cooperatives tagged posts

Updates to the Illegal Beach Path in Akumal

Since 2016 when land was illegally taken from Hotel Akumal Caribe by a group of commercial tour guides and operators wielding chainsaws, axes, and machetes claiming their right to the private property, the process to reclaim the land has been in the courts. At the end of January, a federal judge passed the order that the land in fact belonged to Hotel Akumal Caribe, recognized through municipal and public records that the path to the bay is not a “window to the sea” (as the cooperatives/commercial operators claimed) and that the land is to be restituted back to the hotel.

Currently, the municipal president is defying the court order and some of the commercial operators are retaliating by launching false media campaigns.

Recently the following was published in QueQui newspaper. (Translation below.)

 

To the public opinion

Background: On August 31, 2016, various groups of commercial operators, in collusion with the City of Tulum, invaded private property belonging to the Hotel Akumal Caribe. Arguing that within said property there should be a public access to the beach (window to the sea). In the presence and with the consent of the municipal police, the merchants were introduced to the property with heavy machinery, chainsaws and machetes and demolished buildings, deforested green areas and even demolished the statue of Gonzalo Guerrero.

From the date on which this occurred, the invaded area has been used for the sale of turtle swimming tours, rent of vests and other offers of the informal vendors; This to the detriment of the ecology and the tourist image of Akumal.

The Hotel, firmly believing in the rule of law, sought to assert its property rights and the resolution of the conflict with strict adherence to the law. This process has been  long and expensive. Meanwhile, for more than a year and a half, the invaders commercially exploited the property, causing irreparable damage to the image and tourist offer of Akumal.

After a long legal process, the Second Collegiate Court of the Seventh Circuit, Cancun, Quintana Roo, determined that the ownership of the Hotel Akumal Caribe was taken illegally on August 31, 2016 and ordered its restitution. Among other things, the definitive resolution establishes that:

“… to restitute the complaining party with respect to the part of their property that was affected …”

We have full confidence in our legal institutions. The legal truth is now clear. We await the full compliance according to the law by the Municipality of Tulum. The validation by the municipal authorities of acts contrary to the law and the incitement to “continue with the struggle” is a clear challenge to federal justice and the laws of our country.

We will remain committed to the sustainable development of Akumal. Convinced that the best way to help the community is with generating jobs and attracting quality tourism. We should not devalue the tourist offer of Akumal for the benefit of the informal vendors; this does not contribute to its development. On the contrary, it directly attacks the investments that generate employment and the right of legitimate workers and businesses in the tourism sector of the entity.

Hotel Akumal Caribe

Owners, managers and workers.

Lack of information and communication by authorities creates confusion and disarray in the bay.

Akumal Bay is in a state of uncertainty as well as disarray.

The declaration of the Refuge for Protected Marine Species and with that a new bay management plan now being enforced has created many problems and issues which in turn is confusing and bewildering to those visiting the bay.

The authorities have not implemented any signs, maps or any visual informational to help inform the visitors once they arrive. Additionally, the general public including Mexican nationals, guests of the hotels and resorts and rental properties are unaware that there are government authorities and other monitors in the bay and when someone approaches them when they are already in the water, they naturally react with doubt and reservation as to who the person is.

It does not help the situation either that for the past year at least there have again been groups of guides from several of the tour operator cooperatives that are now “bay monitors”. Many of these are the very same individuals from the former “Vigilance Committee” of the summer/fall of 2016 that were stalking and extorting visitors to take a tour. They were very convincing with their official looking green shirts or “bay patrol” shirts but in fact they were not any legal authority and many were reported for their actions and bad behavior towards tourists.

All of this has been circulating around in social media and over time has had very detrimental effects to Akumal tourism. Anyone that has access to these pages and have either been following the history of these events or are hearing about these incidents for the first time, would naturally be leery of ANYONE approaching them, especially when they are already in the water…let alone consider even coming to Akumal.

In a perfect world, proper informative signage with maps in English and Spanish would be placed in several strategic and visible locations in Akumal, including the beach. An effort would be put into proper training for these patrols that would include better methods to engage visitors such as basic customer service protocols, conflict resolution and that any personnel tasked with these monitoring responsibilities have good communication skills.

The government officials should speak English at the very least but if their decision is to enlist local guides, then they need to also have proper training and be able to communicate effectively (just not speak) in English. They have been sent out on a mission without the tools to carry out the mission!

And to make an effort to try to be polite and professional even educational to visitors would go a long way.

There should be visual aids by way of signage letting people know what the rules are BEFORE they enter the water. There should be someone available to answer questions or doubts. None of this is in place, but we are hopeful that it will be and very soon. The business and property owners of the bay have been requesting this from the authorities and showing them evidence of how a management plan can go very wrong if not monitored correctly.

So one wonders why there is so much conflict now with the present “vigilance committee” of Akumal Bay? And consequently, the actual government officials should be wondering why they are getting a negative reaction from tourists when they approach them…because there in fact is indeed the source of the issues plain and simple.

A Poor Example of Protection Efforts in Akumal Bay

A few weeks ago, the “snorkel with turtles” suspension in Akumal Bay was lifted after only 51 days and SEMARNAT reissued permits to commercial operators.

Much like before, only those with a permit can conduct tours in the bay, and each permit holder is expected to follow certain limitations and restrictions to conduct their business in a sustainable and prescribed way within a specific protected area within the bay. Some of those limitations include:

  • Snorkel activities can only be carried out between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
  • No more than 6 people/group plus a guide.
  • The minimum distance between groups is 10 meters.

A full list of rules for tourist service providers can be found on CONANP’s Facebook page.

Yet in the past few weeks, since the permits were issued, several rules are being ignored. Case in point, the following irregularities and violations have been witnessed:

  • Snorkel tours are being conducted before the hours of 9 a.m.
  • Snorkel tours are being conducted after 5 p.m.
  • Commercial tour providers rumoured to not having a permit are conducting tours and operating in Akumal Bay.
  • Snorkel groups are exceeding the limit of 6 people per group
  • Snorkel groups are not keeping a 10m distance

Why are the rules being broken?

There are several forces at work, as was the case before the suspension. First and foremost, it comes down to the lack of respect for the rules.

For years, many of these commercial operators have been conducting their business in whatever manner they see fit, focusing on profits first and ecological impact last. Also, history has proven that their conduct of operation comes from a different “playbook”—a playbook that condones setting up shop on private property, conducting business illegally, torching police stations and vehicles, vandalizing and theft as well as acts of physical assault against their fellow citizens and tourists… all actions that have come with minimal or no legal consequences.

So how can it be feasible to go from renegade and rebellious self-serving attitudes to having to follow the rules? Even the former permits which clearly stated a maximum of 12 people per day per tour operator were never followed along with other directives, so what possible incentive or motivation would make them follow the rules now?

Secondly, and perhaps the biggest reason as to why the rules cannot be followed falls onto the responsibility of the authorities with their lack of organization and ineffective enforcement and execution of any sort of overall management.

The most recent permits were reissued before the authorities bothered to conduct any scientific studies to establish the capacity limits for the bay or organize a cohesive management plan or even implement protocols or procedures to oversee or enforce the rules, effectively creating a “cart-before-the-horse” scenario.

Authorities are on the beach, but without a monitored, centralized entrance or organized procedures in place for both in water and on the beach activities, there is no way for the authorities to know the following:

  • which groups are entering—permitted or not,
  • which groups are entering with authorized guide,
  • how many people each group is entering with,
  • which circuit each which group is using,
  • are the groups following the timeline for each circuit, or
  • how many total snorkelers or beach goers have entered the beach that hour or day.

If the authorities can’t effectively monitor the activities, how are they expected to enforce the permit rules?

The simple answer right now is that they can’t. Without structure in place and only two PROFEPA staff to monitor all the activities and actions for over 30 permitted groups (alongside the unpermitted groups) in and out of the water, it is just not viable.

As a result of these serious and definite gaps, many of the tour operators are capitalizing on the situation. Tour groups are entering the bay before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. with more than six individuals because there are no authorities on the beach at these times. And even when there are authorities on the beach between 9 and 5, they simply don’t have the capacity to fully monitor or enforce those entering without a permit or those entering at a different access with more than six people.

Is protection a priority? 

So, it begs the question, is protection of Akumal Bay really a priority?

If protection of Akumal Bay were a priority, then each and every tour operator would be making a conscious effort to respect the rules and demand the same from each permit-holding colleague.

If protection of Akumal Bay were a priority for the authorities, and not just the façade of back patting and congratulatory credit in decreeing a protected area, a cohesive management plan (including capacity limits based on local scientific studies) with various approaches to administer that plan would have been developed and implemented even before the consideration of re-issuing permits to legitimate commercial tour operators with business permits and a business address.

If protection of Akumal Bay were a priority, an effective and comprehensive plan would take into account more than just the guided tours of the bay—it would consider the rental of snorkel equipment (a great contributor to the overuse of the bay), education and information for all users of the bay, and training and education to ensure all guides are qualified, insured, first-aid certified and all operating in a sustainable, standardized and legal manner.

But… when governments are financially encouraged to put the cart first, the priority for the horse is secondary at best—disregarding the vital planning, implementation, enforcement and management steps—thus resulting in Akumal Bay being a poor example of ecological protection designed by all levels of government involved.

DEFYING THE SUSPENSION ORDER; CHALLENGING THE AUTHORITY

Earlier today several local cooperatives took guided snorkeling tours in Akumal Bay, despite the ongoing temporary suspension and the suspension notice  clearly visible on the beach.

Guide from local cooperative walks his “snorkel with turtle” tour guests past military patrol, PROFEPA and suspension notice sign

The authorities were apparently  taken off guard and started documenting evidence. They were unable to stop this activity although they followed them into the water. Some tense interactions on the beach with the rest of the guides had the military standing by.

Profepa officials were seen on the phone, but they did not get the guides to desist, although they eventually stopped on their own. This seems to be a brazen act of rebellion and lack of respect for the authority, unless something else is happening here.

In addition, cooperatives have been taking tours in after Profepa staff leave at 5pm, and as of yesterday, the Profepa staff were doing overtime and left at 7pm. We hope to get some clarity about this situation soon.

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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