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Coral reef being taken by tourists as souvenirs

Playa del Carmen, Q.R. – Government authorities are considering routine coral inspections after receiving complaints of tourists taking pieces as souvenirs.

José Gómez Burgos, secretary for Cooperativa Turística del Mar Caribe, says it may be necessary to involve federal officials in snorkeling and diving activities after hearing complaints from local fishermen who say tourists are breaking pieces of coral to take home.

The reef system along Playa del Carmen is already overly congested by diving providers, which has generated an increased amount of pressure on the eco system.

Gómez Burgos points out, “We have here a lifetime of fishermen, many of whom are dedicated to tourism and have seen more and more and more divers. They feel we should start regulating the activities because in the end, what is affected is the same reef, which we have to preserve.”

According to Miguel Ángel Ramírez Lara of the Asociación de Prestadores de Servicios Náuticos (Association of Marine Service Providers), there are 26 companies established in the area. Each of these companies is reminded of a “look but do not touch” policy with tourists when diving.

Yet, he explains, “We see people who are unaware or authorities who do not make the effort to preserve the reef by failing to place signs, so people want to take pieces of the coral reef as souvenirs which has resulted in them tearing the reefs to pieces. We have tried to make tourists aware through our tours so they can see these wonders themselves without damaging the reef, yet we have had confrontations with them.”

He regrets that such practices, dating from the beginning of tourism activities in the region, have generated much of the deterioration of the corals that are seen today. Damage from tourism has also been seen in caves as divers take groups of people who also damage the cave environments.

Germán Yáñez of Círculo Espeleológico del Mayab, says that an alternative is to support the Association of Providers of Water Services (APSA), who have submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Tourism to update the Mexican Official Standard 09. As of now, the standard only includes cave and cavern divers, but the new proposal would see the standard include the open sea. If approved, such a federal standard would apply to the whole country, not just the Riviera Maya.

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