I have been getting a lot of good questions and comments lately, so I thought I would start answering some of these on the blog.
I got this follow up question after a post I did last week. Good question, and I will answer.
“Have you and/or other residents noticed any change in the quality of the water and beaches over the years? I know that Mahahual is an ecologically protected area, but it’s hard to believe that the thousands of tourists who come abroad from the ships don’t have some kind of negative impact on the area (besides taking up all the best seats in the bars and restaurants!).”
This is a very good question, and I can say in the four years I have been in Mahahual, I have not seen a big impact to Mahahual’s ecosystem with the cruise ship tourists. In fact the beaches in Mahahual have only gotten better since I have been in Mahahual because of the concentrated effort by the town and the people to keep the beaches clean.
Most of the restaurants and businesses on the malecon do a great job of keeping the beaches clean and free of trash, debris, and sea grass. Because of this, the malecon is kept clean and the beaches and water are free of trash and remain pristine. I ride my bike everyday along the beach and the malecon, and to me Mahahual is still as beautiful as it was when I first arrived.
Also once a year there is a massive clean up day of the beaches (Limpia Mahahual), which involves the Navy, local school children and the whole community. There are also monthly clean up days in Mahahual, where the local citizens get together to help clean the streets and beaches. I have wrote articles about this in the past on this blog, and you can go back and read them to give you a better idea of how it is done.
As far as impact by cruise ship tourists on Mahahual and the environment, this is basically very minimal. The cruise ships usually dock at 7 or 8am and the tourists go on excursions, Mayan ruins, or other activities in Mahahual. A lot of the tourists go into town, eat lunch, snorkel, go to one of the beach clubs and other activities, and then go back to their ships between 1pm and 4pm. So the most tourists are in Mahahual is 6 or 7 hours, and you have to remember this is only six months a year, and during low season only 4 times a month. Studies have shown that cruise ship tourism is the best for the local envirionment and the respective ecosytems because of the low impact and time tourists spend ashore.
But what a lot of people do not realize is, cruise ships and their passengers are not the biggest problem facing Mahahual’s ecosystem, but all the plastic bottles that wash up on the beaches from Mahahual to Xcalak. Mahahual yearly has thousands and thousands of plastic bottles and refuse wash up on the beaches. These are not from cruise ships or tourists, but from locations hundreds and thousands of miles away.
There is a strong ocean current that comes down from the north that naturally pushes and brings refuse and garbage from North America, Europe, and all over the world to Mahahual. That is a problem that has to addressed daily around Mahahual and the surrounding beaches. This is garbage and plastic bottles not related to tourism in Mahahual at all, but dumped into oceans from some other source.
South of Mahahual towards Xcalak in some remote places that are not occupied, the beaches get full of trash, and it would amaze you how far some of this stuff travels. I have found stuff as far away as France, and there are flip flops, and shoes all the time washing up. But in Mahahual there is a concentrated effort to keep the beaches clean, so you will never see this.
Costa Maya Port has only been open for a little over 12 years, so there is not a long history of ships coming to Mahahual. The Navy also patrols the beaches of Mahahual to ensure the reef is being protected and the fauna and wildlife is preserved. Also all the scuba and snorkeling guides remind tourists to stay off the coral and this helps preserve the area. So as you can see, there is a concentrated effort by the cruise ship industry and the Mahahual community to preserve the ecosystem in Mahahual. There are also stiff fines and penalties in place for anyone damaging the environment or taking lobster and conch out of season. In fact you will probably get more jail time in Mahahual for smuggling lobster and conch, then you will get for smuggling drugs.
So to answer the question, No, there is not any damage to Mahahual’s beaches from cruise ship tourists that I can see that has taken place since I have been there. Also there are only about 1,000 full time, year round residents in Mahahual so this helps also.
Thanks for reading, and keep the questions coming,
Stewart Rogers USA-South Carolina