violations tagged posts

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.

Authority Confirms, No Public Access through Club Akumal Caribe

The following note was published in both PorEsto! and Novedades yesterday. Below is a translation.

THE AUTHORITY CONFIRMS THERE IS NO PUBLIC ACCESS THROUGH CLUB AKUMAL CARIBE.

ANYONE STATING CONTRARY TO THIS TRUTH IS LYING.

Some groups of Akumal are lying to manipulate public opinion and the people of Akumal when they say that the property of CLUB AKUMAL CARIBE SA DE CV is in litigation.

What they say and publish is completely “FALSE AND WITHOUT REASON.” The property of Club Akumal Caribe, S.A. of C.V. is not and has never been in litigation.

To understand the falsehoods and lies, it is important to understand the meaning of the word “litigation.” Litigation is a legal discussion before a Superior Judicial Body. The above should not be confused with “conflict” since to deny that there is a conflict would be a waste of time. However, the conflict that exists is caused by the inaction on the part of the Municipality of Tulum to enable the windows to the sea stipulated in the Program of Urban Development of Akumal 2007-2032.

The only thing that is in dispute is the constitutionality of the agreement of the Seventy-Fourth Ordinary Session of the previous Town Council of the Municipality of Tulum, Quintana Roo, held on August 29, 2016…which by the way was their last session.

The previous cabildo (town council) issued its agreement without giving any warning to Club Akumal Caribe when it had the legal duty to give a written notice to the legitimate owner of the property that was under study. This would have allowed the property the possibility to exhibit all the documents and elements of necessary proof and verify their rights and not leave it in a state of being defenseless, as in fact did happen at the moment they dictated the mentioned agreement of the previous cabildo.

Likewise, the act of the previous cabildo violates the constitutional rights enjoyed by all Mexicans. As established in Article 14 of the Constitution, it guarantees that “No one shall be deprived of liberty or property, possessions or rights, except through trial before the courts previously established in which the essential procedural formalities are complied with and in accordance with the laws issued prior to the fact.”

In addition to the above, on February 13, 2017 an official survey was issued (study for the delimitation of terrestrial surfaces) within the Research folder: FGE / QR / AMPTUL / UITUL / 09/17/2016, carried out at the request of the C. Agent of the Public Ministry of the Common Jurisdiction in Tulum, Quintana Roo, which confirms and demonstrates that within the property of the Club Akumal Caribe…THERE DOES NOT EXIST AND NEVER HAS EXISTED AN ACCESS OR PUBLIC PATH TOWARDS FEDERAL ZONE.

As a result of this official document, the agent of the Public Ministry of the Common Jurisdiction of the Municipality of Tulum granted an Order of Protection in favor of CLUB AKUMAL CARIBE SA DE CV.

Unfortunately, this order has not been complied with by the General Directorate of Public Security of the Municipality of Tulum, a situation that has generated more conflicts and intimidation on the part of some groups with personal interests and against CACSA staff as well as the repeated harassment of local visitors and foreign tourists who visit us, these occurring inside the same property of Club Akumal Caribe and before the complacency of the Municipal Police officers on duty who are supposed to protect the safety of the property.

Something very important that we have the moral obligation to clarify is that, “THERE HAS ALWAYS BEEN FREE ACCESS TO THE BEACH FOR ALL QUINTANAROENSE THROUGH THE UKANA I AKUMAL A.C. (CEA) AS WELL AS THROUGH THE 7 WINDOWS TO THE SEA ESTABLISHED IN PDU 2007-2032. “

However, it is completely false that “within” the property of Club Akumal Caribe exists or has ever existed a public access or a window of access to the sea as some groups with personal interests want to believe.

The inhabitants of the municipality of Tulum and especially the people of Akumal deserve to know the truth.

It is not fair that by false information of certain irresponsible groups the peace and tranquility of our people is disturbed. CLUB AKUMAL CARIBE only asks that what is right is respected, as legitimate owners…but above all, that irresponsible groups and the Municipal Authorities and the City of Tulum reconsider and act within the legal framework attached to the strict word of the law and not by simple populist acts outside any legal and moral order.

All this is and should be for the well-being of the people of Akumal.

Thank you very much

Akumal, Quintana Roo on March 29, 2017

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.

Snorkeling in Akumal: One Family’s Nightmare, “an absolute disaster”

January 10, 2017

As more incidents of harassment, intimidation and assault are occurring on the beach and in the water by various local guides and their associates, tourists are becoming increasingly frustrated, frightened, and vocal.

The following is a report that was shared with us by an American tourist:

***

I’m writing to inform you that snorkelling in the bay was not as we remembered and an absolute disaster. 

I attempted three times to snorkel in the bay and on all attempts I was accosted by people claiming to be guides insisting I pay them money and saying that life jackets are mandatory. On the third trip in the ocean (December 19 at 10 a.m.) three guys ganged up on my 3 small kids, girlfriend and I.

The one guide was heavy set and was the one that started it all. I told him to get away from us and leave us alone. While he was yelling at us he kept a hand in his pocket as if he had a hand on a knife or something. I kept looking at it underwater to insure I wasn’t about to get stabbed or anything. I never saw a weapon but he seemed to have something in his hand.

Another guy grabbed my girlfriend and attempted to pull her to shore. My kids started crying and were scared with the yelling and seeing this commotion. After my girlfriend broke free, she managed to take these pictures of the incident.

This is the big guy that started the whole thing. Would not leave us alone and had something in his hand in his pocket.  He kept insisting we get out of the water pay him $20 and needed a guide and life jacket.  Keep in mind we were right over 3 beautiful  turtles he was almost kicking with his flippers

This is the big guy that started the whole thing. Would not leave us alone and had something in his hand in his pocket. He kept insisting we get out of the water pay him $20 and needed a guide and life jacket. Keep in mind we were right over 3 beautiful turtles he was almost kicking with his flippers

 

This is the guy who grabbed my girlfriend assertively and tried to take her to shore. She broke free and took his picture.

This is the guy who grabbed my girlfriend assertively and tried to take her to shore. She broke free and took his picture.

 

This is the guy who ran into me with this boat, and threatened us with his paddle held high over his head as if he was going to strike us with it.  I flipped him out of the boat.

This is the guy who ran into me with this boat, and threatened us with his paddle held high over his head as if he was going to strike us with it. I flipped him out of the boat.

 

A young skinny guy in a kayak came over and hit me with the kayak. He held his paddle over his head as if he was going to strike me if I didn’t get out of the ocean. They were yelling that they were going to get the police which was also frightening to us.

My shaken family returned to shore and my kids no longer wanted to return to the ocean in fear of more confrontation.  We left the following day to continue our vacation elsewhere.

Akumal is such a wonderful place, but incidents like these are such a shame. It is disgusting and needs to be stopped somehow. Being assaulted by these guys in the ocean is completely unacceptable. I know it’s a struggle as there are so many of these people that it’s got to be virtually impossible to stop them but something should be done to prevent this. It was not a good experience. It frightened my entire family—including my three kids who are under 11. While everything else in Akumal is great, being in the ocean was a nightmare for my family. I’m very saddened to say we won’t be returning until something is done.

 ***

The tourist who filed this report is correct in saying that something needs to be done.

It is clear from the past several months that self-regulation of the commercial snorkel tours by the local guides/cooperatives is not effective. Here’s why:

  • The daily limit or quota of tourists per cooperative set by the authorities are not being respected.
  • Incidents of assault and intimidation are being tolerated and even supported by fellow guides/cooperatives.
  • Guests and visitors to Akumal are being bullied, threatened, and accosted and into following quasi “rules” such as the mandatory use of life jackets and guides when the authorities have yet to establish the final management plan of the bay nor any sort of formal rules.

NB: Because there is no final and/or enacted management plan for Akumal Bay, there are no set rules for independent snorkelers. Any information currently published, posted or made public by the authorities are “Recommendations” only, not law.

But then again, maybe self-regulation is working… or at least it is working in favour of the cooperatives–they get additional tourism dollars by exceeding their permit quotas and imposing mandatory rentals of life jackets and guide services. Does self-regulation mean self-interest in this case? Because these actions are good indicators that there is little or no regard on the long-term impact on Akumal’s ecosystem, turtles or even the negative lasting impressions of its guests.


The Mexican Department of Tourism has laws for standards of service for all tourism-related businesses which ensures any tourist to Mexico has the right to standards of service, respect and conduct while enjoying the country, and in particular this area where tourism is the key economic driver.

Reports for any unacceptable or abusive behaviour, conduct, or unlawful practice provided by any tourist business can be filed online with the Secretariat of Tourism (SECTUR), which has the responsibility to investigate each report.

http://www.sectur.gob.mx/quejas-e-inconformidades/otros/


SIMILAR ARTICLES

Snorkeling Incident Report—October 16, 2016

Bad Behaviour in the Bay—December 14, 2016

Bay Patrollers selling tours and charging an entrance fee…—December 22, 2016