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From Akumal to the Public Opinion

The following is the translation of what was published in Novedades and PorEsto! on March, 7, 2017.

FROM AKUMAL TO THE PUBLIC OPINION

The beautiful bays of Akumal on the Quintana Roo coast are historically the first tourist destination on the coastal strip of the Yucatan Peninsula, discovered in 1958 by Pablo Bush Romero, founder of CEDAM (Club of Exploration and Water Sports of Mexico)– an exclusive diving club that made Akumal its base of operations at that time, with the main focus of searching for underwater treasures.

With great vision, Pablo Bush invested in thousands of hectares in the area, to somehow position Akumal among the preferences of North American travelers, in the face of the disappearance of Cuba as a tourist destination for that market. What used to be a huge coconut plantation would become an attractive tourist destination with indescribable natural beauties that at that time was only accessible by sea.

Over time, the effort and vision of Don Pablo Bush attracted other investors and enthusiastic entrepreneurs who were gradually developing what is now Akumal generating jobs and development opportunities for inhabitants of the entire peninsula, while captivating curious explorers, expert divers and tourists of all kinds.

Today, almost six decades later, Akumal is a victim of opportunism and corruption.

Original investors, entrepreneurs, hoteliers who took a chance with their investments/capital and those who believed in the development of Akumal also founded the Akumal pueblo to give housing to workers who came from other parts of the peninsula and with vision also created CEA (Centro Ecológico Akumal) in order to propose strategies for the orderly development of the area, and to promote the sustainability and preservation of the marine species that inhabit the bays of Akumal.

With excessive ambition, opportunists not originating from Akumal, pseudo tourist guides, and sadly also some of those settlers whom Akumal has given them welcome, employment and housing, have gradually invaded the main bay of Akumal, attempting against peace and tranquility that have characterized this beautiful destination for years, with the argument that “beaches are public”,  in order to do business, harass tourists and visitors and indiscriminately exploit the practice of swimming with turtles.

Without investing a single penny, some of these abusive invaders argue their right to exploit the beaches of Akumal by pushing tourists to buy their “services” with the false argument that the law assists them and that it is necessary and obligatory to hire them to enjoy the wonderful experience of swimming with turtles.

To achieve their purposes and create an easy way of life without investment, they have invaded properties, destroyed and modified access and shamelessly deceived authorities, bathers and public opinion.

It is false, that the property owners of in Akumal deny public access to the beaches.  There are formally documented accesses in the Urban Development Plan of the Zone distributed along all the bays of Akumal.

It is false that the interests of these invaders are of recreation and rest.
It has been demonstrated through visible street vending practices that go as far as harassing tourists that their only interests are commercial.

It is false that the CEA (Centro Ecológico de Akumal) deny them public access to the beaches.
CEA is a unique model in Quintana Roo for sustainable research and development that promotes access to beaches through ecological practices that privilege environmental protection and in that sense has established mechanisms for the population to make use of beaches without deterioration of natural resources through regular visitor numbers; with the development of ecological toilets, an information center with accessible literature for all; protection programs for turtles and other species, and in general with the support and investment of the owners, set up a Research Center with the sole purpose of preserving Akumal for future generations.

With commercial and indiscriminate exploitation efforts the Akumal invaders have attacked CEA, its founders and sponsors to divert the attention of authorities and deceiving the public.

Business owners and investors of Akumal and the heirs of its original founders are in favor of sustainable development and believe that tourism represents opportunities for everyone. However, we strongly oppose that under the populist arguments of free access to beaches, sustainability, the environment, and, in particular, our property rights cannot be undermined.

We cannot allow the abuse, the invasion, the exploitation, much less the lies to continue.

We trust fully in our authorities, we believe in the rule of law and we make public our protest of nonconformity before the threats and the constant wave of misinformation and misrepresentation of the real facts in Akumal.

The legal and historic facts are behind us.

POR EL BIEN DE AKUMAL. FOR THE GOOD OF AKUMAL

Sincerely,

Asociación de Hoteles de Tulum

Centro Ecológico de Akumal

Propietarios e Inversionistas de Akumal

 

 

Pushing limits and breaking laws–taking a stand against the lack of control and respect for Akumal Bay

Monday, October 31, 2016

Based on yet another incident involving local tour operators the morning of Sunday, October 30, it has become obvious that business owners have reached a tipping point with the chaos in Akumal, in particular with the illegal snorkel operations happening in the federal zone that is under a concession.

Illegal commercial snorkel operations occur daily

Commercial activity / sales and operations of snorkel tours being conducted inside a concession area is forbidden, yet continues on a daily basis in Akumal

Each day snorkel tour guides, some with permits but most without, arrive in the bay with their plastic tubs containing snorkel gear and/or clients’ belongings to set up their base camp for selling their snorkel tours. Yet some guides decide that the best spot to place the tubs and gear up clients is in the concession area in front of the hotels and restaurants, which is a clear a violation of the ZOFEMAT concession.

At 10:30 that Sunday, security staff from Hotel Akumal Caribe noted several guides in the concession area along with their tubs and guests. Security staff approached the operators to remind them of the ZOFEMAT concession and asked them to leave.

“The next thing I see is a larger group of guides forming and a heated debate,” explained a local resident. “The guides were arguing, refusing to leave and claiming that no one can make them move and maintaining that were not doing any commercial activity.”

Police were called to intervene.

akumal-bay-blog-oct31-2

Police called to intervene in the illegal commercial snorkel tour operations within a concession area

“Our concession permit clearly states that no selling or outside commercial operations can happen within our concession and the responsibility of upholding the rules outlined in our concession is on us,” explains a hotel representative. “We attempted to deal with the situation in a cordial way, but had to call the police due to the aggressive nature and defiance of these guides.”

Police arrived and clarified that any form of outside sales or business transactions, including leaving their tubs or gearing up clients was deemed commercial activity and that they were not permitted to conduct in this concession or any other concession area.

A guest from the hotel who oversaw the commotion commented, “I’ve been here for two weeks now and have seen this sort of activity each and every day. I come here to relax, not to be hawked a tour each day and certainly not to be harassed in and out of the water. Akumal relies on tourism and it is this sort of sh*t that these guides are doing that is giving Akumal a bad name. How will they sell their tours when there are no tourists to sell them to? It’s frustrating to see the lack of foresight! But I’m glad to see legitimate business owners pushing back to create some form of order to the chaos and uphold laws that these guys don’t seem to respect.”

Representatives from CONANP (Commission of Natural Protected Areas) intervened to assist the police in explaining the legal rights of a concession.

“This is certainly not a tale about rich versus poor or denying anyone from making a living…it is about upholding the law which no one is above. If these guides have a legal business with their permits in order and a legal place to do business, that is where they should be operating from. If they do not have a legal business with the required permits, they should not be doing any operations on another’s concession at all,” added a hotel representative.

The problem continued as the guides merely relocated their tubs closer to the water and slightly away from the front of Lolha Restaurant, but remained in the concession area.

As this story is published, similar incidents have been noted in the same area as well as guides continuing to sell throughout the aforementioned concession area daily.


 

According to the REGLAMENTO PARA EL USO Y APROVECHAMIENTO DEL MAR TERRITORIAL, VÍAS NAVEGABLES, PLAYAS, ZONA FEDERAL MARÍTIMO TERRESTRE Y TERRENOS GANADOS AL MAR—Rules for the use and enjoyment of the territorial sea, waterways, beaches, federal maritime and reclaimed land requirements are set to carry out business activities in the Federal Maritime Zone (beach):

Article 11 outlines that if any permits for selling on the beaches or in the federal zone are issued there are specific criteria set by the Ministry of Tourism and must be observed, which includes name of applicant, location for selling, product to be sold, and duration of the permit. 

Article 12 refers to the duration and renewal of the permit to sell on the beaches and that all sellers are within their designated area and clearly identifiable by uniforms and ID badges issued by the Secretariat.

In addition, Article 12 states: Los permisos para ejercer el comercio ambulante no autorizan a ejercer esta actividad dentro de zonas concesionadasThe permits to exercise selling are not authorized to carry out this activity within concession areas. 

More information on the ZOFEMAT rules can be found here:

http://www.profepa.gob.mx/innovaportal/file/3668/1/reglamento__zofemat.pdf

 

The Early Days of Akumal

Many people ask about Akumal’s early days as a tourism destination. It started out not as a tourism destination but as a coconut plantation on a coastline that was all but forgotten. The mode of transportation was on horseback to Tulum, a very small fishing and chicle camp. Supplies were taken over by boat from Cozumel to the one family that lived in Akumal taking care of the coconut plantation and in an emergency they would go on horseback all the way to Valladolid.

Pablo Bush Romero arrived in 1959 to explore a Spanish shipwreck and used it as the base camp for the expedition. Not long after that, he purchased the land, which he subdivided into sections.

Tourism in Akumal started later in the 60s and it was the first tourist destination on the coastline. Cancun did not exist until the 1970.

On the main bay, he founded Club de Yates Akumal Caribe A.C. as a non-profit, whose founding members stayed at one of the 8 bungalows facing the open ocean. These units were rented when the members did not use them to cover the costs of upkeep and improvements. There was also a restaurant called the Zazil. The destination was mostly for divers and adventurers.

The Cancha on Club De Yates property provided the housing for the staff and the maintenance area for the power plant because government power was not available yet.

Initially, the small number of staff needed was hired from Merida and surrounding towns, principally Kantunil and Sotuta and their families stayed in their hometowns. If a husband and wife were hired and they had children, they often left them with relatives in their towns.

The land behind the Club property was all government owned and years later when more development took place in Akumal, especially after 1985 when Aventuras Akumal was developed, the workers that were not provided with housing where they worked, moved in to this area, building homes out of thatch and wood with dirt floors. There were no septic tanks or proper sewage of any kind and no running water. They got their water from over the ground water lines that were run to them from the main water line. Some brought their families at that time. This area became known as “ The Jatos”.

The Cancha area on Club Property became the area for the few services that could be provided. A space was rented out for a small pharmacy, another space provided to the police for a small station, and some families still lived there that worked on the property. The hotels on the bay provided their own housing, but the few homes that did not have a caretaker casita, and eventually the condos that were built, had no where to house their employees, so they settled in the “Jatos”.

The government allowed these families to squat there and build there because there were no other options. The conditions were very poor and very unsanitary, as it is lowlands and any time it rained they had to put boards to walk over to get to their homes. Mosquitos were a real problem and for years the hotels lobbied with the government to get them decent housing.

Anyone legally employed in Mexico contributes to a government-housing fund and their employers contribute to this fund for them too. The government must provide access to government housing and those that have enough points can obtain their own homes. Government housing was not available until the Hotel Association of Akumal lobbied to get the town of Chemuyil opened up, and infrastructure in place, to make it available for anyone that qualified under the “Infonavit” housing system.

When Chemuyil was opened up, most of the people wanted to have decent homes and qualified to get a house, so they moved out of the “Jatos” area gladly and willingly.  It was a huge improvement over their living conditions in the Jatos.

The small number that was left either did not want to move to Chemuyil, and or they did not qualify because their employers did not put them into the system  (household workers and condo and villa employees) or they were self-employed.

That left the few that could not, or would not move as squatters on a piece of land that the government wanted to recuperate in order to sell it.  These people became angry and decided to occupy another piece of government land closer to the entrance of Akumal with the help of a social activist they brought in from Mexico City. This was a time of conflict for Akumal.

When Hurricane Roxanne hit in October of 1995, there were people living at the far corner of the entrance to Akumal by the highway, fighting for that property, but the government decided to give them land across the highway. Granting that land was the government’s quick fix, but was made without proper urban planning.  Because of this, the effects of raw sewage going into the ground are being felt in the bay of Akumal and along the entire area. The underground river systems lead to the ocean and along with it goes all the polluted waters of the pueblo and the residential areas that still do not have proper sewage treatment.

The government never seemed to have enough money to provide for the town of Akumal, and that’s where the local community and the businesses and hotels were, and are  able to help out the schools, community center and a library to name a few.  They help with sports fields and sponsoring the various sports teams.

The residents of the pueblo established supermarkets, shops, restaurants, rooms for rent, and even small hotels now either as part of their own homes or buying more lots. Some of the residents of Chemuyil bought land in Akumal Pueblo and now rent out the rooms or houses. Some that built houses live elsewhere, some as caretakers of private homes, and they rent their houses out in the pueblo. There has been prosperity.

In 1992, the original club members decided to turn the Club de Yates into an Ecological Association and use the Club building on the beach as the base of operations to run the programs. The rest of the land was set up with rental locations in order to fund the programs after covering costs of operation. This organization is audited yearly and cleared to operate as a non-profit with tax deduction status with very strict guidelines for fiscal compliance.

Akumal has had its fair share of turmoil. It started with the lack of housing, and the ensuing problems of an inadequate town, but today there are far more families that had their lives improved both in Chemuyil and in Akumal Pueblo than not. There have been plenty of jobs with all the hotels, villas, condos and homes that have been built in the area and the parallel service industries. New industries like the snorkel tour business, has created new conflicts and more challenges for Akumal. These challenges need to be resolved for the sake of the ecosystem and the future of Akumal Bay.

If a Tree Falls…

Manuary 29, 2016

Seeing recent activity and comments in social media as well as news articles, one cannot help but wonder if Akumal is in its own philosophical thought experiment much like “if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?”

Slightly adapted of course, the thought experiment would be something like, if rules are made and no legal authority is there to oversee or enforce them, do the rules need to be followed? Do the rules even exist?

It certainly seems that some believe the answer is no. A few examples to illustrate the point:

1. Ignoring the Port Closure by the Harbour Captain / Beach Flag Warning

In Akumal Bay there is a beach flag warning system, much like any other beach, it operates on a traffic light system—green is good, yellow is take caution, red is stop. The red flag is an advisement, used to indicate high risk to enter the water.

During the week of Christmas, despite sunny days, the water conditions were not ideal. Akumal Bay was set to a red flag during these days because the wind and currents were strong, the visibility poor and the normally calm bay was quite choppy. In fact, the conditions were so bad that the harbor captain closed the port and stopped all recreational boating operations for several days.

Yet, despite the closure, some locally-operated snorkel cooperatives continued to conduct their tours, risking the safety of their clients.

Dec23-Diario de Quintana Roo

From Diario de Quintana Roo (December 23, 2015)
http://www.dqr.com.mx/index.php/sections/tulum/24907-arriesgaron-vida-de-turistas

2. Disregarding the federally decreed Fish Refuge

In April 2015, the federal government declared an area around Akumal Bay a fish refuge—meaning that the span of about 7km long and 1.5km from shore is a no-take zone. Yet, visitors and residents have reported on several occasions seeing various activities (spearfishing and shore fishing for example) that contravenes the federally recognized decree from. Additionally, there are rules such as that no fish should be cleaned or discarded in the bay.

In a recent article posted on the CEA website, a video has been circling social media in regards to a rather unusual discovery—turtles feeding on barracuda carcasses. The article raises many questions as to where the fish were caught and why the carcasses were in the bay in the first place (to chum/attract wildlife or just discarded overboard?) Either way, both would be against the rules. And yet again, the rules don’t seem to apply for whoever tossed or placed them in the bay.

turtles in akumal bay eating fish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Complete article can be found here: http://goo.gl/bH1gqs

3. Squatting on Concession Areas

In another social media post, this time on a local hotel page, an independent tour operator had set up shop in the hotel’s beach concession area. The following images and information was posted:

We want our hotel guests to know that the snorkel tour vendors who have set up on the beach area of the hotel are in NO way affiliated nor employed by Hotel Akumal Caribe or the surrounding businesses. In fact, this group doesn’t have the required authorization (government issued concession/permit) to even conduct business in this area. Since government action takes time, we ask for your support and not encourage illegal behavior by contracting any services with these groups.

HAC facebook image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those that may not be aware, each beachfront hotel or property that plans on using the 20 meter federal area of beach must have a federally issued permit or “concession” to do so. Additionally the laws clearly state that no selling or peddling is permitted in the concession area. (Article 12 of the Ley Federal de Zona Federal)

Despite being asked to leave by police and fiscal authorities, the guides return the very next day like nothing happened and set up shop once again.

Even in the past week, it seems there are more groups and individuals contravening the concession laws by selling food, snacks, hats and of course snorkel tours.

hotel vendors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From these examples, it is obvious that if there is not constant enforcement of the rules, some believe that the rules don’t exist. Where it gets odder is that some guides aren’t capable of upholding their end of an agreement.

4. Defying changes to the beach access

In December, as an attempt to organize the flow of traffic to the beach before the beginning of high season, Centro Ukana I Akumal had redirected beachgoers and commercial operators to the beach access through the main building which resulted in a roadblock into Akumal protesting the closure of the path entrance. After four days, an agreement was reached that the beach path would be for the people of the pueblo for their personal and recreation use and the other entrance would be for everyone else, including commerical snorkel groups/tours. And yet despite this agreement, some snorkel groups refuse to comply.

As posted on Centro Ecologico Akumal’s page:

guides entering

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A group of guides employed by several local snorkel tour operators has decided to disregard the agreement reached on December 20th regarding the Centro Ukana I Akumal AC beach entrances. The agreement reached outlined that locals would have access to the beach via the path, however, it would be for their personal/recreational use only. All others, including commercial snorkel groups, would use the main entrance to the beach on the property.

So, if a tree falls and a group of people were there to watch it fall and confirm that it fell with documents and photos, it becomes hard to debate that the falling tree wasn’t heard.

These are just four examples from the past month that illustrate the belief for some that rules can be disregarded, ignored, or broken, especially if there are no authorities to enforce them.

Yet, the rules, guidelines, or agreements serve a purpose: to ensure safety to national and foreign tourists; to provide order to Akumal Bay; and to preserve the natural beauty and resources that many depend on. Sadly, for some individuals and groups, there is little respect for creating and maintaining order, little regard to safety, and not much concern the ecosystems.

If these rules can’t be followed and even a voluntary agreement by some of the participants can’t be respected, it begs the question how a comprehensive bay management plan for Akumal will ever be adhered to.

However, what has become very clear by these examples is that the missing piece of the philosophical thought experiment statement are the authorities. If rules are made and a legal authority is there to oversee or enforce them, then the rules must certainly exist.

 

Don’t be misled down the main street of Akumal

December 28, 2015

As one enters Akumal on foot you pass at least five different palapas selling services, tours and snorkeling with turtles experiences. There have been various tourists who have complained at not just the harassment, but also the lies they have been sold on this street.

As luck would have it, a couple of friends volunteered to be undercover tourists to get the scoop and to hear the fabrications firsthand as they walked from the highway, through the arch and to the bay. We also checked with the Ecological Center in Akumal to shed light on the shell games being played on the street.

Note that the identity of our undercover tourists will not be shared, but what we can tell you is that they were a youngish American couple, visibly toting their own snorkel gear.

This is what they were told, and in some cases, what they overheard other tourists being sold…err… told:

1. LIFE-JACKETS

  • … you must have a life-jacket. You can rent one here.
  • … it is illegal if you don’t wear one.
  • … you can’t swim outside the buoys without a life-jacket

It is not a mandatory requirement to use a life-jacket. Of course, for safety reasons, it is highly advisable, but in no way is it mandatory or illegal. As well, snorkelers can swim inside or outside the buoys without a life-jacket. There is no debate that life-jackets keep you afloat (off the reefs) and safe. It’s important that each snorkeler/swimmer know their limits and use sound judgement, but it is also important to know the truth–you won’t be denied access to the bay without one, nor will you be arrested!

2. ECOLOGICAL ASSOCIATIONS, FEES, MARINE PARK

  • We work for the ecological center…
  • 70% of your fee is donated back to the ecological center.
  • The bracelet is to show that you paid an eco-tax because this is a marine park.

First, Akumal Bay has not been designated a marine park or turtle refuge. It is, however, in the works, but the government has yet to make this announcement.

Second, there is no such thing as an eco-tax. Any money paid to the tour operators/guides goes to the operators’ pockets, not the ecological center. Donations that come to the ecological center are given directly at their office or online via their website.

Third, the ecological center doesn’t offer or provide snorkel tours. Any guide or tour operator that says they are connected or working for the ecological center is a sales ploy. No tour guides or tour operators have been hired or are employed by the ecological center.

3GUIDES

  • It is mandatory to have a guide.
  • It is mandatory to have a guide if you want to snorkel outside the buoys.

It is NOT mandatory to hire a guide. Again, this is a sales ploy to drum up business. Any snorkeler visiting Akumal can enter the bay and snorkel at their own accord. Of course it is wise to know the guidelines of the bay, the water safety rules and get a general orientation. All of this can be done by asking the lifeguards on duty or dropping by the ecological center.

You can’t blame the guides or tour operators for wanting to conduct business. However, you can see the deceitful ways in which they are doing so. The bottom line is to be in the know and don’t be misled down the main street of Akumal.

If you want more information on snorkeling guidelines, be sure to visit www.ceakumal.org or drop by their office.