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

 

 

Perimeter Fence in Akumal Disrupted by Threats and Property Damage

The following is the translation of the article printed in the PorEsto! on March 4, 2017

A Perimeter fence in the Ukana I Akumal Center

After a mesh fence was placed as delimitation of property, located in the Bay of Akumal, the Federal Office of Environmental Protection (Profepa) was observing the work, to verify if it meets the procedures and not expanding to the Federal Zone Land Maritime (Zofemat). The private property of the Ukana I Akumal, A.C. Center, also known as the Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA), has been officially acknowledged by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Common Jurisdiction (MPFC) to protect private property.

So the work began on the installation of a perimeter fence that, it should be clarified, has nothing to do with public access to the beach. It was during the morning of Friday that there were moments of tension in the Bay of Akumal, on one side the established businesses and on the other side some inhabitants that work in that coastal part, although the presence of the Mexican Navy was noted as well as staff of Profepa who took photographs of the actions and in turn to verify if the functions carried out comply with the regulations. This dependency maintains

Supervision in the area; the municipal police was also present, and on the other hand the private security and lawyers to delimit the property.

On the 15th and 21st of February 2016, the Ukana I Akumal Center, also known as the Akumal Ecological Center, attempted to delimit the boundaries of it’s property which is an exercise of a legitimate right. Although it is fundamentally the right to do what each person considers appropriate with the things of his property, there has been a reaction from various informal commercial groups that prevented the property from fencing, threatening with machetes, damaging and destroying what is not their property although it was clarified that this measure has nothing to do with public access to the beach, as it is only a simple perimeter fence.

For this reason, the corresponding complaint was made to the competent Public Prosecutor’s Office, which issued an order on 25 February 2017. A protection measure is hereby applied in favor of Centro Ukana I Akumal Asociación Civil, also known as Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA) (ic), represented by Javier de Anda Morales, Lot 01 Manzana 11 Región 1 Bahia de Akumal.

Action Taken by Authorities in Akumal

February 15, 2017

What started as regular day, quickly turned into an unusual one with the arrival and presence of authorities taking swift action.

Authorities from PROFEPA accompanied by the Marines arrived in Akumal this morning informing the snorkel tour operators in the bay that they were required to leave and that the bay was now temporarily closed to all commercial activity.

Marines arrive with authorities to suspend snorkel with turtle activities

While many of the cooperatives seemed to be taken by surprise, it shouldn’t have been a surprise since all commercial tour operator permits expired on December 31, 2016.

Since January 1, any commercial group that was operating tours in Akumal was doing so without a permit. Akumal-based cooperatives continued to enter the bay and conduct tours without permits, as well as outside groups (both commercial and freelance) began their operations again—increasing the numbers of snorkellers on a daily basis.

Authorities have done little or nothing for the past 10 months, since the declaration of the Refuge for Protected Species in April of last year. Despite outside or unpermitted companies entering the bay or local cooperatives exceeding their daily quota of guests (12/day), there were no consequences or enforcement—the authorities simply turned a blind eye or their backs.

Today, however, was different. Action was taken.

Authorities say that this is a temporary suspension of all swim with turtles activity until permits are obtained.

From a purely environmental perspective, it’s a win. However, there are other components that need to be considered for a long-term sustainable solution and future for Akumal. There needs to be a win-win situation that balances economic, social and environmental needs.

But until that time, there are immediate pressing questions. In fact it seems there are more questions than answers or information available at this time. On our list of questions:

Permits

  • Who will get permits?
  • How many cooperatives or companies will get the permits?
  • How many guests will be allowed per day?
  • Who will oversee and ensure authorized entry of groups and that limits are not exceeded?

Zoning

  • Is there a specific zone for swimming only? For snorkelling only?

Beach Goers / Snorkellers

  • Can they rent snorkel equipment? From where? Or they expected to bring their own? Do the same recommendations regarding the use of lifejackets apply?
  • What if someone offers them a tour (since this is illegal until permits are issued)? Where do they report and to whom?
  • Who will be providing beach goers with information/education on best practices or details if the recommendations change?

Fingers crossed that in due time the authorities will be releasing more details and answering some of these immediate questions while taking steps towards long-term sustainable planning and implementation.

IMG_2266

 

 

Snorkeling in Akumal: One Family’s Nightmare, “an absolute disaster”

January 10, 2017

As more incidents of harassment, intimidation and assault are occurring on the beach and in the water by various local guides and their associates, tourists are becoming increasingly frustrated, frightened, and vocal.

The following is a report that was shared with us by an American tourist:

***

I’m writing to inform you that snorkelling in the bay was not as we remembered and an absolute disaster. 

I attempted three times to snorkel in the bay and on all attempts I was accosted by people claiming to be guides insisting I pay them money and saying that life jackets are mandatory. On the third trip in the ocean (December 19 at 10 a.m.) three guys ganged up on my 3 small kids, girlfriend and I.

The one guide was heavy set and was the one that started it all. I told him to get away from us and leave us alone. While he was yelling at us he kept a hand in his pocket as if he had a hand on a knife or something. I kept looking at it underwater to insure I wasn’t about to get stabbed or anything. I never saw a weapon but he seemed to have something in his hand.

Another guy grabbed my girlfriend and attempted to pull her to shore. My kids started crying and were scared with the yelling and seeing this commotion. After my girlfriend broke free, she managed to take these pictures of the incident.

This is the big guy that started the whole thing. Would not leave us alone and had something in his hand in his pocket.  He kept insisting we get out of the water pay him $20 and needed a guide and life jacket.  Keep in mind we were right over 3 beautiful  turtles he was almost kicking with his flippers

This is the big guy that started the whole thing. Would not leave us alone and had something in his hand in his pocket. He kept insisting we get out of the water pay him $20 and needed a guide and life jacket. Keep in mind we were right over 3 beautiful turtles he was almost kicking with his flippers

 

This is the guy who grabbed my girlfriend assertively and tried to take her to shore. She broke free and took his picture.

This is the guy who grabbed my girlfriend assertively and tried to take her to shore. She broke free and took his picture.

 

This is the guy who ran into me with this boat, and threatened us with his paddle held high over his head as if he was going to strike us with it.  I flipped him out of the boat.

This is the guy who ran into me with this boat, and threatened us with his paddle held high over his head as if he was going to strike us with it. I flipped him out of the boat.

 

A young skinny guy in a kayak came over and hit me with the kayak. He held his paddle over his head as if he was going to strike me if I didn’t get out of the ocean. They were yelling that they were going to get the police which was also frightening to us.

My shaken family returned to shore and my kids no longer wanted to return to the ocean in fear of more confrontation.  We left the following day to continue our vacation elsewhere.

Akumal is such a wonderful place, but incidents like these are such a shame. It is disgusting and needs to be stopped somehow. Being assaulted by these guys in the ocean is completely unacceptable. I know it’s a struggle as there are so many of these people that it’s got to be virtually impossible to stop them but something should be done to prevent this. It was not a good experience. It frightened my entire family—including my three kids who are under 11. While everything else in Akumal is great, being in the ocean was a nightmare for my family. I’m very saddened to say we won’t be returning until something is done.

 ***

The tourist who filed this report is correct in saying that something needs to be done.

It is clear from the past several months that self-regulation of the commercial snorkel tours by the local guides/cooperatives is not effective. Here’s why:

  • The daily limit or quota of tourists per cooperative set by the authorities are not being respected.
  • Incidents of assault and intimidation are being tolerated and even supported by fellow guides/cooperatives.
  • Guests and visitors to Akumal are being bullied, threatened, and accosted and into following quasi “rules” such as the mandatory use of life jackets and guides when the authorities have yet to establish the final management plan of the bay nor any sort of formal rules.

NB: Because there is no final and/or enacted management plan for Akumal Bay, there are no set rules for independent snorkelers. Any information currently published, posted or made public by the authorities are “Recommendations” only, not law.

But then again, maybe self-regulation is working… or at least it is working in favour of the cooperatives–they get additional tourism dollars by exceeding their permit quotas and imposing mandatory rentals of life jackets and guide services. Does self-regulation mean self-interest in this case? Because these actions are good indicators that there is little or no regard on the long-term impact on Akumal’s ecosystem, turtles or even the negative lasting impressions of its guests.


The Mexican Department of Tourism has laws for standards of service for all tourism-related businesses which ensures any tourist to Mexico has the right to standards of service, respect and conduct while enjoying the country, and in particular this area where tourism is the key economic driver.

Reports for any unacceptable or abusive behaviour, conduct, or unlawful practice provided by any tourist business can be filed online with the Secretariat of Tourism (SECTUR), which has the responsibility to investigate each report.

http://www.sectur.gob.mx/quejas-e-inconformidades/otros/


SIMILAR ARTICLES

Snorkeling Incident Report—October 16, 2016

Bad Behaviour in the Bay—December 14, 2016

Bay Patrollers selling tours and charging an entrance fee…—December 22, 2016

Bay Patrollers selling tours and charging an entrance fee under the guise of being the official authorities

December 22, 2016
Last week an Argentinian man approached the fiscal inspectors on the beach in Akumal to report how he was tricked into paying an entrance fee into Akumal Bay.

As he explains in the video, he drove into Akumal and was stopped at the first palapa on the road. The people from the first palapa told him that they are the authority and in order to enter the bay and snorkel with the turtles he had to pay 500 pesos per person to get a bracelet which included a tour guide and was limited to 60 people per day. The man believed what he was told and paid a total of 1000 pesos for two individuals to enter and have a guide. However, when he got to the beach and saw many other vendors and way more people than the supposed daily limit of 60, he began to ask their prices, which were all different. The man realized at this point that what he was initially told was a lie and out of frustration reported the incident to the fiscal inspectors.

The inspector recognized that this is a problem that they are dealing with and would write up a report on the person. He also acknowledged that misleading tourists affects the reputation of the guides. In the end the inspector is heard saying that those people are the authority* because they are registered by PROFEPA and know how to best protect the bay.

*PROFEPA registered various guides and cooperatives to form a “vigilancia committee” to assist in monitoring the bay. Being registered by a government authority does not make the committee or its members government authorities.) 

But the question is this: Can you put the trust of protecting the bay in the hands of those who use such underhanded tactics to get business in the bay? How can conservation happen when those registered by PROFEPA to help protect the bay are the same ones seeking profit at any cost or consequence to the tourist and reputation of Akumal?

Incidents like these are impacting Akumal and tarnishing its reputation as a quaint and idyllic beach town. There is certainly nothing quaint or idyllic about being harassed, lied to, scammed or cheated. But this is the way Akumal is shaping up to be and by which its reputation is now being reflected. This situation can change when the protection plan is implemented, regulated and supervised directly by the government authorities, and when the capacity limit is set and respected. Meanwhile, the situation is only getting worse.

NB: There is no entrance fee to enter Akumal Bay.