Summary of Environmental Law in Mexico

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10 Protection of the Oceans and Coastal Areas


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10.1 Coastal Management and Land Use Restrictions


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Laws governing oceans and coastal zones are based on Article 27 of the Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico (hereinafter Mexican Constitution), which grants the Nation exclusive ownership and jurisdiction over all territorial seas, bays, estuaries, ocean minerals and the continental shelf. The Federal Oceans Law (Ley Federal del Mar), in accordance with international law, establishes rules for the setting of the official boundaries of these constitutionally defined zones and includes a contiguous ocean area and an exclusive economic zone as part of Mexico's maritime jurisdiction.

The General Law of National Property (Ley General de Bienes Nacionales) (hereinafter National Property Law) and the Regulation for the Use and Exploitation of the Territorial Sea, Navigable Waters, Beaches, Federal Coastal Land Zone and Property Located in Port Zones (Reglamento para el Uso y Aprovechamiento de Mares Territoriales, Aguas Navegables, Playas, la Zona Federal de Tierras Costeras y Bienes que se Encuentren en las Zonas Portuarias) (hereinafter Coastal Zone Regulation) regulates the management and development of coastal zones through the granting of concessions for private and public use; national registries of all concessionaires; technical studies on and national inventories of coastal areas; and coastal zone management plans.

The National Property Law establishes a general regime for the granting of land use rights to private individuals and corporations over lands belonging to the nation, including coastal zones. The Coastal Zone Regulation, in turn, governs the administration and development of all federal coastal land zones, which are lands above the mean high tide line. National ownership rights over coastal lands are inalienable and may not be assigned; use rights depend on the terms of the concession granted, the payment of lease rights and the protection of important ecosystems.

Administrative Authority

The Coastal Zone Regulation grants administrative authority over coastal zone management to the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT)). The Coastal Zone Regulation requires SEMARNAT to:

  1. Establish general management policies regarding coastal land use in coordination with state and municipal governments and the Secretariat of Communications and Transport (Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes (SCT));
  2. Devise regional development and exploitation master plans in order to provide guidelines for the granting of concessions;
  3. Undertake and publish technical studies, as well as an inventory of the topography, boundaries and landmarks of the coastal zones; and
  4. Set up a national registry that catalogues all concession and permit holders who have been granted use rights over federal coastlands.

SCT is responsible for the regulation of maritime ports, facilities, trade and traffic in accordance with the Navigation Law (Ley de Navegación) and the Law of Navigation and Maritime Trade (Ley de Navegación y Comercio Marítimo).


All use, development and exploitation of federal coastal zones and beaches, other than for the enjoyment of the general public and the carrying out of specifically permitted temporary businesses, must be authorized by SEMARNAT. A concession must also be obtained from SCT for any use, development, occupation and construction of maritime facilities and ports. Concessions are granted primarily to private commercial entities, but may also be obtained by cooperatives, such as ejidos and comunidades. States, municipalities and other local or public entities are granted coastal land use rights through intergovernmental compacts executed by SEMARNAT. Public entities have precedence over private applicants. Foreign applicants must, in addition, comply with the ownership and control restrictions under the Foreign Investment Law.

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10.2 Ocean Pollution


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The Federal Oceans Law (Ley Federal del Mar) provides that the prevention, reduction and control of ocean pollution shall be regulated under the General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection (Ley General del Equilibrio Ecológico y Protección al Ambiente) (hereinafter Ecology Law), the National Waters Law (Ley de Aguas Nacionales), the General Health Law (Ley General de Salud) and their implementing regulations. Likewise, the Coastal Zone Regulation (Reglamento de las Zonas Costeras) establishes that all other federal or common laws, customs, uses and general principles -- including environmental pollution control laws -- shall apply to and complement the Coastal Zone Regulation.

The National Property Law requires that all concessionaires of national property, including oceans, must avoid damaging the ecosystems. The Navigation Law (Ley de Navegación) prohibits all vessels from discharging wastes, petroleum and petroleum byproducts, wastewater and other hazardous or noxious elements that could contaminate or harm waters under Mexican jurisdiction.

Ecology Law

The Ecology Law sets forth pollution control standards that apply to all aquatic ecosystems, including oceans. The central principle governing water pollution issues is prevention. Pursuant to Article 130 of the Ecology Law, SEMARNAT may authorize wastewater discharges into ocean waters, in accordance with the National Waters Law and the relevant Official Mexican Standards (Normas Oficiales Mexicanas (NOMs)). On the other hand, where discharges originate in marine shelves or mobile sources, or in land facilities that discharge into the sea, SEMARNAT shall work in coordination with the Navy Secretariat (Secretaría de Marina). Under Article 131 of the Ecology Law, SEMARNAT has the ability to issue NOMs in regard to the protection, conservation, exploration and exploitation of marine natural resources. SEMARNAT and the Navy, Energy, Health and Communications and Transport Secretariats shall join efforts for the purpose of preventing and controlling marine pollution.

National Waters Law and its Regulation

This Law establishes that the National Water Commission (Comisión Nacional del Agua (CNA)) is in charge of regulating wastewater discharges into oceans. The Regulation under the National Waters Law includes all "marine zones" in its definition of a wastewater receiving body. Both SEMARNAT and the Navy Secretariat (Secretaría de Marina (SM)) have administrative powers over all wastewater discharges into oceans from mobile sources and fixed shelves. NOM-001-ECOL-1996 applies to wastewater discharges into oceans as well.

Regulation for the Prevention and Control of Ocean Pollution from the Dumping of Waste and Other Materials

The SM administers and enforces the Regulation for the Prevention and Control of Ocean Pollution from the Dumping of Waste and Other Materials (Reglamento para Prevenir y Controlar la Contaminacion del Mar por Vertimiento de Desechos y Otras Materias) (hereafter the Ocean Dumping Regulation) in the exclusive economic zone, the territorial seas and the maritime fishing zones. Under the Ocean Dumping Regulation any individual or legal entity, including ocean vessels, shelves and sea planes that deliberately dump substances in the ocean must obtain a permit from the Secretariat of the Navy. In addition, the Regulation includes three Annexes listing those chemicals, together with their characteristics, that must be taken into consideration by the SM when granting such permits. Annexes I and II identify specific chemicals that require "special consideration" when a dumping authorization is requested.


The Ocean Dumping Regulation also provides a number of exceptions to the dumping permit requirement: (1) where human life is endangered or where the safety of any vessel or sea plane is at risk; (2) where illegal dumping activities occur without the knowledge of the vessel owner; and (3) when dredging activities are conducted for the purpose of facilitating navigation or preserving the marine ecological balance.

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10.3 Liability and Enforcement


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All laws and regulations applicable to coastal management, except the Federal Oceans Law (Ley Federal del Mar), include liability and enforcement provisions. Because the Federal Oceans Law deals primarily with the national sovereignty and boundary rights, enforcement and liability issues would most likely arise under international law.

Coastal Zone Regulation

SEMARNAT has the authority to enforce all violations under the Coastal Zone Regulation that are not related to maritime facilities and ports, including:

  1. The use, development or exploitation of the coastal zone in violation of the Regulation or the conditions established in the permit or concession;
  2. The continued occupation of conceded areas where the concession has expired without a renewal application having been submitted;
  3. The failure to return the conceded areas to SEMARNAT under the terms and within the time period established by the concession;
  4. Engaging in activities or projects that are illegal or fail to comply with the terms of the concession or permit;
  5. The lack of public health hygiene conditions in areas for public use;
  6. Obstructing or impeding free access or traffic to beaches; and
  7. Participating in projects intended at creating foreshore extensions without obtaining the proper concession from SEMARNAT.

These violations are subject to fines ranging between 50 and 500 times the minimum daily wage in the Federal District (Distrito Federal), depending upon the seriousness and circumstances of the violation. Facilities and works undertaken without the proper concession being granted are considered property of the Nation and may be ordered to be demolished at the expense of the owner. An additional maximum penalty of 500 times the minimum daily wage may be imposed for recurring violations.

Ecology Law

Any ocean pollution that contravenes the general provisions under the Ecology Law may be sanctioned with administrative fines or penalties contemplated therein. These include: (1) fines ranging from twenty to twenty thousand times the minimum daily wage in the Federal District on the day the sanctions are imposed; (2) temporary or permanent, partial or total plant closure; (3) administrative arrest for up to thirty-six hours; (4) suspension or revocation of concessions, permits, licenses or authorizations. Besides being exposed to administrative sanctions, offenders may be liable to the penal sanctions contemplated under the Federal Penal Code (Código Penal Federal) for environmental crimes.

National Waters Law

Under the National Waters Law and its Regulation, illegal or unauthorized wastewater discharges into the ocean are subject to fines ranging between 100 to 10,000 times the minimum daily wage in the area in which the violation occurs. In addition, SEMARNAT has the authority to order all activities that caused the unauthorized discharge to cease, revoke any discharge permits or shut down the facility originating the discharges.

Ocean Dumping Regulation

The SM is required to strictly abide by the provisions of the Ocean Dumping Regulation; this is done mainly through inspections. Naval inspectors may board any vessel suspected of transporting cargo with the intention of illegally dumping it at sea; examine any substance or cargo; demand inspection of all documentation and permits; escort vessels for the purpose of ensuring that dumping occurs in the appropriate sites; and detain any vessel for the time necessary to carry out a proper inspection. Vessel owners and crew must facilitate all aspects of the inspection. Penalties under the Ocean Dumping Regulation include:

  1. Fines from 300 to 1,300 pesos for unauthorized dumping of Annex I substances;
  2. Fines from 100 to 600 pesos for unauthorized dumping of Annex II substances;
  3. Fines from 100 to 600 pesos for unauthorized dumping of substances that are not listed in Annexes I or II but pose a contamination hazard;
  4. Fines from 300 to 750 pesos for vessel or platform abandonment;
  5. Fines for up to 750 pesos in addition to all civil penalties where a vessel owner or operator dumps wastes under emergency conditions and fails to report such dumping to SEMARNAT.

The imposing of fines under the Ocean Dumping Regulation does not preclude any other sanctions or penalties under other relevant laws from being applied


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10.4 Asserted Jurisdiction Over Territorial Sea


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National boundaries of all coastal lands are set forth under Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution and the Federal Oceans Law (Ley Federal del Mar). Generally speaking, Mexico asserts jurisdiction on all territorial seas in accordance with international law provisions. The Federal Oceans Law describes the national boundaries for six types of maritime bodies.

Territorial Sea

Mexico claims jurisdiction over the territorial sea, which extends twelve nautical miles (22.22 Km) from the Mexican shoreline, including air space and the ocean floor and subsoil. The territorial sea is measured by straight lines from the low water tide line. Where the territorial sea meets waters under the jurisdiction of other Nations, the Federal Executive will enter into international agreements to determine the exact boundaries.

Interior Marine Waters

Mexico also asserts jurisdiction over all interior marine waters which include: the northern part of the Gulf of California, interior bays, Mexican ports, interior reefs and all deltas, estuaries, lakes, rivers and other fresh waters flowing into the ocean. The interior boundaries are marked by the low tide water line.

Contiguous Zone

Mexico also claims jurisdiction over a "contiguous" zone that extends 24 nautical miles (44.44 Km) beyond the boundaries of the territorial sea, for the purposes of deterring and sanctioning any customs, immigration, fiscal and health violations within the territorial sea or the interior marine waters.

Exclusive Economic Zone

The exclusive economic zone extends 200 nautical miles (374.4 Km) beyond the boundaries of the territorial sea. Within this area, Mexico exerts national sovereignty over all coastal zone exploration, exploitation and conservation, including the establishment of artificial islands and facilities, scientific marine research, mineral extraction and the protection and preservation of the marine environment.

Continental Shelf

Mexico also maintains jurisdiction over its marine continental shelf, which includes the ocean floor and subsoil that extend 200 nautical miles from the boundary of the territorial sea. Where the continental shelf does not extend the full distance, the boundary is defined according to international law. The continental shelf is contiguous to the exclusive economic zone. Jurisdiction over the continental shelf is exclusive, preventing any other nations from exploring the shelf, even where Mexico has not undertaken any exploration itself.

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