Banco Chinchorro, Snails and Coral World (Quintana Roo)

I came across this great article in and thought I would share.  I translated from Spanish to English.  Banco Chinchoorro is a great scuba and snorkeling destination, and trips are booked out of Mahahual and Xcalak daily.  This article does a great job of describing all the beauty of the underwater coral and reef world in Banco Chinchorro.

Thanks for reading, Stewart Rogers USA-South Carolina


Por: Salatiel Barragán

Banco Chinchorro, snails and coral world.

Banco Chinchorro, snails and coral world.

In the middle of the ocean waters of the Mexican Caribbean highlights a unique reef system, on which have been narrated stories and fabulous legends from colonial times to the present day: the Banco Chinchorro, place wrapped in mystery and located just over 30 km south of the state nearly uninhabited Quintana Roo, between the fishing villages of Mahuahual and Xcalak coast.
This isolated ecosystem is considered a coral atoll, and its name derives from the resemblance to a semicircular Caribbean network used for finfish fisheries in coastal waters. It has an area of ​​almost 800 km2, consisting of a sandy outcrop 46 km long and 15 wide. At its eastern perimeter presents an endless barrier reef with sections of white streaks where the waters break, and on the west they are discontinuous and fail to emerge to the surface. The waters off the reef lagoon, connected to the open sea, with an average depth of 5 m, but the most interesting place is the presence of land, which although low allows visitors to stay in any of the four islands in distributed center and the north and south ends.

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Key Center is the largest of these islands and, as its name suggests, occupies the central portion; much of its 5 km2 are composed of muddy soils and floodplain areas, but on the southeastern tip is a narrow sandy beach is used by groups of fishermen who have built rustic wooden houses to use as temporary camp.

Near this beach stand just over a dozen wood and cardboard constructions, known as stilts by the sea located within the floodplain or substrate, one or two feet above the water level. The vegetation here is dominated by the red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), although there is on the southeast coast coconut, and some creeping plants and shrubs of the continent.

The lagoon “The Rabios” (so named because from November to May, in the branches of mangrove nest percent frigate or frigates) is located inside the fall and is connected to the sea by canals and estrechoskriksnaturales created by the flow of or continuous flow water crocodile. When storms or hurricanes hit the region, anglers use this site to shelter and protect their vessels until it passes the atmospheric disturbance.This fall has functioned as the central point of arrival for tourists coming to film, photograph and dive among the coral remains of sunken ships and centuries. On the other hand, is home to frigate birds, herons, cormorants, gulls, terns, pelicans, ospreys, birds, blue crabs and hermit, gray iguanas, lizards and the ever-present and annoying mosquitoes. There are also animals that once were harvested as a single resource and are now scarce as Gators swamp and hawksbill sea turtles, white and loggerhead that long just come to spawn in the little substrate is left of this nice place warm humid climate and average temperature of 26.5 ° C.

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At the northern end there are two small islets known as Cayo Norte; there are two lighthouses, one built earlier in the century and a more recent inactive and it is running to meet half century. To the south, near the end limit of the reef, stands Cayo Lobos, which is the smallest area housed in small palapas and temporary use of a few fishermen. The low land this fall remains exposed directly to the Caribbean currents that have caused changes in your fitness over the course of time, as evidenced by an old lighthouse now housed within the sea.

As watchmen on the horizon the dark silhouettes of huge cargo ships stranded on the barrier reef are outlined, and in the background have been located 18 galleons as silent witnesses of the danger that water locked. These old ships are Spanish and English in their majority powers throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries monopolized the navigation on this route between America and Europe. The solitude of these wrecks is interrupted only by gulls and terns that have taken over the rusted hulls to rest and often nest among his remains.

As corals are very slow growing but will gradually cover all parts of the vessels to identify potential remain mostly covered by limestone or coral skeleton, especially corals. Elkhorn (Acropora palmata), Star (Porites asteroids), Lettuce (Agaricia agaricites), Mountain (Montastrea annularis), Brain (Diploria strigosa) and Fire Coral (Millepora comlenata), known in the Caribbean Community underwater species.

In this remote place the main activity is fishing, carried out by persons associated in cooperatives and free permittees that empelan whaling boats fiberglass bullet from 23 to 25 feet, with outboard motors from 40 to 60 HP and focus most of their efforts on capturing the two resources with higher commercial value: the spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) and the queen conch (strombus gigas), although species of scale advantage as chak-chi, the mere the abedejo, barracuda, snapper, snapper, shark and smaller scale extract precious black coral (Antipathes grandis). Regarding the snail, is harvested by free diving mask and fins, and stored in a mother ship. The quota set to protect this species is 2.5 tons per month. Similarly each fisherman takes three to 5 kg of lobster daily, supporting only a metal hook and sometimes using compressor or scuba tank.

I remember some years ago when I first visited the Chinchorro, was impressed when in less than two hours a fisherman pulled nearly 200 snail shell pink and orange near the western boundary of Cayo Centro. In this area have been extracted snails each season more than any other region of the country, and whether to complete a kilo of product need six to eight, depending on their size, can realize why the species is in danger .. The method used to catch snails swimming is gripped by a string of four to 6 m long, attached to the back of the boat that moves at low speed, while the fisherman looking in the background. Upon detecting an appropriate place this low for a long minute, then climb at least three copies. I must confess that I tried to do the same, but when he began to walk the boat felt the rope almost tore my arms and I could never find a partially hidden staircase between the sandy bottom and underwater vegetation in this gentle sway moved by currents

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The reef lagoon extends for tens of kilometers west of the Bank and is extremely productive. Under the water first identify what are sponges, sea fans and whips, and isolated colonies of hard corals and a huge variety of colorful reef fish like angel, chak-chi, the surgeon, butterfly, squirrel, sergeant minnows or tiny that hundreds are hidden under the rock from where voids and create a lively silver stain impossible to play because the stretching hand away quickly.

Seamen who fish here come mostly from Mahuahual and Xcalak, villages along the southern coast of the state. Xcalak is a fishing village that has little more than 300 inhabitants and is located at the far end of our own country, just 12 km from the border with Belize. Mahahual is a recent settlement with fewer people, and both are separated by 55 km of white road surrounded by slender palm trees and beautiful coastal scenery. Part of the attraction of these villages is that they are the closest sea bridge with Chinchorro, and they can get a speedboat and make the crossing in about 2 hours, depending on the engine power and prevailing environmental conditions at sea .

Chinchorro is a distant paradise still has abundant fishery resources and diverse marine life to marvel, and the possibility of hidden secrets kept by the sea and time to discover. However, we must keep in mind and remember that the overexploitation of resources can deplete the productivity of this place, which so far is one of the last places where the coral reefs and the memories of the past remain intact.
If you intend to Banco Chinchorro

To reach Mahuahual and Xcalak, take federal highway 307 Chetumal-Cancun to the population of Coffee, and from there follow a dirt road toward the east and toward the coast.

The city of Chetumal has all amenities and is located 150 km from Mahuahual, Cancun and about 300 km.

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