Mexico’s supreme court has ruled to protect the wetlands and reef in Veracruz

The Supreme Court’s decision to halt plans to expand Veracruz’s Port is a powerful signal and a victory for local marine ecosystems and communities.

On February 9, 2022, Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación) ordered the stoppage of the Port of Veracruz expansion project, protecting the local wetlands and coral reef system. Proposed in the late 1990s, this port expansion project would have impacted the critical ecosystems of the Veracruz reef system (SAV), as the rise in sedimentation resulting from the construction works would have affected the seagrasses and reefs found in this environmentally important area.

biodiversity in Veracruz
This reef system hosts significant biodiversity © iStockphoto

A Coral Reef System National Park in Veracruz

Located in the State of Veracruz, the Veracruzano Coral Reef System National Park (NPVRS) has been a Ramsar wetland of international importance since 2004. It comprises reefs and islands, and UNESCO designated it as one of its biosphere reserves in 2006. The reef system, located on the southwestern shelf of the Gulf of Mexico, acts as a barrier against waves and storms, alleviating the effects of hurricanes and storm surges. It hosts significant biodiversity and is home to resident, transitory, and migrant fish such as the King mackerel (Scomberomorus cavalla) and protected species like the critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).

The Supreme Court’s ruling is the result of an injunction filed by the Mexican Centre for Environmental Law (CEMDA). “Cemda filed this injunction, together with the community, to protect and contribute to the conservation of the Veracruz reef system, as well as the reefs and the services they provide, since they are key to the well-being of the people living in the Veracruz-Boca del Río-Medellín region,” said the Mexican coalition’s technical operations director, Xavier Martínez Esponda. The filing argued that the authorities did not consider the best scientific information available, or they did not evaluate the port expansion project’s environmental impacts in their entirety.

Support for CEMDA

Given the significance of this case, the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW), the Inter-American Association for the Defense of the Environment (AIDA), and the international environmental organization Earthjustice submitted amicus briefs that supported CEMDA’s filing with the SCJN. The court ordered a reassessment of the expansion project’s environmental impacts. The local authorities have to evaluate the project’s effects on the area affected by the project and create and implement mitigation and restoration plans. They must take counsel from the National Council of Natural Protected Areas and ask the National Wetlands Committee to require the International Wetlands Committee (Ramsar) to nominate a group of experts to assess the site and guarantee its protection.

By annulling the port expansion project’s authorizations, the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation has ruled in favour of the reefs and wetlands and the local community of Veracruz, defending the right to a healthy environment. The court stated that “the protection of wetlands is a national and international priority that has led our country to issue a strict regulation of this ecosystem and […] any analysis made in relation to wetlands must be guided by a criterion of maximum precaution and prevention.” This ruling sets a new precedent in evaluating such projects and shows investors and authorities how adhering to environmental principles must be an intrinsic part of infrastructure project planning.

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