Akumal Bay, land without law

The following article, Bahía de Akumal, tierra sin ley, was published in PorEsto! on March 8, 2017. Translation has been provided below.

The original article can be found here:
http://www.poresto.net/ver_nota.php?zona=qroo&idSeccion=6&idTitulo=544698

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AKUMAL, TULUM: March 8, 2017—Employers and providers of accredited nautical services, established in Akumal Bay, blame the three levels of government for not proceeding in the areas that they are responsible for, one year after the natural refuge of turtles was decreed, consequently from the entrance to the coastal area shows the disorder, after the proliferation of street vendors and “pirates” who offer services for swimming with turtles.

David Ortiz Salinas, Vice President of the Hotel Association of Tulum (AHT) in his speech at the press conference held in a well-known hotel in the Riviera Maya, recalled that last Tuesday, March 7, marked one year since the decree of the refuge area of turtles.

After the order to suspend swimming with turtles by PROFEPA, it makes it clear that there are no permits of any kind, for anyone, for such practice.

Therefore, he called on the relevant authorities to intervene, because the bay and marine species   are in danger, and it has reached a saturation point.

“There is a lack of coordination among all levels of government, among the same environmental authorities who have not been able to put order, lack of rule of law, lack of consequences for those who transgress the rights of others, those are the requests: that the authority in the field implement and enforce laws for all,” said Héctor Lizárraga, director of the CEA, who recalled in the same issue when they started with studies of marine species and reefs, have since witnessed the significant deterioration of species , so it is that in 2008, through a scientific study that was addressed to SEMARNAT, that eight years later they have considered it appropriate, and why the authority decreed the area of refuge.

But nowadays they have somehow seen a lack of action and absence of environmental authorities, which have in some way also led to the activities that should be sustainable in the area of refuge, comprising an area of 6 kilometers of coast and one kilometer offshore.

Although the intention is to protect species of turtles, sea grass, coral and mangrove in total the biodiversity of Akumal they are also highlighted in other places which has let to development without order and to the gradual deterioration which makes it all that more important that the federal authorities have taken a step to monitor compliance with the restriction on non-extractive activity with turtles.

Also that they maintain their position of not issuing permits until they can count on sufficient elements embodied in the protection program.

Arturo Orosco, a representative of the Akumal Dive Center, said that Akumal is living through an environmental, social and tourist services disorder that has generated enormous wealth for the people of Akumal.

He places the responsibility for creating this chaos, a disorder in the tourist services to the pueblo of Akumal; not to forget that the problem that Akumal is living through is purely commercial, commercial activities have not been regularized by the corresponding authorities, giving rise to people who have arrived as opportunists.

Adolfo Contreras, president of the Hotel Association of Tulum (AHT) and Edgar López, representative of “Piratas de Akumal”, a cooperative established for 10 years, was present at the press conference.

Swim with turtles tours still quietly going on despite suspension

March 10, 2017
It has been almost three weeks since PROFEPA suspended the swimming with turtles activities for commercial operators in Akumal Bay. From the suspension, it seems many operators/snorkel guides have begun to diversify their businesses. Instead of heading to Akumal Bay, they now make their way further down the road to Yalku Lagoon. Some tours are also being diverted to Half Moon Bay—an area with abundant reef located in shallow waters; an area that is not suitable for beginner snorkelers who will struggle with their equipment and buoyancy to the detriment of the fragile corals below with a kick, swipe or touch.

 

Then there is the type of business diversity that use covert operations to push the legal boundaries. Yet, if you watch closely, it isn’t all that covert.

 

Just the other day, reports an eye witness, we watched a guide talk to a group of 5 visitors. He walked the group back to the main road and they all reappeared several minutes later on the beach with snorkel and masks in hand. They gathered around the palm trees and listened to the guide who then motioned to the water and pointed somewhere along the horizon as he gave instructions. Immediately after, the guide ran into the water, dove under and swam out to the buoys where he waited for the group to join.

 

It was perfectly disguised as a group of friends going snorkeling together without a guide from the beach, shares the eye witness. But it was so obvious what was going on. As soon as the people got into the water, the guide met them and helped with their equipment, then started to lead them on a snorkeling tour of the bay.

 

The guide not only broke the suspension order by providing service, but clearly shows no environmental concern to the reasons indicated by PROFEPA for the closure for groups in the first place–the protection of the turtles, seagrass, corals. To make matters worse, the guide and the five individuals went into the water on a Red Flag day–a day where waves, current, and visibility are far from ideal–and the same day that the Harbour Captain suspended all nautical activities.

 

However, PROFEPA seems to be onto these underground, covert operatives conducting tours in plain day under their noses.

 

On Wednesday, a guide who was hawking tours and seen with two female tourists, was questioned by PROFEPA regarding his activities.

 

Apparently nothing came of the matter as he explained that the women he approached were “friends” and that he wasn’t selling or conducting tours.

 

Tourists who cover up for their guides , during a government decreed suspension or hire a guide in this clandestine manner are going against a government order.

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.

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