High Season is Here

Akumal on Saturday, January 2

PHOTO TAKEN ON SATURDAY, JANUARY 2, 2016

January 4, 2016

With the holidays rounding out and cold temperatures in various parts of the northern hemisphere, there is certainly no doubt where everyone is heading: South. But looking at the beach in Akumal the first week in January, you would think that that message was more fine-tuned to read Akumal.

The main street into Akumal was clogged, traffic at a standstill, parking mayhem, and people scattered about with no regards to the vehicular traffic. And the beach–what beach? Beyond the towels, umbrellas, coolers and shade tents set up with bodies sprawling, there was little space to be found or sand to be seen. And then there is the bay itself, “snorkeler and swimmer soup” as one tourist called it. Guests of the various hotels and condos reported they preferred to stay on property by the pool or patios instead of battling the traffic and the crowds of day trippers  on the beach.

And this is why the government needs to act sooner rather than later, for Akumal Bay cannot sustain this volume of people. In December 2015, the government approved the justification study based on the various studies and specific evidence provided by CEA and the lobbying by numerous people, to proclaim Akumal Bay a turtle refuge. But the official declaration has been slow in the making. By declaring it a refuge, the government authorities would then be able to implement capacity limits  and oversee a management plan; the capacity limits for both the beach and the bay would help achieve sustainability.

It is critical that the government take action to not only declare Akumal a Turtle Refuge but to also enforce capacity limits and a management plan before it is too late.

Threat of Yet Another Blockade in Akumal

FRIDAY, JANUARY 8, 2016

The rumors have started. The whispers are being spread. And the not-so secret meetings of the renegade cooperatives, who believe they are the exception to any rule or agreement, are happening.

What’s the issue?

Same as before—the access to the beach through the pathway located on private property.

On December 20, 2015, a few things were established:

  • The path entrance can be used for locals-only (people from the pueblo)
  • The path entrance would be for the locals’ recreational/personal use only (no commercial activity)
  • All commercial activity would be rerouted through the CUIAC property

After this arrangement, which was agreed to, the roadblock was taken down. But it begs the question, did the renegade tour guides/operators who didn’t agree merely see this as a temporary truce? As time to regroup and plan their next step?

Anything is possible, right? It does make one believe this is exactly what was done because on Wednesday, January 6, local guides began using the “locals-only” entrance effectively breaching the agreement that the entrance was not to be used for commercial purposes.

It is a blatant disregard to the agreement. Essentially, this act of defiance is a middle-finger salute to not only the property owners but also to the local agreement-respecting community. It also reflects badly on the authorities who were there to ensure the agreement be respected yet stood by to watch it happen.

So what’s being done?

From what we’ve seen and have been told, the property management (CUIAC) hasn’t taken action. They are aware of the breach in the agreement and released a statement earlier today which stated, “Not wishing to cause conflict and knowing that a meeting is scheduled with local authorities today, property management has not intervened.”

And what about the blockade?

As of now, the road is clear. But who knows what will happen after the meeting. Predicting this group’s actions is like predicting that of a petulant teenager.

For those only passing though or reading some of the media coverage, you may not have realized that during the December roadblock the protesters (mostly comprised of tour operators/guides) accosted and harassed various members of the community (locals, expats and tourists alike as they crossed the blockade or were refused entry into Akumal in vehicles), cut down trees on private property to create the roadblock, disposed of garbage in the forest during this time, misrepresented themselves as staff and members of the ecological society in the press, posted threatening and violent messages towards respected community leaders in the pueblo, disregarded the port authority’s bay closure and the safety of their clients to go snorkeling, and directly impacted their fellow pobladores from earning a living.

That is the just a small scale view. The ripples continue outward yet somehow I doubt the global picture of impacting tourism or even ecology by unsustainable practices is being given a second thought.

Final thoughts

It is just really unfortunate. Clearly, this is a very passionate group of people who believe in what they are fighting for, but would it not be amazing to harness this passion and use it to apply pressure on the government to finally declare Akumal a Turtle Refuge? Or to focus the energy into creating a viable and sustainable management plan?

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.

5 FACTS ABOUT THE SITUATION IN AKUMAL

As of noon today, Saturday, December 19, 2015:
  1. The main road entering Akumal continues to be blocked by a group of local tour operators protesting the current beach access.
  2. Vehicular traffic is being blocked in and out of the Akumal. There have been reports that those who can prove that they need to get to the airport are being allowed to exit, but at this time it is unconfirmed.
  3. Foot traffic is also being impeded as the walkway into Akumal is blocked. Pedestrians have been allowed to cross with varying degrees of hassle.
  4. Police are on-site at the roadblock and while they are not taking action to dismantle the blockade, it appears they are there to simply monitor.
  5. Despite the protesters’ claims, the beach access is open and there is no entry fee.