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Caribbean Ecocide or Where Did the Cancun and Playa Del Carmen Beaches Go?

Mar 7, 2008
Looking out across the dark Caribbean night from Punta Allen one sees three equally sized glowing areas on the distant horizon to the north. The furthest out is Cancun, the next Playa del Carmen and the last Tulum.

Cancun has a bit less than a million people; Playa has 300,000 and Tulum now over 30,000. Playa Del Carmen is the fastest growing municipality in Mexico.

But from Punta Allen each lighted area appears to be the same size since Cancun is farther away than Playa and Playa is farther away than Tulum. The three groups of lights are a reminder of the environmental impact of civilization, including light pollution.

In the next 20 years these three lights will merge.

Biologists report the coral reefs are dead out from Cancun, dying off the coast of Playa Del Carmen and starting to die off Tulum. Progress, people and pollution are taking their toll.

If the reefs die, scuba diving will go soon thereafter and that is a major source of tourist dollars. Scuba diving, unlike snorkeling, is not cheap.

The turtles are also moving south. Cancun has too much activity so the turtles are moving down the Riviera Maya coast and eventually will all move into the Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve.

The turtles are of course protected and the cute critters even have a radical environmental group just to make sure they stay around.

But many other creatures, like the pink conch and the jaguar, are slowly dying off as well. Such is progress.

The beaches too are dying.

Hurricane Wilma devastated the beaches on the Cancun strip and the replaced sand was not white and had broken shells in it and was not pleasing to the tourists.

Playacar Resort in Playa del Carmen is now being overtaken by water as the beach has totally washed away. Que pasa?

Hurricanes and storms seasonally move through the coast causing widespread damage and beach erosion. At our favorite beach south of Akumal we could see a good 15 meters of beach erosion had occurred not far from Oscar and Lalo's.

Speaking of Oscar and Lalo's they are no longer at the beach after Hurricane Dean of August 2008. They are on the highway now. Somehow the ambience is not the same.

And in case you were wondering, it's all taken now. The beaches from Cancun to Tulum are resorted out. There are no free beaches left. That's it. That's why in the not too distant future the lights from Cancun, Playa and Tulum will merge.

Ah Cancun. Time to go sunbathe on the rocks.

Below Tulum the Sian Ka'an reserve is nature's last stand and it is getting hit as well. Entering the national park one is surprised at the number of luxury weekend homes with private access.

And big fences. Some like Yvette Mimeux' Casa Palancar, have guards and barbed wire fences. Some national park.

The Hotel Strip in Cancun is not the only place where beach access is limited...despite Mexican federal law.

The technicality is that one is allowed on the beach but access to the beach is considered trespassing and access denied. Unless Yvette gives you the password.

If you don't believe it, go out to the Cancun hotel strip and see how far you have to drive to find a public access beach. Go out on the strip and see how far you have to drive to find a place to park.

The big political concern is that the degraded beaches and environment in general will scare away the tourists. Duh. At some point, it certainly will have an impact.

Less than 20 years ago one could snorkel off the beach in Playa del Carmen and see coral and fish. No more. Now that same beach is a boat launch.

It's true the snow birds will still come to the Riviera Maya because it's just too cold back in Chicago in the winter. And the Germans will come to sunburn their posteriors.

But wise up developers. At some point even the insane Germans will begin to look at other, less spoiled areas. Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua would love the business.

And they still have beaches.
About the Author
Jack Deal is the owner of a jungle ranch outside Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Mexico. Related articles may be found at http://www.jddeal.com/blog and related photos at http://www.freeandinquiringmind.typepad.com
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