Environmental authorities in Mexico have stepped in to protect one of the most important sea turtle nesting beaches on the Caribbean. The federal government has halted plans to build a 520-room hotel, which would have erected twenty-three buildings and an artificial lake just inland from the Xcacel beach, north of the resort of Tulum, near the turtle nesting site.
The Environment Department issued a statement late Monday saying the project would threaten Xcacel, which they referred to as "the site with the largest observed nesting of sea turtles on the entire Yucatan Peninsula." The beach is a nesting area for loggerhead, hawksbill and green sea turtles, and sections of the beach are protected. However, the property adjacent to the beach has been eyed by real estate developers for the last 20 years. Environmental authorities had already denied a prior "eco-hotel" project there.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are seven different species of sea turtles, including the green, hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback, and olive ridley turtles. Nearly all are considered endangered due to poaching and over-exploitation. The turtle populations have been slaughtered for their eggs, meat, skin, and shells, accidentally trapped by fishing lines and nets, and have had their habitats destroyed.
“Sea turtles are a fundamental link in marine ecosystems. They help maintain the health of seagrass beds and coral reefs that benefit commercially valuable species such as shrimp, lobster, and tuna. Sea turtles are the live representatives of a group of reptiles that have existed on Earth and traveled our seas for the last 100 million years,” the WWF says.
On Mexico's western coast, President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador stated that he has blocked another conservation proposal. Lopez Obrador, who will take office on December 1, won’t face opposition from outgoing President Enrique Peña Nieto. Environmental groups had been pressuring Peña Nieto for a near-total ban on fishing in the upper Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez, in order to protect the critically endangered vaquita porpoise. There are currently fewer than 30 porpoises left.
Vaquitas populations have been reduced by nets lowered for the totoaba fish, whose swim bladder is sold as a luxury delicacy in China. Poachers have been known to hide among legitimate fishing boats to fish for totoaba. The government has found it difficult to enforce a ban on gill-net fishing in the area.
Over the weekend, Lopez Obrador stated that "we have gotten visits from fishermen who were worried that the federal government would decree a fishing ban in the Gulf of California," Lopez Obrador said. "We talked with Peña Nieto and that decree has been blocked."