What Impact do Cruise Ships Have on Mahahual’s Beaches

Mahahual ligbhthouse and crusie ship pier in background.

Mahahual ligbhthouse and crusie ship pier in background.

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.

Malecon on non ship day.

Malecon on non ship day.

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.

"El Pez" fish sculpture out of plastic bottles off of Mahahual. beaches, done by Sabrina Coco.

“El Pez” fish sculpture out of plastic bottles off of Mahahual. beaches, done by Sabrina Coco.

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.

Naval cadets picking up trash on the beach.

Naval cadets picking up trash on the beach.

camera xmas to may 2014 171

Collecting trash on beach in Mahahual on bikes.

Collecting trash on beach in Mahahual on bikes.

camera xmas to may 2014 428 camera xmas to may 2014 429 camera xmas to may 2014 437

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

4 thoughts on “What Impact do Cruise Ships Have on Mahahual’s Beaches

  1. Steve Heide says:

    Another Great Blog Stewart, thank you. One question I would have is, as the popularity of Mahahual increases, Mahahual will have to expand. Visiting Mahahual shows the village is almost surrounded by mangroves which are protected so how do you see reasonable expansion to the city, electric and water services happening? I do not want to see another Cancun or Riviera Maya but Mahahual will need to grow especially with the Water Park coming in and possible golf course? Side note, my wife Lisa and I will probably meet up with you in early November, we are looking forward to meeting you and we will be looking for a business location on the Malecon.

  2. Thank you Stewart, for answering my question very completely, and sharing your vast knowledge of the area. Also, I love the photos that you post with your text. I remember the trash washing ashore to be a big problem years ago when I stayed in Tulum. We were there for 3 weeks in a palapa right on the beach (now gone, blown away in a hurrricane, the land sold, and an “eco” resort built in its place), with not much to do. Every morning we helped the family who lived above our palapa clean the beach. I’ve been told that some cruise ships dump their trash overboard, but I have no proof of that. I hope it’s not true.

  3. I believe the current off Mahahual flows south to north, not north to south, as you mentioned. So most of the trash washing ashore comes up the coast from Belize and especially, Chetumal.

    • Thanks for your response Peter, you are correct about the major current, but there also is a current that comes from the west and north also. He is statement from an article I came across about the bottles washing up in Xcalak and where all the trash comes from. So there is a current from the northwest, or basically north.
      There is another current that runs west that effects Mahahual and Xcalak, that starts north around Haiti, and brings refuse here also. I will look this current up, I have forgotten the name at the moment. I have read about it the past, these two currents cause a vortex, which effects Mahahual. Trash from all over the world washes up on the beaches, not just Chetumal and Belize. Here is the article http://www.awolamericans.com/beaches-of-xcalak/

      “The Mesoamerican reef system sits about a half mile off the coast of Xcalak and directly in the path of one major current coming up the coast of Central and South American and another major current that sweeps West across the Caribbean.These factors combine to create a giant vortex of nutrient rich waters resulting in a spectacular variety and quantity of wildlife.”

      “One of the things that surprises me the most is how far a lot of this stuff comes from. I always wonder if these things floated all the way from their “homeland”, were dropped off a passing ship from that country or some combination in between. For example, was this can lost overboard by a Vietnamese crewman on an American Cruise ship on it’s way to Cozumel or did a whole container of Vietnamese Pepsi get lost in the Indian Ocean and float all the way here?”

      “On occasion a boat will float to Xcalak from parts unknown more or less on purpose. The ocean current that flows past Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba brings disabled or underpowered boats right to the shores of the Xcalak area. Xcalak has a marine base so the boats end up here eventually.”

      “This post was a difficult one for me to write because I didn’t want to give the impression that the beaches of Xcalak were filthy garbage piled cesspools because they’re not. Do they have some trash on them? Yes. Do they have a lot of trash in some places? Yes. Should this stop you from visiting this beautiful place? No.”

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