The beach at Cabo Pulmo. (Photo by jeffgunn.)

Located at the tip of the Baja peninsula, Mexico’s Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park looks beautiful. (According to photos; efforts to cajole funding for a personal visit by this writer were unsuccessful.) But what sets the park apart isn’t the gorgeous view from the beach, it’s what lies underwater offshore.

Cabo Pulmo is home to one of the northernmost coral reefs in the world. Sixteen years ago, the Mexican government set the area aside to protect it from rampant commercial and sport fishing which, during the 1980s, damaged the reef and depleted its number of fish. In the time since the reserve was announced, Cabo Pulmo has rebounded. A study by researchers in the United States and Mexico found that by the end of last decade, its biomass of fish had rebounded 463 percent. The local area saw benefit, too, transitioning successfully from a fishing-based economy to one based on ecotourism.

A classic story of a successful conservation effort. And then, in 2008, a developer was granted permits to build a massive resort just outside the park boundary. With a proposed name of Cabo Cortes, the plan was to essentially replicate nearby Cabo San Lucas.

The proposal immediately faced a firestorm of opposition. A story in the Washington Post last November outlined concerns from nearly every sector: the current government, fishermen, scientists. Even those who stood to benefit personally from the proposal spoke out:

Hector Flores, who builds houses in the area, said: “We need some more work around here, true, but I agree, the project is just too big. The permits were shoved through by the thieves in Mexico City,” meaning the government.

Making activists and locals more worried, the deadline for the developer to submit final impact information to the government was scheduled for one month after current President Felipe Calderon left office, timing one person called “fishy” — a pun they quickly backed away from.

Today, Calderon preempted the need for developers to provide additional information. He unilaterally canceled the developer’s permits, making the reason for his doing so clear. From the Washington Post:

“Because of its size, we have to be absolutely certain that it (the project) wouldn’t cause irreversible [environmental] damage, and that absolute certainty simply hasn’t been proved,” Calderon said. “To sum it up, Cabo Cortes won’t be built.”

Locals and environmentalists are understandably thrilled — but also wary. The developer — or others — could resubmit an application for development. A future president might not be so willing to deny it. For now, though, Cabo Pulmo is the coral reef that’s been saved from extinction twice.

For activists and locals, today provides a chance to celebrate and relax. They probably know just the spot to do so.