Locals Spotlight #3

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This edition of Locals Spotlight we are reaching waaaaaay back in the bag of locals and Talking to Evan Mckenzie, the well-known and long established owner of Nacional Beach Club, a great hotel, restaurant, and all-around hang out spot on the malecon, to find out about himself, his lovely family, and his business. Evan is an “O.G.” of Mahahual, if you will, and has seen a lot of changes to our little community. Let’s dig in…

CML: Thanks for sitting down with me Evan. Let’s jump right in. How did you discover Mahahual and when did you come here for the first time?

Evan: It was the glorious year of 1998 the first time I visited Mahahual with my father.  A neighbor of ours in Playa del Carmen told him about a quiet little fishing village located in the South of Quintana Roo called Xcalak. He bought his first property there in 1997 but it didn’t take him long to decide that Mahahual would probably grow first as a tourist destination. So I came down with him in ’98 to check it out.

CML: What were your impressions of the town? What was it like?

Evan: I remember telling my father when he asked me what I thought about the town of Mahahual as we stood on one of our first 9x18meter lots in the center of Mahahual overlooking the ocean “ Well Dad it is certainly beautiful here but there is not much going on”. To which he replied “You will see that will change with time”. He was absolutely right.

CML: When did you decide to come live here? What was your plan and what did your friends and family think?

Evan: I decided to move to Mahahual in the fall of 2005 once I graduated from Arizona State University with a double degree in Hotel/Restaurant Management & Business Administration. My Family was really very supportive and happy to hear I would be moving to a country full of culture & wonderful people that we all  thoroughly enjoyed visiting throughout my youth.

CML: And at some point you met your wife Ana, who is heavily involved in conservation and recycling with her group “Menos Plastico es Fantastico en Mahahual“. Tell me about that.

Evan: I met my beautiful wife Ana on the beach in Mahahual where else haha? We met while I was having breakfast in the Spring of 2007. The moment I laid eyes on her I was absolutely in love. 

I had just started my first little bohemian restaurant “Cosas Naturales” which only served fresh juices, smoothies,  breakfast, salads & wraps while Ana was working on her first restaurant with one of her best friends which served typical Chilean dishes beach side. 

CML: And then some point later you guys opened Nacional Beach Club right?

Evan: Ana and I decided to develop Nacional Beach Club once FONATUR finished developing the first stage of the malecon in 2008. We started with very basic drawings using our imagination and before long found an architect in Chetumal for the finalized plans & licensing, right where “Cosas Naturales” stood. 

We started with 3 bungalows, a restaurant/bar and three locals to service the beach.  It did not take us long to figure out that there was demand for lodging in the sleepy little village as eager tourists arrived from all over Mexico and the world to visit these tranquil white sand beaches with glistening Caribbean water at is edges. And we’ve been growing ever since then!

CML: So you guys got married and have two beautiful daughters. What is it like raising a family here?

Evan: I have only raised one family and only in Mahahual but could not imagine doing so anywhere else on earth. Many guests at our establishment truly admire us for this as it is such a peaceful place to raise children. 

CML: What are the biggest changes you have seen here, good or bad? How would you like to see Mahahual grow in the future?

Evan: Growth is inevitable but I feel that the condo developments change the image of Mahahual. We should undoubtedly grow green with more emphasis on sustainable tourism, growth & education within our community. We must all agree that no one comes to Mahahual for large shopping plazas or to visit monstrosity hotel chains but simply to enjoy pristine beaches, coral reefs, and to support small business models. 

I strongly believe that Mahahual sells itself, simple as that, and that we the entrepreneurs need to preserve the natural beauty as much as possible.  Hence the less impact we make the more of a niche we will create for a eco-tourism that will vary from our neighbors to the north.  Though many of us complain about the Costa Maya Port we must also all thank this industry for providing us with a very steady supply of tourism throughout the year.  We should also be thankful to the National & International tourism that the highway brings us constantly thanks to the Chetumal & Cancun Airport.

CML: Well put. What is your favorite part about living in Mahahual? 

Evan: Definitely always looking at the Caribbean Sea and feeling a fresh clean breeze.

CML: Is this home? Are you planning on being here forever?

Evan: Forever and ever!

Stop by and see Evan and his family the next time you are in town at Nacional Beach Club!

Mexican Government Acts to Fight Sargassum in Costa Maya

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At first it was “here comes sargassum season again. Break out the nose plugs. It will be over in a few weeks”, then “this is a long season but it has been like this since 2011, it will be over soon” and lately as the sargassum keeps rolling in at a furious pace it is more like “when is it going to end??”. This sargassum season is perhaps the worst on record, and the Mexican Federal, State and local governments have decided to act.

The sargassum that is choking out the local beaches is hurting tourism and marine ecology due to the shear scale, and has prompted officials to act. Rafael Pacchiano Alaman, the head of Semarnat, the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources, has declared that the federal government has preliminarily released $62 million pesos to study and deal with the issue in Quintana Roo.

Locals want the sargassum gone but are also concerned that methods of blocking and collection, both at sea and on shore, may have some undesirable consequences, such as netting marine species, digging up turtles nests, and carrying away beach sand. But Pacchiano Alamán indicated that the measures being put forward do not affect the marine fauna because there are very specific guidelines on how to contain sargassum.

Left alone, sargassum in these amounts can trap and kill baby sea turtles, baby dolphins and other species, such as has occurred this year in Barbados. In addition to that, the heavy amounts of rotting seaweed in enclosed bays such like we have here in Mahahual can reduce oxygen levels temporarily, stressing and killing corals, sea grass, fish, sponges and other marine life.

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The measures taken by the government are imperative as the caribbean is bracing for what could be the mother of all seaweed invasions, with satellite observations showing record setting blooms and beaches all over the caribbean drowning in rotting brown plants. The Barbados government declared a national emergency on 7 June.

Scientists are saying that the source of the sargassum since 2011 has been the tropical area off of the norther coast of Brasil, not the sargassum sea, as it was originally thought. Satellite imagery is showing that this year’s bloom is bigger than any that have been observed before, which explains the massive proliferation and extended season. See this article for a more detailed explanation.

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Nobody really knows what is causing the massive blooms in recent years. Experts in many countries are at work studying the issue but say that it is all educated guessing at this point. The good news is that the government has decided to act in a timely and environmentally responsible way. Our beaches should be finally clearing out soon so that we can all enjoy!

Is it Safe to Eat Barracuda?

Barracuda is an oft caught fish in Costa Maya and can be really exciting due to their size and ferocity when they hit your line. They are also a really neat looking fish. But if you are like me, the fight that ensues when reeling in a creature from the deep blue is only a small portion of the excitement. I get REALLY excited when the fish that surfaces is not only big but something that I can feed to my friends and neighbors as I soak in the ooo’s and ahhh’s and tell the tall tale of how I landed the beasty leviathan.

Barracuda is a tough one and it seems that, like many things in life, there is no definitive and clear black and white answer to the question of whether or not they are safe to eat.  They are a predator fish and like most predators that are near the top of the food chain, they have a higher mercury content in their bodies than the fish they feed on. This alone puts then on the “consume less often” list along with Tuna, Swordfish, Grouper and Mackerel.

But they also can be infected with a toxin called ciguatera. Ciguatera is contracted from reef fish that consume it from contaminated coral, algae and seaweed and pass it up the food chain through biomagnification, the same process that the tops dogs get the mercury concentrations. Ciguatoxin is odorless and tasteless and cannot be cooked out of food with high heat. The symptoms of toxicity in humans include gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and neurological effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, muscle aches, numbness of the extremities, vertigo and hallucinations. The symptoms can last from weeks to years in some cases.

So with these two spooky possibilities lurking out there how do we know which of the fish are fine to eat and which will have us seeing little green men? Like we said earlier the world isn’t black and white so not all fish are going to be affected and you don’t want to miss out on a potentially tasty meal right? You would think someone would have come up with a good scientific test to see if your barracuda was poisonous but alas, all we have are good old folk tests like these to rely on…

One test is to cut off a piece of the flesh and lay it by an ant hill. If the ants eat it, it is fine to eat.

Another is to do the same with your cat. If your cat eats the flesh it should also be fine.

Another is to place a silver coin under the scales of the fish, an fish that is not good to eat would turn the coin black.

Some say not to eat a barracuda that is over 10 pounds because the bigger the fish, the older it is and the more other fish it has eaten.

And finally, some say not to eat barracuda during months that don’t have and “r” in the name. Basically May-August. Locals say this is the season where the barracuda dine on a particular seaweed to cleans their system and makes them more toxic to us.

So we may not have the most exact answer to the barracuda question but these folk tests have passed the test of time. I wouldn’t bet my mortgage on any one of them but I think that using them all together as a guide leaves you on the good side of safe. I have eaten barracuda and it is a lovely tasting fish. I would certainly hate for anyone else to lose out on it out of fear. Besides, what’s life without a little risk?

 

Sargassum Attack! Costa Maya Mahahual Under Seige Again in 2018

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It is back and smellier than ever. Sargassum season is in full swing for Costa Maya in 2018 and it is piling up along our shores.

Tourists run from it because when it starts to decay it smells like what I would imagine the early morning bathroom of a hungover whale shark on a Caribbean bachelor party would smell like. Locals dread it because it means early morning and late night shifts on the beaches along the malecon shoveling endless piles of it into wheel barrows to be carted off during by lumbering garbage trucks in the night.

It is a topic that is getting a lot of attention in the small pueblo of Mahahual as well as the rest of the Caribbean Coast of Mexico…

Sargassum is a type of sea algae that grows naturally in the Atlantic ocean and Caribbean Sea. The species that wash ashore are rootless, blooming and floating freely in the ocean until winds and tides bring it to shore. It has always been around, first described by early European explorers who dubbed one region of the Atlantic off the eastern coast of the U.S. the “Sargasso Sea” for its copious quantities in that area.

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It serves a variety of positive ecological functions like providing a nursery for sea turtles, a home habitat to different marine creatures like the Sargassum Fish, shrimp and crabs, birds and whales, a food source for a number of little creatures once it lands on shore, and protects against shore erosion.

The problem is that since 2011 it has been amassing in record numbers every year on some of the Caribbean Sea’s most beloved tourist destinations, including Costa Maya. Locals see it as a nuisance and are at a loss about what to do about it.

Apparently, however, there may be a silver lining. Sargassum, it turns out, may be useful. Powdered sargassum has been an herbal remedy in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, indicated for problems like goiters and thyroid issues due to its high iodine content. In Bermuda it is placed under banana trees as a source of fertilizer. Still others claim its phytochemical, vitamin and mineral content as just as robust as other sea weeds commonly eaten in other parts of the world. Yum! Take a bite…

Nobody knows for sure why the sargassum problem grows each year but some suggest it is due to rising sea temperatures, changes in sea currents due to climate change and some attribute it to agricultural fertilizer run-off into the ocean causing more of the algae to bloom.

Either way, we have a stinky problem on our hands again for 2018 and we need to start looking for a way to turn a lemon into lemonade. This sargassum can be continue to be a curse, or we could turn it into a blessing.

You never know, the next time you visit you might sit down to a nice plate of fried grouper on a bed of sargassum salad!