It may seem odd to worry about 100 hectares (247 acres). But these 100 hectares are in Akumal, which was the first tourism destination in what is now called the Riviera Maya. Despite this, Akumal has somehow managed to remain a small nature-tourism destination, while Cancun and Playa del Carmen exploded with mass tourism. Unlike those cities, Akumal´s main attraction is not the non-stop party scene, but rather the Sea Turtles to which it owes its name. However, the construction of a new 400 room hotel on Akumal Bay, and a Golf Club in the neighbouring village, threaten to end Akumal´s natural, laid-back character once and for all.
These 100 hectares that interest us are not even beach, but rather jungle and mangrove, and include a small lagoon with crocodiles. Although surrounded by commercial, residential and tourism developments, and by the highway, until now Laguna Lagartos has been kept as a buffer zone.
And for that reason it was excluded from the 2007-2032 Akumal Development Plan´s urban zoning. Under current law, only 15 of those 100 hectares can be built upon.
In addition, 30 of those 100 hectares are mangrove, which by Federal Law, are untouchable. And another 40 are “semi-evergreen seasonal forest”, an ecosystem which is poorly protected in Quintana Roo, as it is represented in only 3% of the State´s protected hectares.
Furthermore, it is a seasonal refuge for at least 20 species of migratory birds, and it is home to over 30 Threatened or Endangered species. As if that weren’t enough, the area is also jaguar habitat. (We recently had a report of a jaguar cub being killed at a hotel just a few kilometres from Laguna Lagartos. )
For all these reasons, and in an effort to balance development with conservation, the Akumal Ecological Reserve was proposed in 2009. And it wasn’t just a reserve that was suggested, but also a comprehensive waste management center for Akumal, to be located at an abandoned quarry across the highway from the reserve. With the generous support of sympathetic donors, an offer of 5 million dollars was made to secure the land for the Akumal Ecological Reserve.
That offer was rejected, and the land is now posted with signs for MMDesarrollos.
Meanwhile, the construction of the Golf Club on the other side of the highway will destroy nearly 500 hectares- 5 times more than what the modest reserve would have protected. And the construction of 400 new hotel rooms on the beach will surely impact the Sea Turtles which live in the bay and nest on the beach.
We do not know what the plans are for Laguna Lagartos and its surroundings, but we seriously doubt than one more development will be better than conserving an oasis of biodiversity in an area already saturated with hotels, condominiums and time-shares.
This is why we would like the owners of the land, as well as municipal, state and federal authorities, to please reconsider and support the proposal for an Ecological Reserve in Akumal. We ask that industry, government and civil society join efforts to bequeath our children a much more interesting and sustainable project for Akumal and the Riviera Maya.
To support us, please sign our petition.
David Nuñez is a biologist, photographer and author of several books on the Wildlife of the Mexican Caribbean, as well as a founding member of Mexiconservación.