur is on a narrow peninsula, which broke away from the mainland of Mexico about two million years ago due to tectonic activity and because of this it is the home of hundreds of endemic species of plants, marine life and animals, unique to Baja. It is a special place with a fragile ecology.
Baja is bordered to the west by the Pacific Ocean, and to the east by the Gulf of California, also known as the "Sea of Cortés" and it is the second longest peninsula on earth, and longer top to bottom than California.
Baja is primarily mountains or mountain ranges and coastal plains. The mountain ranges parallel the coastline and are of volcanic rock. The local name for the main mountain range is the Sierra de la Gigante and the highest peak is the Sierra de la Laguna, which rise up above the small town of Todos Santos and the city of La Paz.
The climate of the state is dry with an average annual rainfall of less than 3-4 inches. Most of the surface water on land is in the form of seasonal streams, which are fast flowing and only active during rains. Most of these empty into the Pacific Ocean. It is the only desert on earth that gets hurricanes.
The endemic plant species includes the world’s largest species of cactus, the cardón cactus, which can reach heights of 15 m. Other plant species include mesquite, chironola, lechuguilla, nopal and barrel cactus, choyas, paloadan and pitahaya. The higher elevations have forests of pine and holm oak with some deciduous forests, with leaves falling in the dry season, generally no taller than fifteen meters. Wildlife in the desert areas is restricted to birds, reptiles and small to medium mammals such as rabbits and coyotes. Upper elevations with more vegetation can have wild rams, pumas, other wild cats, raccoons, deer, foxes and wild cats.
SEA OF CORTES
Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortes the “aquarium of the world” and its waters are primary breeding, feeding, and nursing grounds for myriad migratory and resident fish species. It is one of the most diverse seas on the planet, and is home to more than 5,000 species of micro-invertebrates. The narrow sea is home to a unique and rich ecosystem and numerous migratory species, including the critically endangered vaquita, the humpback whale, California gray whale, killer whale, manta ray, Humboldt Squid, the leatherback sea turtle, and the world's largest animal, the blue whale.
There are also a large number of marine mammals, many of which are rare and endangered and its more than 900 islands are important nesting sites for thousands of seabirds. For these reasons, the health of the Sea of Cortes impacts the oceans of the world, and the global fish and mammal populations.
But due to water diversion for municipal and agricultural use, there are no longer many rivers that empty into the Sea of Cortes and there has been a vast reduction of the flow of fresh water into the Sea. Run off from the mine also threatens to pollute the water and after years of over fishing, there are grave concerns about the sea’s ability to recuperate.
There was a major period of gold mining in Baja starting at the end of the 19th Century and evidence of old mines can be seen throughout the small towns around the Sierra de la Lagunas but twenty years ago, the Foreign Investments Law (Ley de Inversión Extranjera) in Mexico allowed for the participation of foreign capital in extractive industries, such as mining. This had been prohibited before then.
The same year, the Mining Law (Ley Minera) was also modified to ensure legal certainty to national and foreign investments; the disincorporation of mineral reserves (which represented a de facto privatization of some minerals); an increase in the mining concessions and ensured that mining activities have preference over water allocation. The law also offered tax exemption for mining companies.
This enabled the conditions for a rapid increase in mining concessions. The low prices of gold and the lack of technology to exploit concessions temporarily slowed down new mining projects. But in the last few years these conditions changed and there has been a rapid increase in the number of existing mining projects.
In Baja California Sur, the federal government has issued tens of mining concessions that are moving forward to exploration and other stages prior to starting operations. Many of them are adjacent to the City of La Paz, Los Cabos and the Sierra la Laguna Biosphere Reserve.
The Los Cardones mining project is being developed with foreign investment in the Sierra de La Laguna Biosphere Reserve, the principal source of water in the region, just above Todos Santos. The mine is owned by Invecture, who agreed to buy the Los Cardones gold project from Vista Gold for $13 million in October 2013.
The mining company aims to use cyanide extraction to obtain 40 tons of gold in 10 years, processing 11 tons of material daily from two open pit mines with a 297 acre tailings dam.
This will inevitably release some 73,900 tons of arsenic during the milling process, which will remain exposed to the weather in perpetuity. The largest threat is the tailings containment, with only a rubber membrane between it and the environment. Failure of these tailings containments have occurred numerous times and a major one in Costa Rica led the country to ban all further gold mining.
Considering the constant rain in the filtration zone, in particular from hurricanes, any run off will permanently contaminate the aquifers, as has occurred in the area of San Antonio and Los Planes where there is currently a high rate of cancer as a result of toxic mining.
The mining company is also planning to build a desalination plant with a capacity of 24,600 cubic feet per day and a 26 mile aqueduct to the project zone which again threatens the fish population.
The Sierra de La Laguna Biosphere is recognized by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a world biosphere. It is home to distinctive flora and fauna and has many endemic species and subspecies. It is also the home of many small ranching communities.