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Kid Environmentalists Derail $900 Million Tourism Development in Mexico

Photograph by Twenty20

A group of 113 Mexican children filed a complaint with a judge, asking to stop a tourism development project at Malecón Tajamar in Cancun that would destroy the area's natural mangroves. The project would create condominiums, offices, shops, parking structures, a Catholic church and a promenade, but the kids are more interested in saving their natural resources than economic development, arguing they have a "constitutional right to a healthy environment."

This is the first time children have filed a lawsuit in Mexico to advocate for their rights over corporate interests to save the environment, according to the group's attorney, Carla Gil. In all, there are 22 projects that would be canceled on the 58-hectare (about 145-acre) property where the development was to take place.

During the summer, bulldozers began to destroy the area, knocking down trees and chasing animals such as crocodiles out of their natural habitat. More Cancun residents then joined the crusade to get the project suspended. According to a government delegate's interview with Mexican newspaper El Economista, more than $900 million USD in development investment funds are at jeopardy if the project is permanently stopped.

"If we cut everything down, then we're going to die," Ana, a 4-year-old plaintiff, told Quartz. "Trees help us breathe."

A parent of one of the children who is a plaintiff in the suit told Quartz that given the fast paced development track on projects such as these in the area, she was proud of her 5-year-old daughter for speaking up. If she didn't, "there's going to be nothing left for her," the mother said.

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According to Mexico's National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity, the country has more mangroves than most countries. However, over the past three decades, data from the commission shows that it's lost 10 percent of the natural mangroves and swamp areas. In Cancun, as well as other coastal areas, mangroves act as a buffer to protect inland areas from hurricane damage, as well as foster an environment for a very diverse set of plants and animals.

This particular development project was backed by Mexico's tourism development agency and has been in the works for more than two decades — and local environmentalists have been fighting back to stop the project for just as long to protect their natural biodiversity areas.

However, despite how far they've come in stopping the project to protect the mangroves and local swamps, the kids' activist work is far from done. The children filed the suit in September and a judge suspended the development project this month, but gave the children 10 days to come up with 20 million pesos (about $1.2 million USD) to compensate the investors and developers of the project who would be affected by the project not moving forward. The legal team representing the children wants to convince the judge that the bond compensation shouldn't apply to the children because they're minors and don't have a feasible way to come up with the money, let alone in such a short amount of time.

An advisor to the group Asociación Salvemos Manglar Tajamar, told El Economista they hoped to delay the judge's ruling about the bond for three months because the development's permits run out in early 2016, so they would have to start the process again to get new permits, thus further delaying the project and giving activists more time to organize against the development of the area.

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