Three "REEF" Non-Profits Team Up to Protect Akumal Reefs

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Eric Engler, Gabriela Nava Martinez, Joe Cavanaugh - ReefAid, Reefcheck, and REEF
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Aerial View of Protected Area
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Mayan Ruins Near Resort at Tulum
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Shore View from Bahia Principe
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Large Elkhorn Coral Stand Near Protected Area

In an Enews article last May, I wrote about a collaborative effort between REEF and the Bahia Principe Resort in Akumal, Mexico.  The Resort has been working with ReefAid ever since Hurricane Wilma (2005) did major damage to the reefs just in front of the resort, in an effort to study, protect, and restore these reefs. I was originally invited down to conduct a fish census on a large patch reef area off the beach from the property.   The destruction to the inshore reef during Wilma was severe and ever since, Bahia Principe has worked with ReefAid to restore this patch reef area, establishing a protected zone around the most hard-hit areas.  Part of Bahia Principe's long-term plan is to create a mitigation plan for future storms and to educate guests about ways they, too, can help protect the reefs.  The Hotel Gran Bahia Principe is the Yucatan's largest resort complex, and there are currently 14 such resorts worldwide.  After our last visit, ReefAid's Founder, Eric Engler and I co-wrote a protection and monitoring plan for the Resort that included periodic roving diver surey assessments, special signs and enforcement of no-swim areas, a coral nursery, and coral and invertebrate monitoring using another non-profit's methodology (ReefCheck). 

On our last trip a few weeks ago, Eric and I received Reefcheck training over two days with Gabriela Georgina Nava Martinez, learning their survey methodology.  Gaby also taught a Reefcheck class to the Bahia Principe dive staff , their onsite turtle rescue non-rpfit, Ecologica Bahia, and some of the Resort public relations personnel..   Bahia Principe is now a REEF Field Station and is close to becoming an educational center for REEF, teaching fish ID classes and training Resort guests in how to conduct fish surveys.   Resort staff will soon routinely conduct Roving Diver Surveys of both the protected area and the offshore reefs frequented by multiple dive operators. Additionally, Reefcheck will train the dive staff to conduct 3-4 surveys per year at first to form a baseline assessment of the inshore protected reef.   And finally, this year REEF is running a Field Survey to Bahia Principe (May 17-24, 2008).  Please see our Field Survey page on our website at http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule  to learn more about our upcoming survey and how to participate.

The collaborative efforts between our three non-profits in Akumal represent a proactive involvement among multiple stakeholders to protect a critical resource, one that is very susceptible to damage from development and excessive tourist pressures.   The ultimate goal of this synergistic, cooperative effort is to protect a large inshore reef area (see images) and improve the reef integrity with the addition of well-placed coral recruitment modules.  To be candid, much of the Mexican Riviera is slated to be developed by an increasing number of resorts, most with requisite golf courses.  And there are other environmental concerns in addition to the coral reefs offshore that form part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef such as all the cenotes (sink-holes) with their endemic terrestrial and aquatic species; the crucial watershed provided by the cenotes; loss of mangroves; the regional rainforest cover that is in jeopardy; excessive nutrient loading from all the resorts and urban development; not to mention the cultural world heritage significance of the Mayan communities and archaeological sites.  However, the good news is that if Gran Bahia Principe is voluntarily willing to adopt special protection measures for their resort, these may serve as a "eco-friendly" archetype for other resorts in the region.   This partnership building between organizations at the regional and international level bodes well for the adoption of some conservation plans for the area.  Whether the proposed regional development can be slowed to a sustainable level is another story that time will tell. 

If you are interested in learning more, here is an excellent summary article on some of the initiatives between resorts and non-profits working to preserve the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef from the NY Times last week. http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/06/24/travel/24headsup.html?emc=eta1

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