By Associated Press - Thursday, February 4, 2016

MEXICO CITY (AP) - A Mexican court has issued an injunction blocking further work on a real estate project in the Caribbean coast resort of Cancun that activists say has almost killed a mangrove swamp at the site.

Heavy machinery largely cleared the mangrove trees from the area known as Nichupte lagoon in January, over the objections of local environmentalists.

But environmentalist Araceli Dominguez expressed hope after the order was announced Wednesday that the mangrove can be recovered now that a court has ruled the project violated the public interest in preserving the wetland.

“This is an area than still be reforested. We haven’t lost it as mangrove yet,” Dominguez said, noting that appeals had been filed before government-sponsored developers could backfill lagoon-side lots and totally destroy the wetlands.

A coalition of 10 Mexican environmental groups praised the court ruling, though the government development and real estate firm that sponsored the project could also appeal.

“This is excellent news, that the Mexican court system has recognized the environment as a right that supersedes private interests,” the coalition said in a statement.

The developers bulldozed about 120 acres (49 hectares) of vegetation at the site in January. Mangroves provide a key habitat for marine life, help clean water and provide a buffer against erosion and coastal storms.

The Environment Department, the government development firm and prosecutors have argued that the project, known as Tajamar, meets all legal requirements.

The environmental agency said it approved the environmental impact statement for the project in 2005, before a law prohibiting actions that affect the water flow of mangrove swamps went into effect in 2007.

But authorities haven’t explained why they approved the project, gave it extensions, and rushed to rip up the mangroves just a couple of weeks before the project’s permits were set to expire.

The destruction of the mangroves has once again called into question the role of FONATUR, the government tourism development agency that sponsored the project and sold lots to private investors.

FONATUR says it has preserved large stretches of mangrove swamp on the lagoon, but environmentalists have criticized the agency, saying it promotes big tourism projects like Cancun that later became sprawling, high-density zones with eroding beaches and a poor environmental record.

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