CANCUN — Federal environmental authorities have granted permits that will allow tourists to dive with sea turtles in Akumal Bay.
The Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources, through the General Directorate of Wildlife, in coordination with the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas, CONANP, in Spanish) and the Federal Office of Environmental Protection (Procuraduría Federal de Protección Ambiental, PROFEPA, in Spanish), granted the permits to realize tourist activities like observation and swimming with sea turtles in the northern zone of the Refuge Area “Bay of Akumal”. It is expected that this permission will allow the development of these activities in a secure way, fomenting the protection and conservation of different species of life and their ecosystems.
The Bay of Akumal is an area currently managed by CONANP, and in collaboration with PROFEPA and the Secretariat of Marine Affairs (Secretaría de Marina, SEMAR, in Spanish), these authorities realize permanent surveillance operations that will ensure full compliance with the new authorizations. It is expected the permits will only allow the entry of 12 tourists for each service provider.
It should be noted that PROFEPA’s intervention together with SEMAR kept the turtle area at the Bay of Akumal free of tourists for 51 days, during the time that the suspension lasted, it result in an evident restoration of pastures and marine corals as well as the turtle shelter was protected.
The providers of tourist services must comply with the administrative, fiscal and health provisions required by other administrative units of this Secretariat and other dependencies or competent authorities in the matter.
Through a study of carrying capacity, carried out for this commission, it was determined the creation of two delimited circuits for the swimming and observation of these animals and some measures and conditions that will ensure that this activity is carried out in an orderly and sustainable way.
Within the management and regulation measures established by CONANP, the following should be noted:
- Swimming and sighting with sea turtles can only be done from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
- Tourists should use exclusively the routes and schedules established by CONANP.
- A guide authorized by CONANP will lead groups of up to 6 people.
- Tourists can stay for a period of no more than 55 minutes for the first circuit and 65 minutes for the second circuit.
- Both entrance and exit of the sighting area should be done slowly and quietly walking along the beach.
- The mandatory equipment to carry out the activity must consist of breathing tube, visor, short fins, life jackets that avoids total immersion, and in no case can the waistband or arm float be replaced.
- Only the use of biodegradable sunscreens and bronzers will be allowed.
- The minimum distance between groups performing the activity will be 10 meters of length in each circuit.
- Tourists must maintain a minimum distance of 3 meters to the back of each turtle, without exceeding the observation time of five minutes.
- During the development of the activities it is forbidden to touch, feed, persecute, harass, disturb, retain, remove, hold, and / or damage any wildlife.
- If the turtle shows signs of rapid movement, evasion, or sudden changes of direction, or longer dives, the observation activities will be immediately suspended.
Through this scheme, CONANP promotes the involvement of local communities in the protection and conservation of wildlife species and promotes low impact tourism, which supports the development of the local economy.
This holistic approach requires the commitment and participation of service providers, key players in the local community, the three levels of government and the private sector.
Its successful implementation will, therefore, represent a national example of sustainable tourism, local economic development and biodiversity conservation.
The Akumal Bay Refuge Area represents a relevant site as ecosystems that provide environmental services and maintain close ecological connectivity, such as coastal lagoons, wetlands, marine grasslands that are feeding and resting areas for three species of sea turtles, the Green or White turtle (Chelonia mydas), the Carey turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the Caguama turtle (Caretta caretta).
In addition, four species of corals, elk horn (Acropora palmata), deer horn (Acropora cervicornis), and the soft corals (Plexaura homomalla and Plexaura dichotoma), as well as sea grasses such as turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum), manatee grass (Syringodium filiforme) and Halodule wrightii, favor carbon capture, contributing to reduce the effects of climate change.
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