by Michele Kinnon
The Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) is the largest barrier reef in the Atlantic and stretches over 1000 km from the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula down to the Bay Islands of Honduras. This reef is the largest coral reef in the Western Hemisphere and the second largest barrier reef in the world. The Mesoamerican reef serves two important functions. It provides a habitat for a vast array of marine life that rely on the coral for food and shelter. It also functions as a natural barrier to protect the coastline from the damaging effects of storms and coastal erosion. The Mesoamerican reef system supports nearly 60 varieties of coral, 350 mollusks, and 500 species of fish. There are numerous endangered or protected species that live in or around the reef system. These include the magnificent sea turtles that call the shores and bays of the Riviera Maya home and the Whale Sharks that migrate yearly to the waters surrounding Holbox and Isla Contoy.
Today, the Mesoamerican Reef faces a wide array of threats, from land-based pollution, waste water run-off and severe overfishing to poor tourism practices, infestation of non-indigenous marine life and global climate change. As one of the millions of tourists who will visit the Riviera Maya this year, how can you help to protect this valuable natural resource? What can you do to ensure that your enjoyment of the reef does not contribute to its degeneration thus preserving it for future marine life enthusiasts? This is our list of the Top 10 ways you can help save the Mesoamerican Reef during your next stay on the Riviera Maya.
- Practice responsible fishing, kayaking, sailing, jet skiing and other recreational boating activities on the water. Never discard anything overboard and do not anchor on the reef. Be aware of marine life in the waters around you. Remember the old saying: “Take only pictures, leave only bubbles”.
- Many institutes and organizations are fighting to protect the Mesoamerican Reef habitat and its indigenous marine wildlife. Find a reef preservation initiative like the MAR Leadership Program or a local organization such as the Centro Ecologico Akumal (CEA) and consider making a financial contribution or volunteering for hands-on work or advocacy.
- Before you book an excursion, ask the fishing, dive or snorkeling operators what steps they take to protect the reef and follow reef-friendly protocols. Ask if they are affiliated with any local reef conservation or advocacy groups.
- Participate in a Beach Clean-Up Day! Every year, several beach clean-up days take place in Playa del Carmen, Akumal, Xcacel and Tulum. See if there are any scheduled during your stay. It’s a fun family activity and a great way to meet new people. The local organization Flora, Fauna y Cultura will be able to tell you about upcoming events.
- I know it’s tempting, but do avoid purchasing items such as coral jewelry, tortoise-shell jewelry and hair accessories, decorative shells and shark products. Harvesting these items for sale is detrimental to the health of the reef and its eco-system.
- Whether you enjoy diving, kite-surfing, or relaxing on the beach, always clean up after yourself. If you see garbage left on the beach, do the right thing and dispose of it properly. Some areas, like Akumal, have easy to find recycling and garbage bins to utilize. If you can’t find one where you are, bag it up and take it back to your hotel or condo to throw away.
- Use only recommended biodegradable sunscreen and avoid commercial moisturizers, oils, insect repellents, perfumes, deodorants and hair products when swimming, snorkeling or diving. The chemicals used in these products will kill coral and marine life.
- Explore and appreciate the underwater world of the Mexican Caribbean without interfering with marine life or removing rocks and coral. Millions of people visit the Riviera Maya each year and many will come to see the amazing sea turtles that nest and reside here. Please, if you are lucky enough to spot one, observe from a distance. Do not hover over them and please do not touch them.
- Do not touch or stand on the coral whether it appears to be dead or alive. A single touch can kill live coral and essential micro-organisms. When resting over the reef try not to disturb the coral below by stirring up sand with your flippers.
- Report any illegal activities you may witness on our reef. Illegal fishing, improper anchoring, dumping of trash and bad tour practices should be reported to proper authorities. If you do not know who to report these activities to, tell a local dive shop or tour operator what you have seen. They are invested in the area and will be sure to take the appropriate action.
Not planning a trip to the Riviera Maya but want to help preserve the reef and its inhabitants? Share this list with your friends!