SEMARNAT tagged posts

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.

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.

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.

Suspension continues amidst pressure from tour operators… but for how long?

Akumal is at a very important and critical crossroads at this moment and the community as a whole has a unique opportunity to play an important role in helping to shape it’s future.

LaIMG_2266st month PROFEPA took action and temporarily suspended the snorkel with tour activities for groups—an action that deserves commendation as the bay cannot sustain the current levels of commercial activity.

However, the government is now being pressured by the local cooperatives and guides to reinstate their commercial permits. While the language of the official statement published by PROFEPA on February 15 is vague concerning permits and how qualifications for them will be determined, they do maintain their commitment to carrying out the effective monitoring and enforcement by qualified inspectors supported by federal authorities. The decisions of the authorities must be based on research, facts, scientific data and precedent with a focus on a sustainable future for Akumal Bay in the forefront.

If, however, the government surrenders to the pressure from the commercial groups and reissues permits without defined limitations and consequences, a comprehensive management plan or controlled entry/exit point to monitor the number of guests, Akumal (its ecosystems, safety and security) will be put at risk again.

Knowing that in order to create sustainable solutions that balance the economic needs of the local community with environmental impacts, guides and cooperatives should and will be part of that picture. But should that picture and future include no properly managed oversight of the people entering, tour groups, or policies? No consequences for violations and infractions? Should the welcoming image to Akumal remain as we have seen and not be improved and maintained?

Some things for everyone to consider:

  • Do you wish to see the local cooperatives set up shop again and continue sales efforts along the entrance to Akumal?
  • Do you think that the snorkel sales shacks constructed along the roadway give a welcoming impression to Akumal?
  • Do you think that the tourists enjoy being stopped by the vendors when driving into the community or walking in from the highway?
  • Is it acceptable for the authorities to allow the tour guides and cooperatives to use these haphazardly  installed snorkel sales shacks as their legal place of business?
  • Do you think that the authorities should continue to look the other way as the cooperatives and informal groups use the private property of other businesses and properties as well as the federal zone to promote and conduct sales and use it as a set up area for their tours?
  • Do you think that the authorities should legitimize and recognize all the new and “splinter” cooperatives that have popped up and are merely opportunists cashing in on the easy snorkel tour dollars? (The numbers are rising. At last count there are 59 groups, while only 20 had legal permits up to December 31 of this year).

Important Points that Need to Happen

  • the authorities must consider waiting to issue the permits until after the management and capacity limits are set so that permit holders have clear rules, laws and not just recommendations.
  • the authorities must finally realize the best option is to work with the property holder that can offer the infrastructure that is needed to allow commercial activity to happen and in a sustainable manner.
  • the authorities must limit the operating permits to those that have the proper installations or access to them. Those permitted and their guides must carry licences, be insured and have proper training including basic water safety, first aid and CPR. Operating permits should first be considered for qualified, legally established cooperatives and their guides that are from Akumal first and foremost.
  • the authorities must recognize that self-regulation by aggressive, sales-motivated guides or other representatives from cooperative groups has not worked—guides cannot be conducting business while monitoring the numbers of entries of their colleagues and friends. Alternative solutions must be found to monitor, educate and control the number of groups entering on a daily basis.

As these next developments move forward, there is a lot at stake for the stability of the entire Akumal community and with that comes some degree of concern for its security as well.

Many of the local tour operators have visited the offices of the Congress of the State of Quintana Roo and the President of the Municipality of Tulum to have their concerns heard and appeal the PROFEPA decision. They maintain that many families have now been financially affected due to this action and they are now victims of desperate economic hardship.

The redistribution of operating permits will soon be a reality that will hopefully coincide with a properly managed and enforced bay management plan. Meanwhile it has been documented that the business of snorkel tours at locations such as Yal Ku Lagoon and Half Moon Bay, have dramatically increased since the very day that the government suspension was enacted.

This very well may be one of the most critical times where the collective voices, ideas and opinions from all residents, long time visitors and guests must be heard by the various authorities. If you are in support and agreement with any of what you have read here or want to express and share your views with the various authorities and be a part of shaping the future of Akumal, please use the links below for communication. Let your voice be heard by letting the authorities know how you feel as well as how sustainable long-term solutions are essential.

Contacts

Secretaría de Tourismo (SECTUR), Enrique de la Madrid Cordero
(National Secretary of Tourim)

Gobernador Constitucional del Estado de Quintana Roo, C.P. Carlos Joaquín González
(Governor of Quintana Roo)
despachodelejecutivo@qroo.gob.mx
carlos.joaquin@carlosjoaquin.com
molivares@qroo.gob.mx,

Secretario de Gobierno, Mtro. Francisco Xavier López Mena
(Secretary General of the Government)
secretaria.gobierno@qroo.gob.mx

Secretaría de Finanzas y Planeación de Q. Roo, C.P. Juan Vergara Fernández
(Ministry of Finance and Planning of Quintana Roo)
secretario@sefiplan.qroo.gob.mx

Secretaria Estatal de Turismo, Lic. Marisol Vanegas Pérez
(Ministry of State Tourism)
marisol.vanegas@qroo.gob.mx
marisol.vanegas@carlosjoaquin.com

Secretario de Seguridad Publica, Lic. Rodolfo Del Ángel Campos
(Ministry of Public Security)
mercurio@sspqroo.gob.mx
secretariosp@sspqroo.gob.mx

Fiscal General del Estado de Q. Roo, Mtro. Miguel Angel Pech Cen
(Attorney General of the State of Quintana Roo)
despacho.fiscal@fiscalia.qroo.gob.mx

PROFEPA
El Procurador Federal de Protección al Ambiente, Guillermo Haro Bélchez

(Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection)
SEMARNAT 
Secretario de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, Rafael Pacchiano
(Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources)
CONANP
Comisionado Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas, Lic. Alejandro del Mazo
(National Commission for Natural Protected Areas)