Gray whales in Baja sanctuary threatened by development

Five years ago, conservationists in Baja Mexico won a difficult battle to prevent a salt production plant from setting up shop near the San Ignacio Lagoon, a winter refuge for migrating California gray whales. But the Mexican government’s shift toward industrialization has some local residents gearing up for an even more challenging fight. New regulations allowing rural ejidos, or communal lands, to be sold means poor rural communities may have to choose between enticing offers from private developers and protection of the lagoon — and the several hundred gray whale mother-calf pairs that visit every year. To aid the process, local enviro groups are organizing coalitions to purchase conservation easements on some of the million acres draining into the lagoon. “We don’t want a Disneyland here,” says Raul Lopez, a coordinator for one ecotourism organization in the area. “We don’t want big resorts or industrial plants. We want to use the land in a smart way so we can create a sustainable way to live.”