Mexico’s Supreme Court votes to protect Veracruz Reef from port expansion
A Mexican sea turtle arrives on a beach to spawn. Luis Alberto Cruz | AP

The highest court in Mexico ruled unanimously in February to protect sea turtles and other marine life in the Veracruz Reef System from a port expansion project.

This decision protects the largest reef system in the Gulf of Mexico from the destructive construction of new navigation channels, land access points, and other port facilities. The ruling preserves habitats for several protected species including the critically endangered hawksbill turtle.

This ruling sets new legal precedent that will force stricter scrutiny of the environmental impact of future projects like this one. This will help protect not only marine biodiversity but also communities that face air and water pollution from the development of industrial projects.

What happened

  • Our partners, the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA), filed suit against the port expansion in 2016. The suit stated that new construction based upon the port’s faulty environmental assessment process threatened the nearby Veracruz Reef.
  • To support CEMDA’s suit, Earthjustice and AIDA (The Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense) jointly filed a “friend of the court” submission earlier this year. The brief argued that the right to a healthy environment and access to justice should give anyone with a connection to a threatened ecosystem the right to sue in court to protect that ecosystem.
  • The court recognized Mexico’s obligation under international and constitutional law to allow easier access to the courts for Mexicans seeking to protect the environment.
  • The court also found that the port’s environmental assessment process was segmented in a way that obscured the impact of the entire project. The court held that the right to a healthy environment requires assessments to analyze all significant impacts, including cumulative impacts from different parts of the project over time.

Why it’s important

  • This victory will help protect the Veracruz Reef System, which is globally recognized as a UNESCO biosphere reserve and Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. Protecting the health of the reef will have beneficial effects for communities in Mexico and also the broader Gulf ecosystem. The reef also helps to reduce the flood impact of storm surges and hurricanes, which have increased in frequency and intensity due to climate change.
  • This decision recognizes the wide-reaching impacts that environmental damage causes to communities and ecosystems, as well as the importance of a full environmental analysis before big infrastructure projects are approved.

What happens next

  • The decision requires the port to completely reassess the impact the expansion would have on the Veracruz Reef and the surrounding community. The decision shows that the country’s highest court supports protecting the human right to a healthy environment and enforcing a comprehensive environmental assessment before projects that have the potential to cause harm are approved.
  • This victory will have wide-reaching and beneficial impacts that protect communities, ecosystems, and the climate. Not only does it protect the Veracruz Reef, it serves as a guidepost for future court decisions in Mexico and Latin America more broadly and places a high value on the importance of environmental protection to community health.




Earthjustice es la principal organización de derecho ambiental sin fines de lucro de interés público. Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit public interest environmental law organization. "Because the earth needs a good lawyer."