Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sustainable Development in the Mexican Caribbean

Untouched tropical jungle, pristine beaches, crystal-clear cenotes and the Mesoamerican Reef are the main attractions for millions of visitors to the Mexican Caribbean each year. Travelers flock to the Riviera Maya and Cancun to enjoy natural beauty, to relax, to discover their adventurous side or to delve into the culture of Yucatan Peninsula. The 1.3 million inhabitants of Quintana Roo (the state of Mexico where Cancun is located) rely solely on tourism for their income and to feed their families, tourists are not simply welcomed, they are a necessity for the survival of all. It is easy to say "more, more, more", more tourists, more mega resorts and more dollars in everyone's pockets today, but the reality is that the future must be taken into consideration.

"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." - Brundtland Commission, 1987

There are many definitions of sustainable development and tourism, but the basic principles are all the same. Take care of what we have today in order to maintain it for years to come while providing for the economic needs of the present.  Protecting natural resources and culture are vital to the long term survival of any destination and certainly Cancun and the Riviera Maya need to work towards continued long term success. Government organizations like SEMARNAT (the secretary of natural resources and the environment) and PROFEPA (federal agency for the protection of the environment) work together with non-profit organizations to ensure that the economic needs of the population are met while protecting the beautiful natural resources that attract tourists here to begin with.

The Sian Ka'an Biosphere

The Sian Ka'an Biosphere is a beautiful example of sustainable tourism in the Mexican Caribbean. The name "Sian Ka'an" is Maya for "where the sky is born". Established in 1986 as part of UNESCO's Man And Biosphere Programme, the federally protected Sian Ka'an covers approximately 1.3 million hectares of protected land and spans 120 km of the coastline of Quintana Roo. Within the biosphere there are 23 known archaeological sites, 103 known mammal species and 336 known bird species. The site is ideal for nesting wading birds and the endangered sea turtles that come to shore each year to lay their eggs. The variety of habitats found within the reserve is quite astounding, coral reefs and cenotes, dunes and wetlands, beaches and lagoons, mangroves and tropical forests. Tourists may visit and explore the region through guided tours, paddling kayaks through the channels looking for crocodiles or peering through binoculars on bird watching trips. CESIAK provides very basic, eco-conscious lodging inside the reserve, a place of peace to reconnect with the natural world. "Amigos de Sian Ka'an" is a non-profit organization devoted to education, investigation and conversation of the ecology not only of the biosphere, but of the entire coast of Quintana Roo. 

While for me it can be frustrating to see more and more concrete being poured in Cancun, I do hang on to hope that through the cooperation of government, private sector and non-profit organizations, we CAN preserve the beauty of Quintana Roo for many years to come while at the same time ensuring employment for the people of the state and profit for investors. It's all about balance, learning from past mistakes, making a commitment to improvements and to enforcing the laws, and a maintaining a bright vision of the future.

I would love to hear your thoughts, is choosing a resort that uses eco-friendly practices important to you? When choosing a vacation destination do you think about the environmental impact of your activities? What can be done to compel the tourism industry to do more for conservation and preservation of our natural resources?

Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Contributor for the México Today Program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own.


Experiencias Xcaret said...
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Experiencias Xcaret said...

This is an amazing blog Kelly.

Just to answer your question.

- When choosing a vacation destination do you think about the environmental impact of your activities?

At Experiencias Xcaret more than 80 tons of organic waste is used each year to make compost, which is used in gardening areas, and nearly 15 tons of cardboard, glass and plastic is separated for recycling. In addition, we have ongoing activities such as the cleaning of beaches in the park and nearby, employees of the park are involved in this activity, as well as schools and other organizations.

Another thing to do is to carry out educational institutes of the region, to promote participation of community members. We promote the restructuration of Chemuyil Town, a community where 60% of our collaborators live at.

Hope this might be useful!

St. Dickeybird said...

The environmental impact of my vacation destinations isn't really something I take into account, although I do realize how important sustainability is. I think Quintana Roo should look to Costa Rica as an example of sustainability.
CR is quite expensive, but is truly heaven on earth (according to myself and everyone i know that's ever been there). Untouched jungle, mountains, nature preserves... the extra $$$ they charge apparently goes back into their environmental concerns. And so far, it seems to be paying off.
This could do wonders for Mexico, if implemented before it's too late.

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