Mexico’s tourism policy threatening environment

Mexico City, May 27 (IANS/EFE) Mexico’s tourism policy, which promotes development of enormous hotels in remote areas, produces an over-exploitation of natural resources and a ‘collapse’ of the ecosystem, a leading environmentalist has said.

The tourism model applied in Mexico ‘over the last few decades consists of choosing a site and developing it until all the natural resources are gone, so that for years afterwards these areas are basically in a state of collapse,’ oceanographer Octavio Aburto, who works with US-based Scripps Research Institute, said Tuesday.

Mexican authorities have since long promoted construction in tourist destinations such as Cancun, Huatulco, Los Cabos and Ixtapa, where enormous complexes comprising hotels, marinas, shopping malls, housing and golf courses are being planned in previously pristine areas.

Aburto, who has been involved in ocean studies around Baja California and the shores of tourist cities like Cancun since the mid-1990s, says: ‘The whole system of beaches connected to coastal wetlands such as mangrove swamps has been totally disrupted, however much the authorities might want to hide the fact.’

Cancun, a city created a mere 40 years ago and now home to 700,000 people, has more than 30,000 hotel rooms and is Mexico’s leading tourist destination.

Last year the government invested more than $70 million to recover some 16 km of beaches in Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen after they were swept away by hurricanes. The government brought in 6.1 million cubic metres of sand dredged from the bottom of the sea for the purpose.

‘Today it’s very difficult for us to maintain what in theory we sold to tourists: paradisiacal beaches and mangroves,’ Aburto said.

‘Now we spend people’s tax money to pay for dredging sandbanks, so that next season the hurricanes can sweep away the same sand, because the mangroves that warded off the winds and kept the beaches from eroding have been destroyed,’ he said.

The oceanographer also said Mexican authorities continue giving out permits to build tourist infrastructure despite ‘a series of outrageous infractions against environmental law (and) glaring gaps of information’ in environmental impact studies.