Ecological Effects of American Tourism in Baja California: An Annotated Bibliography

GLS 420
October 25, 2009

          Tourism has been an essential economic lifeline for the Baja California peninsula.  As many Americans visit the region each year, one may ask what have been the ecological effects of American tourism in Baja California, Mexico over the last ten years. Are they positive or negative, significant or minimal? 
          Based on the evidence attained through researching varies publications, it appears that American tourism has had a substantial impact and has the potential to cause even more damage.  The writer Molly Moore suggests there needs to be a “plan to balance the competing interests of tourists, fisherman, and environmentalists” (Moore, ¶ 12).  As more and more tourists are enticed to visit Baja California the more the natural environment is threatened.  The development of mega resorts end up destroying the natural beaches and desert habitat, which forces animals to move out of the area or die off completely.  The increases in population also result in more waste and issues on where it will be disposed, in addition to more pressure put on the ocean to provide more seafood.  While there are some economic benefits from American tourism in Baja California, it seems that there are more negative effects.  One has to ask if there is a way to be economically viable and protect the environment.  “Barring some unforeseen trend, Baja California’s business, tourism and government leaders will be challenged as never before by a dilemma that Steinbeck undoubtedly once mulled: How to manage the influx of people without destroying the virtues that created it in the first place” (Brackney, ¶ 25).  In short, the fact that American tourists are going to Baja California whether for a traditional vacation or on an eco-tour, they are causing changes that must be reversed before the wilderness of Baja is gone forever.
          The research paper will consist of an introduction to tourism in Baja California that explains the geography of the Mexican state, tourist destinations, history of the region and recreational activities that are available.  Next, individual topics like whale watching or desert camping will be explained in detail as to how they are positively or negatively affecting the ecology of Baja California.  Last, some suggestions will be offered for what can be done to prevent negative effects by American tourists without eliminating the industry altogether.

Brackney, David. “Baja’s Environmental Past, Present and Future”. Baja California’s Wild
          Wild West. global journal of practical ecotourism. Retrieved 22 October 2009. 

          David Brackney, an Automobile Club of Southern California travel writer and author of the Auto Guide’s 
          guidebook to Baja, describes the environmental changes of the Baja California peninsula do to tourism.  He 
          predicts the serene open desert spaces that attract so many visitors may be the threatened by the
          development of infrastructure.    He highlights the negative effects of improving roads in the most remote
          and beautiful areas. 
          The majority of the peninsula’s interior roads are dirt washboards that are rarely graded.  While improving the
          roads with pavement may seem like a good thing for the people who live in the area, it actually helps to
          protect the local desert environment by discouraging tourists from venturing vary far from their coastal
          The author breaks down the article into different issues that are affecting the environment of Baja California.
          In this way he successfully shows the reader that there isn’t just one problem that is contributing to the
          changes in Baja California.  The back roads and lack of infrastructure, individual planned communities like 
          Todos Santos and San Quintin, whales, the development of the town of Loreto, and increases in population
          via migration  from California, U.S. all are effective the landscape of Baja. 
          As a journalist who is familiar with Baja California and spent six years writing in Mexico City, Brackney seems 
          to be a reliable source of information as he has spent time in Baja and can evaluate the issues from both an
          insider and a tourist.  He is able to bring up issues that the average tourist may not think how a paved road
          that connects the Pacific to the Sea of Cortez would bring more people and thus more harm to the
          environment.  Tourists may only be thinking of how easy and safe it is to get to these remoter locations.
          The article is designed to inform that average U.S. traveler of the issues faced by the people who live on the
          Baja California peninsula as a result of tourism.  He writes not to discourage tourism but to make travelers
          more  aware of how their presence affects the ecology of the region and hopefully encourage travelers to
          respect the natural beauty of the land. 

Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC). “Developing Economic Incentives for
          Marine Resource Conservation in Two Marine Protected Areas of the Baja California 
          Peninsula,  Mexico”. Retrieved 19 October 2009.

          The Commission for Environmental Cooperation is an organization that brings Canada, Mexico and the United 
          States together in an effort “to protect North America’s shared environment” (CEC).  The CEC and lead 
          organization Wildcoast, proposed a project that would encourage conservation of the fishing grounds of the
          Sea of Cortez.  While there are Marine Protected Areas or MPAs that have been established to prevent over 
          fishing off the coast of Baja California, the CEC still believes that they are not enough to protect the marine 
          life in the Sea of Cortez.  The MPAs are designed to restrict “outside access” to fishing areas and hopefully
          promote local economies in the process (CEC, ¶ 2).  However, as the CEC studied the two Baja California
          fisheries, they found that they did not comply with eco standards put in place by the United States and thus  
          the fish exported from these fisheries could not be labeled as “eco-seafood” (CEC, ¶ 2).  If the fisheries were 
          able to meet the eco standards, they would be able to sell their seafood to the U.S. market at a premium
          and thus make more money.  
          The CEC’s project is the first of its kind that focuses to help the fishing industry in Baja California flourish while 
          still working on the conversation of the ocean and its wildlife.
          The CEC’s project illustrates how the United States is affecting the ocean wild life surrounding the Baja 
          California peninsula.  Whether the seafood is sent to the United States or to the local resorts, Americans are 
          demanding and consuming the resources of the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez – so much so that
          organizations like the CEC complete studies on how to combined economic incentives for the fishermen and 
          still provide people with the seafood they demand.
          The Commission for Environmental Cooperation’s website highlights the goal of the organization as to 
          “[compliment] the environmental provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  The 
          organization works to find solutions that benefit North America both economically and ecologically.

Shankar, Viju. “Eco Tourism in Baja California”. Retrieved 24 October 

          This article is a public relations advertisement that is trying to entice American tourists to Baja California 
          under the pretence that they can visit the Mexican state without having a negative impact on the ecology.
          The article describes all the wonderful “eco” activities that are available; all of which don’t seem to be very
 is a site dedicated to bringing tourism to Baja California.  While the information in the article seems 
          to be nothing more than a sales pitch, it does offer an insight into the type public relations activities used by 
          the government of Baja California to try and bring in American tourists.  It’s apparent that being eco-friendly 
          is becoming more marketable.  In this article, it is used rather loosely.  It seems that American tourists are 
          viewed as valuing “eco” products and services, so it’s only fitting that the Baja California vacation is marketed 
          to them in that way, even if it’s not really very environmentally friendly.
          This article begs the question as to what other impacts American tourism is having on real eco friendly 
          activities?  Perhaps hotels and resorts have changed their available recreational activities to include nature 
          walks and conservation tours as a way to get concerned Americans to visit their resort towns.  Activities that 
          are non-damaging to the local ecology are much less expense to maintain than large building projects.

McNerney, John. (2007). “Coastal Dunes”. Todos Santos Pages Environment & Ecology.
 Retrieved 23 October 2009.
          McNerney’s assessment of the coastal dunes in the Todos Santos town of Baja California is of great concern.  
          He describes how coastal dunes are different than inland sand dunes in their function.  While inland desert 
          sand dunes shift frequently and have little vegetation, the coastal dunes have grasses that held keep the
          sand in place.  The dunes also serve as a natural barrier between the ocean water and the low lying inland 
          As the population of the coastal towns of Baja California increase with the tourists and retirees from the U.S., 
          more and more of the coastal dunes are destroyed in order to build beach front housing and resorts.  The 
          removal of the natural grasses undermines the stability of the coast.  When those grasses are no longer
          there, the beaches easily erode and thus cause inland flooding in addition to damage to the structures 
          McNerney encourages his readers to support the preservation and reconstruction of coastal dunes in Baja 
          California.  While his credentials and history are not known, McNerney’s article explains the purpose coastal 
          dunes play in the Baja ecosystem and why it’s important to restore what has been damaged.  His point of
          view is obvious by his call to action, but the information he provides seems to be accurate and worth noting.
          The issue of coastal building is directing related to tourism.  Mega resorts build on prime beach front 
          property to entice visitors.  As people vacation in these resorts, they fall in love with the scenery; some even 
          decide to retire there.  That means that more people are building on coastal land both residential and 
          commercial thus more coastal dunes are destroyed which causes flooding and increased erosion.

Center, Bill. (2007). “U.S. racers concerned about problems in Baja” San Diego Union-
          In recent years Baja California has seen an increase in violence.  Center‘s article notes the increase of 
          incidences have caused many off-road racers to think twice before traveling to Baja California to race.  He 
          quotes Sal Fish, the organizer of Score-International, the organization that puts on the Baja 500 and 1000.  
          Fish claims he is working with the local governments to increase safety for travelers to the Baja.  The article 
          references an incident that took place after a race on the toll road heading north from Ensenada where a
          team member and his family were carjacked and robbed.  Racers are quoted as they express their concern 
          about the future of the sport. 
          Baja California sees an annual of $30 million from the off-road races according to Center.  It would be 
          devastating to local economies if the crowds stopped coming from Southern California.  Some might ask why 
          sudden decreases in tourism would hurt the ecology of Baja.  It seems that when the economy is suffering, 
          reconstruction projects like those discussed by John McNerney in “Coastal Dunes” would not be funded.  
          When local governments don’t have enough money in their budgets to pay for their daily expenses, projects 
          to restore and protect the environment will surely not be funded.     

“Baja, land of drug wars, tries to keep tourists coming”. (2009). Retrieved 12
          October 2009.

          This article discusses the effects of recent violence caused by the drug cartels has had on Baja California 
          tourism.   The management of the resorts in Tijuana, Rosarito Beach, Ensenada and Los Cabos are upset that 
          the U.S. media continues to run stories about how bad the violence has become in Baja California.  According 
          to the article, the violence is concentrated in the northern border cities, though the southern cities are still 
          suffering from the negative publicity.   In an effort to bring American tourists back to Baja California, many 
          cities are planning extensive marketing campaigns to promote their attractions and the savings that are now 
          available on rooms and recreational activities.  Rosarito has even created a police force specifically to 
          provide security for tourists in the city.
          The article was published on which is a news outlet that is partnered with CNN.  The 
          appear credible and facts are relevant to the issues.  The author focuses on the major resort towns and how 
          they’ve been affected by the negative publicity.
          In addition to marketing in the U.S. to bring tourists back to Baja California, resorts may be expanding on their
          amenities to make their properties more appealing.  With additional infrastructure comes more destruction of 
          the natural landscape.  The cheap rates and package deals may get more American tourists to venture into 
          Baja California, but stay in their resort communities – which means the local economy won’t see much 
          revenue as tourists won’t be spending their money at street vendors and there will be an increase in
          resources and waste.   

Moore, Molly. (1999). “Eco-Tourism Threatens Baja Ecology — Boaters Toss Pop Cans,
          Cigarettes At Whales”.  The Washington Post. The Seattle Times. Retrieved 25 October 2009.

          Moore’s article focuses on the effects of so ‘eco-tourism’ on the whales off the coast of Baja California in 
          addition to some of the other issues that came along with tourism.  As Mexico’s economy struggles, the eco-
          tourism industry has been a way for the residence of Baja California to survive financially.  Whales watching 
          tours are populate with visitors and allow people to see nature at its best.  However, what Moore found was 
          that the increases in tourism weren’t without some ecological costs.  She states that people visiting the
          Loreto Bay National Park were making fires on the beach, leaving trash behind and collecting or destroying 
          the vegetation.  There were even reports of boats chasing whales and people throwing soda cans and 
          cigarettes at the whales (Moore, ¶ 14).  The main point of the article is that in order for Baja California’s 
          economy and ecology to survive, they must be able to work together.  Moore states that the purpose of
          “eco-tourism” was to show people the beauty in nature in the hopes that they would be more willing to
          preserve it.  However, the opposite has taken place.  More harm and damage has seemed to take place than 
          good has come from this.
          While it’s been ten years since the original article was published in The Washington Post, the issues are still 
          relevant.  Moore discusses that in the end, few people are really benefiting from eco-tourism while also 
          pointing out that the animals and plant life suffer too.  She offers a generic solution to the problem that calls 
          for the Mexican government to enforce their laws that protect the animals and lands, while finding a solution 
          that makes residents happy and economically stable while protecting the environment.

© Copyright 2009. Alyssa Burley.