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.

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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. 

Bad Behaviour in the Bay

In the past week there have been two separate incidents involving one “tour guide” who has physically assaulted and threatened individuals. 

On Wednesday, December 14, a Canadian man was snorkelling in Akumal Bay when he was physically accosted by a “tour guide” as he ordered the tourist how to snorkel. Screaming and insults were heard by the lifeguard onsite who went out by kayak to inspect the situation. The tourist was brought to shore where he described and demonstrated how the tour guide punched him in the face and hit him with his buoy.

Watch video here: canadian-accosted-on-akumal-bay-by-tour-guide-december-2016.

Police were called and took an initial report. The tourist was asked to go to Tulum to place a formal complaint against the tour guide, however, this was something the tourist was either unable or unwilling to do, so the matter did not proceed and no consequences have been given to the tour guide.

The following day, December 15, 2016, the same guide approached the lifeguard and started screaming that because of his intervention and the videos recorded at the time and posted, his reputation as a tour guide is now being affected through social media. The lifeguard clarified that he was doing his job and that any disturbance in the water is his responsibility to investigate. The guide got closer to the lifeguard and swung at him, in front of the fiscal inspectors–employees working for a branch of the state government responsible for commercial permits. The inspectors intervened and called the police. The police arrived, and again said that formal reports need to be issued in the Tulum office. All parties, including the fiscal inspectors attended as witnesses.

The civil court judge heard both sides and his conclusion was that unless there was concrete physical evidence of aggression (bruises, lesions or cuts) he was not able to issue a restraining order or provide alternative repercussions against the guide. Video and witnesses are apparently not sufficient evidence. The judge then drew up an agreement to maintain peace and if both sides didn’t sign the agreement, they would be held in jail for 36 hours.

The bottom line is this: there is absolutely no excuse or justification for using physical aggression in either of these cases. But perhaps the saddest part of these incidents is that the guide continues to work in Akumal without any consequences to his actions.