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Ocean Mining Dispute Brews Off Baja California Coast

Frontera NorteSur
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March 24, 2015

Conflicts over mining in Mexico now extend offshore. On the Baja California peninsula, a proposal to mine underwater phosphate sands has generated environmental controversy; inspired a legal complaint against mining opponents some compare to activist-chilling SLAPP suits in the United States; and provided yet another test of press freedom in Mexico.

The battle is over a plan by Exploraciones Oceanicas, an affiliate of Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration, to dredge tens of thousands of acres of the “Don Diego” deposit off the state of Baja California Sur for phosphorites used in the manufacture of fertilizers many environmentalists blame for widespread contamination across the globe.

The Mexican anti-mining network Rema further opposes the proposed 50-year project on the grounds that it would reap negative consequences for endangered whales and sea turtles, as well as violate the rights of local fishermen. Rema demands that the Federal Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) deny the necessary legal permit for the planned, massive underwater mine.

According to the Mexican Center for Environmental Law, 40 percent of the fishing in Baja California Sur is carried out in the area envisioned for the mine.

On its website, Odyssey Marine Exploration defines its mission as “…finding lifesaving medicines, fertilizers that help feed the world, and life-sustaining freshwater to nourish arid climates as well as give us a glimpse into forgotten moments in history.”

In terms of the Baja California project, Odyssey Marine Exploration contends that its product could help fertilizer-starved Mexican agriculture produce more food and even turn the country into a phosphate exporter.

...In a counter-attack, Exploraciones Oceanicas is pursuing legal charges against project opponents based on an obscure law, Article 253 of the Federal Penal Code, which defines an action that adversely impacts the national economy as a crime punishable by hefty fines and a prison term ranging from three to ten years.

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