The Mexican government is funding a 100-million-dollar project to build Mexico’s first cruise ship home port at Puerto Peñasco (Rocky Point) in Sonora on the Sea of Cortés (Gulf of California). Construction began in 2013 and is scheduled to be completed by early in 2017. Proponents hope that the port will help transform the existing town (population about 60,000) into a fully-fledged tourist resort, taking advantage of its proximity to Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona. The project includes a state-of-the-art terminal and convention center.
The town already has a small international airport, inaugurated in 2008, which has a daily capacity of 2000 passengers and would need to be expanded if the port takes off.
Puerto Peñasco has an embryonic tourism industry at present, mainly attracting Arizonans (it is their nearest beach), fishing enthusiasts, and school and college students during spring-break (attracted, in part, by the legal drinking age being 18 in the town, compared to 21 in Arizona).
Puerto Peñasco also has research stations of the Universidad de Sonora: its Centro de Investigaciones Científicas y Tecnológicas (Scientific and Technological Research Center) and its Centro de Estudios del Desierto (Center for Desert Studies).
According to cruise line statistics, the number of Mexicans taking cruises in 2014 rose by 15%, but analysts argue that many Mexicans stay at home and are unable to take cruises at present because they lack a U.S. visa. Establishing a home port in Mexico, they argue, would therefore open up a significant new market. A cruise ship port at Puerto Peñasco would clearly have immense impacts on the town, boosting the local economy and generating up to 2,500 direct and 5,000 indirect jobs.
However, critics say this will come at a cost. They cite potential problems related to local residents, wildlife and biodiversity. They fear that development of the town will raise property prices beyond the level of affordability of local residents. A Tucson-based non-profit, The Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans is working with local fishermen and government agencies to “empower coastal communities in the Northern Gulf of California region with the knowledge and tools to create sustainable livelihoods that exist in concert with the surrounding natural and multicultural environment”. The research center believes the port development will lead to environmental changes adversely affecting important fishing grounds. The center has also expressed concern about the potential hazards to nesting sites used by sea turtles.
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