Mesoamerican Reef

Making Marine Recreation Reef Friendlier

Cancún, Mexico

The beaches of Cancún, Mexico were formerly mangrove lagoons. Credit: Jason Houston/iLCP.

Though the top attractions in the Riviera Maya, Mexico are sun, sea, and sand, many vacationers spend time on the nearby Mesoamerican Reef, from experienced scuba divers to cruise ship passengers snorkeling for the first time. During the high season, the reefs may receive thousands of visitors every day who bring with them the potential to cause lasting damage from their physical interactions with the corals.

To tackle this man-made issue, the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) and Grupo Intersectorial (GI) of Cozumel work with marine recreation service providers to ensure that their scuba diving, snorkeling, and Snuba tours are environmentally friendly. Together, they promote the adoption of voluntary standards through sustainable marine recreation courses (SMR) and environmental walkthrough (EWT) assessments.

CORAL and GI have completed 83 environmental walkthroughs of marine tourism businesses on Cozumel, which evaluate their land and sea practices according to a checklist of sustainability criteria, followed by recommendations for improvements.

The partners further collaborated to design a campaign for the island called “Tread Lightly” that included visual displays and a video to educate cruise ship passengers and other tourists on the importance of protecting coral reefs.

Tourists dive in Cozumel

Tourists dive in Cozumel with a divemaster.

Isauro Cruz, a founder of GI, said that the two organizations have worked closely with Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park, which now runs the SMR courses on Cozumel and requires every marine tourism provider who takes guests on water-based tours of the park to complete the training. More than 1,300 dive masters, snorkeling guides, and boat captains in Cozumel and the Riviera Maya have undergone the SMR training about the importance of the reefs and their stewardship, including the regulations that must be met within the protected area.

“The course opened our eyes to the consequences of our bad practices, although minor, in the ecosystem that gives us work,” said Danirel Álvarez, marine tourism guide for the Sand Dollar Sports tour operator. “We learned to take care of wildlife, not pollute, and raise awareness in tourists.”

“The SMR course and EWTs are important tools, but dive masters and snorkeling guides often have a hard time controlling their clients, and need more support from their bosses to enforce the policies,” explained Cristopher González, Director of Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park. “The park’s new management plan makes EWTs mandatory for all companies that operate marine tours in the park.”


An EWT in progress.

The evaluations have enhanced the monitoring system of impacts on the park and identified priority areas, which form the basis of educational campaigns. According to González, this data has been crucial in defining integrated mandatory compliance policies for the park.

GI also worked on a project with the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park called “Clean Water, Healthy Reef” to teach 342 children and teachers from a public elementary school how to take care of their water resources.

With Amigos de Sian-Kaan, another MARTI partner, GI launched a water campaign featuring radio spots, press, and displays along the main avenues and on local buses, to bring attention to the importance of aquifer health and its relationship to other ecosystems such as coral reefs, as well as community well-being.

“We remain committed to raising environmental awareness among both visitors and tourist services providers,” said Isauro Cruz.

Boats in the bay Akumal Mexico

Recreational boats are numerous in Akumal, Mexico. Credit: Jason Houston/iLCP.

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