Too Much Snorkeling Damaging Akumal Bay

(July 2013)

Akumal Bay is being destroyed by massive snorkel tourism, and related bad snorkeling and marine recreational practices (grabbing sea turtles, standing on coral, poaching sea turtle nests, illegal vendors, shoddy equipment, and molesting visitors). Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA), the hotels, and dive shops are working to revert this situation through better control of the beachfront properties and by implementing a bay management program.

Research shows at least a 30% reduction in coral cover in the last 10 years, and a 60% increase of macroalgae. This is a dangerous combination: macroalgae grow over coral reefs, competing for space and eventually winning out over new coral growth. Macroalgae also grow over seagrasses, the main diet for the juvenile and sub-adult Green sea turtle population in Akumal Bay. Conservative estimates tell us that swimming with turtles, the key attraction for Akumal, could have its days numbered if the threats mentioned above continue unabated. The seagrasses will disappear in two to three years and, with them, the sea turtles which feed on them.

Massive tourism (15,000 visitors monthly) also has caused dune and beach erosion and increased pollution in the bay. The increase in the demand for snorkel tours has also increased the number of operators, with outside companies using poorly trained guides, or local companies whose tour operations have quadrupled, allowing huge amounts of people to snorkel without adequate equipment or safety information. Taxis and unmarked vans offer tour services, with no respect for the law. Most of these illegal businesses damage the coral and harass the sea turtles. Each day these groups make quite a lot of money from the overexploitation of Akumal's natural resources and, through their operations, we witness daily violations of environmental, commercial and private property laws. Likewise, there have been near fatal accidents and drownings due to lack of information to the tourists regarding safety measures and good snorkeling practices.

The first step to address this situation is to control the use of CEA property, while allowing Akumalians access to the beach and controlling the number of tours entering the bay. CEA will offer orderly access to the beach across its property, along with information and services for the safe and healthy enjoyment by the national and international tourists who visit Akumal. CEA is not "privatizing" the beach; the federal zone remains a public area. However, CEA is changing the location of the access and providing more security to visitors, while limiting the number of businesses that operate on its beach property.

Besides controlling its property, CEA is increasing its research and management efforts, in collaboration with the local hotels and dive shops and federal authorities to carry out management and rehabilitation measures to protect the valuable natural resources of Akumal.

For more information, please contact CEA's director, Paul Sánchez-Navarro at 984-875-9095 or director@ceakumal.org.


Paul Sanchez-Navarro