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The New Buoys in Akumal

In the past weeks, buoys have been installed by the authorities in Akumal Bay. There is little to no information public information on the zones, but this popped up today on Hotel Akumal Caribe’s Facebook page.

For those of you that have seen the new buoys in the bay, this is the sparse information we have about them. (Beyond saying that they are not aesthetically pleasing and very confusing)
The permits for snorkel tour operators state that permit holders are only allowed to take tours around two circuits as per the map below.
  • The dark purple area around the two circuits is for guided snorkel tours only in a clockwise direction. (“Poligono de nado”)
  • The white area on the first 50 meters from shore is for swimming. Anyone can go in there and use it for recreational purposes.
  • The turquoise area denotes the navigation channels for motorized watercraft.
  • The light pink states it is for dive use although that area is too shallow and has reef.
  • The lime green area is restricted to everyone. So no swimming or snorkelling here.
  • The yellow area is labelled” zoned for sustainable recreation activities” but no rules or regulations explained.

There are no explanations for the use of the rest of the bay.

There are a lot of questions that these permits and map have raised for those that are not on snorkel tours, and want to go snorkelling on their own. Furthermore, no government authority has been able to clarify our doubts or answer our questions.

There is still no management plan in place. One would think that this would go before giving out permits. CONANP, who put out this map is supposed to put the management plan in place and has yet to have a constant presence in Akumal. The only supervision being carried out is by PROFEPA, (the environmental police) but it is sporadic and ineffective in controlling the snorkel tours, let alone overseeing the use of the rest of the bay.

 

These are our conclusions:

 

Guided tours are not being controlled. Snorkelers with no guides do not know where to go, when it’s ok for them to snorkel or what gear is allowed. Sometimes they are told to use short fins, sometimes they are not told anything. Sometimes they are told to wear a life jacket, sometimes only when with a guide. Sometimes they are told that they cannot wear an inflatable life jacket, and so on. The confusion continues. And sadly, there are no concrete answers.

There are no set limits of use for the entire bay, and the limits of use for the circuits by the permit holders is also not clearly stated in the permits.

The “quasi “rules are for everyone, without regard to where they come from, or where they are staying. The properties on the beach do not regulate the use of the bay. This is strictly the jurisdiction of the government, and they have yet to show a professional logical and sustainable management plan based on real science.

The original article can be viewed here:
https://www.facebook.com/notes/hotel-akumal-caribe/the-new-buoys-in-the-bay/10154553260551930/

WARNING: Swimming with Turtles in Akumal Bay

A joint warning from the Tulum Hotel Association, Riviera Maya Hotel Association and the Hotel Association of Cancun and Puerto Morelos was issued and published in Novedades and PorEsto! newspapers today, June 2, 2017.

The following is a translation of the warning message.

 

Warning: Swimming with Turtles in Akumal Bay

The General Directorate of Wildlife (Dirección General de Vida Silvestre), a unit of the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), authorized various individuals and cooperatives to conduct guided swimming tours with turtles. The permits were granted without verifying or requiring that the service providers and their tour guides had proper instruction or training, such as swimming abilities and water rescue procedures. It was not verified that these individuals had the necessary infrastructure to properly and safely provide this service,  nor was it confirmed if they had insurance coverage in case of accident and/or damage. Neither did they verify if these individuals have criminal records. These omissions have resulted in fatal accidents!

The Tulum Hotel Association encourages visitors, national and international, to verify that the service providers of their choice comply with the following minimum conditions to ensure their safety and promote the sustainable development of the Bay of Akumal:

  1. Tour guides accredited by Secretariat of Federal Tourism as “Tour guides for the interpretation of nature, specialized in swimming with turtles, under NOM-TUR-009-2002”.
  2. Liability and medical insurance in the event of an accident.
  3. Showers so that clients can rinse off before entering the water, since  sunscreens and other chemicals have been proven to damage marine species.
  4. First aid equipment, and trained and certified personnel.
  5. Municipal Operating Licences.

Help us promote safety and sustainability in Bahia de Akumal / Akumal Bay

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.

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.