Sep 012016
 

Mexico’s famed Hidden Beach (Playa Escondida), aka as the Beach of Love (Playa del Amor), has reopened for limited tourism following a three month closure  for cleaning and restoration work.

The beach is on one of the small, uninhabited Marieta Islands, in the Marieta Islands National Park, off the west coast of Mexico, and relatively close to the resort of Puerto Vallarta. It is one of Mexico’s most beautiful small beaches, looking from the air (image) like an “eye to the sky”.

Playa Escondida. Source: Google Earth. Scale: The beach is about 30 m (100 ft) long.

Playa Escondida. Source: Google Earth. Scale: The beach is about 30 m (100 ft) long.

In earlier posts, we considered how Playa Escondida (“Hidden Beach”) was formed and also looked at the not inconsiderable downside to publicizing one of Mexico’s most beautiful beaches.

After a study by University of Guadalajara researchers found that local coral was dying and argued that the beach could support no more than 625 visitors a day (compared to the estimated 2500 who visit it on vacation days), federal authorities closed the beach and prohibited access while they considered how best to regulate future visits.

Mexico’s National Protected Areas Commission (Conanp) has now announced new regulations governing visits to the island and to the beach. It is limiting visitors to 116/day, well below the University of Guadalajara figure for carrying capacity of 625/day/.

In addition, no single group may have more than 15 members. No diving is allowed. Fins, face masks and snorkels are all prohibited. Visits have a strict time limit of 30 minutes. The beach, visted by more than 125,000 in 2015, will be completely closed two days each week for maintenance and monitoring.

Only time will tell if these measures will be sufficient to ensure that this particular gem of Mexico’s hundreds of amazing geosites will still be there for future generations to admire and appreciate.

Related posts

Jul 182016
 

The Montebello Lakes National Park (Parque Nacional Lagunas de Montebello) in Chiapas is a 6040-hectare expanse of rainforest, at elevations ranging from 1500 to 1800 metres (5000-6000 ft) above sea level, near the border with Guatemala. The park has 59 small and mid-sized lakes of varying colors. The variations in color include several tones of blue and green, due to differences in mineral content. About a quarter of the lakes are readily accessible by vehicle or on foot, and they are spectacular on a sunny day.

montebello-lakes-chiapas-gov

The park, which is an international RAMSAR wetland site, was the earliest national park to be established in Chiapas, and dates back to 1959. It was formally designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 2009.

This short (2 min, 20 sec) postandfly video gives a great overview of the park’s beauty:


Several of the lakes are used for swimming, canoeing, and kayaking. The largest is Lake Tziscao.

Additional attractions within the park include sinkholes (cenotes), caves (Grutas San Rafael del Arco) and two Maya ruins, the most important of which is Chinkultic, whose ruins date back to the third century. That site’s main pyramid, the Acropolis, affords an excellent view over the region.

The nearest city to the Montebello park is Comitán, an hour’s drive to the west. The picturesque city of San Cristóbal de las Casas, a very popular tourist city, is about three hour’s drive from the park in the same direction.

The protection of the lakes does face some issues. They are so close to the Guatemalan border that the area has been a regular staging post for central Americans entering Mexico illegally, hoping to eventually reach the USA.

In recent years, scientists have expressed concern that the lakes are losing their colors and becoming muddy and lifeless. They attribute this to untreated wastewater and agricultural runoff entering the lakes (via the Grande River which flows directly into the lakes) and deforestation of parts of the lake basins.

The Chiapas state Congress called for action in 2015, and has renewed its efforts this year. Proponents of action want a special commission to be set up to coordinate protection and recuperation efforts. Among those working to preserve this amazing treasure in southern Mexico are researchers from several major Mexican universities, including the National University (UNAM) and the Autonomous University of Chiapas.

Related posts:

Jul 112016
 

One year on from when we last reported on the desperate plight of Mexico’s “little sea cow”, the endangered vaquita marina, where are we now?

According to the World Wildlife Fund, “The vaquita is at the edge of extinction”. The latest population estimate suggests that the number of vaquita in the wild has fallen from about 100 in 2014 to just 60 today, despite a much-publicized ban on fishing in the main area where the little sea cows are found.

As we reported in Mexico’s “little sea cow” on the verge of extinction two years ago, the sea cow’s fate is inextricably tied to fishing for the (also endangered) totoaba, a fish in demand in China for its swim bladder, which is believed to have medicinal properties. Fishermen in Mexico’s Gulf of California (Sea of Cortés) are reported to have been offered more than $4,000 for a single totoaba bladder, which weighs only 500 grams. The price in China is reported to be between $10,000 and $20,000 each.

Map of sightings and acoustic detection spots. Adapted from North American Conservation Action Plan for the vaquita

Map of sightings and acoustic detection spots. Adapted from North American Conservation Action Plan for the vaquita

In April 2015, federal authorities imposed a two-year ban on gillnets and expanded the vaquita protection area to cover 13,000 square kilometers (5,000 square miles) of the upper Gulf of California . Some 600 gill nets (each of which can be up to # meters long) were seized by the Mexican Navy in 2015 (and 77 individuals detained), and navy personnel claim they are still confiscating nets every day.

The International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) is trying to make a difference. Among the options being considered by Mexico’s Environment Secretariat (Semarnat) is assisted breeding, though a vaquita expert, Barbara Taylor of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is quoted in The Guardian as claiming that “We have no idea whether it is feasible to find, capture and maintain vaquitas in captivity much less whether they will reproduce. The uncertainties are large.” The World Wildlife Fund Mexico is currently opposed to such a strategy, given the very low number remaining.

Mexico has had conservation successes in the past, allowing the populations of other marine animals, including the Guadalupe fur seal and the northern elephant seal, to recover.

Related posts:

 

Jun 062016
 

On Mexico’s Pacific coast, the endemic Green Turtle or tortuga verde (Chelonia mydas) has been taken off the “endangered” list and had its status reclassified as “threatened”. Despite the success of conservation efforts in Mexico, green turtle remains on the worldwide endangered list, to which it was first added in 1978.

For details of Mexico’s conservation efforts with respect to sea turtles, see Protecting Mexico’s endangered marine turtles.

The global population of green turtles, which can wiegh up to 200 kg and live as long as 80 years, has now been divided by wildlife experts into 11 distinct sub-populations, allowing some flexibility in approaches to their management.

Selected marine turtle nesting beaches in Mexico.

Selected marine turtle nesting beaches in Mexico.

Meanwhile, in Mexico’s arid northern interior in the Chihuahuan desert, biologists have reported a marked upsurge in the numbers of the very much smaller Bolson tortoise. The Bolson tortoise (Gopherus flavomarginatus), native to this part of Mexico, is often referred to as the Mexican giant tortoise, but grows only to about 50 cm in length, with a weight of around 18 kg. It had been under threat due to local people hunting it for food, and due to shifting weather patterns. The tortoise is one of the various endangered species inhabiting the Bolsón de Mapimi, the desert basin that straddles the borders of Durango, Coahuila and Chihuahua.

Conservation efforts in the area have focused on ensuring that local people have an alternative source of meat (cattle in this case) and appreciate the value of preserving their native tortoises. Local communities have been given grants to help with reforestation projects, environmental monitoring and maintaining a small museum for visitors.

Related posts:

May 262016
 

Mexico’s largest mining company, Grupo México plans to mine copper from its mine in Angangueo, Michoacán, according to the town’s mayor, Leonel Martínez Maya, who says it would revitalize the local economy. Large-scale mining in the town declined after a serious accident in 1953, said to have been attributable to the company’s then-foreign management in response to a threatened strike. The miners who lost their lives in this accident are commemorated by a huge statue which overlooks the town.

Angangueo. Sketch by Mark Eager; all rights reserved.

Angangueo. Sketch by Mark Eager; all rights reserved.

The mayor is adamant that the renewal of active mining in the town would have no adverse consequences for the annual migration of Monarch butterflies (who overwinter in their tens of millions in the pine-fir forests above the town)  or on their habitat.

The town is one of Mexico’s “Magic Towns” and the area is a protected natural reserve, but apparently the mining company is taking advantage of a legal loophole and arguing that the mine predates the establishment of the Monarch reserve, and that the mine was never technically closed, even though it was inactive in recent years. The Michoacán state government is said to support the Grupo México initiative.

Despite boom times in the past, the town of Angangueo currently has only limited sources of revenue other than seasonal tourism.

The illustration and parts of the description come from chapter 30 of my Western Mexico, a Traveller’s Treasury (4th edition, 2013).

Related posts:

May 232016
 

In the past couple of years, Mexico’s federal tourism department has included a truly magnificent beach on some of its publicity posters. It is one of those advertising posters that really catches the eye. I first saw a poster featuring Playa Escondida (“Hidden Beach”) in a departure lounge at Vancouver’s International Airport and spent the next hour watching people’s reactions as they passed it. Several people paused and studied the photo, demonstrating its success in capturing people’s attention.

playa-escondida-tourism-poster-2The beach concerned, also known as the “Beach of Love”) is on one of the small, uninhabited Marieta Islands, in the Marieta Islands National Park, off the west coast of Mexico, and relatively close to Puerto Vallarta.

The posters, and resulting publicity, have led to so many tourists wanting to experience the beach for themselves – more than 2500 visitors a day during Easter Week this year – that Mexico’s National Protected Areas Commission (Conanp) has ordered the beach closed for at least three months due to concerns about environmental damage. Conanp has indicated that the local coral reef has already been adversely impacted by tourism.

Conanp’s decision follows a study by scientists at the University of Guadalajara which concluded that tourism has led to the death of coral, accumulation of garbage, and to pollution from hydrocarbons. The study estimated the beach’s environmental carrying capacity (the number of people that could visit the beach without causing lasting environmental damage) to be 625 visitors a day. Given the secluded nature of this beach, its perceptual carrying capacity (the maximum number of visitors that other visitors can tolerate, based on such impacts as noise) may be even lower.

To assuage some of the economic concerns of tour operators, Conanp is making plans to open a different beach on another of the Marieta Islands for tourism at some point in the near future.

During Easter week, there were numerous press reports that boats ferrying people to the Marieta Islands from El Anclote, Nayarit, were often overcrowded and carrying more passengers than their permits allowed. Boat owners, not surprisingly, deny this, and claim that this is yet another attempt to dislodge them from their remaining toehold on Punta de Mita, where a major upscale tourism development forced many fishermen out of their homes about thirty years ago. For details, see the text accompanying our Map of the Beaches of Jalisco.

islas-marietas-playa-excondida

The number of tourists traveling to Playa Escondida increased from 27,500 in 2012 to 127,372 in 2015. While the federal tourism poster was not the only publicity given the beach, it certainly appears to have played a part in increasing public awareness of this scenic geotourism location, ultimately resulting in the need to make it off limits for tourism, at least for now.

Related posts

We discuss the consequences of tourism, good, bad and neutral, at length, in chapter 19 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Buy your copy (Print or ebook) today!

Apr 252016
 

Cuatro Ciénegas (“Four Marshes”) is a city and municipality in the northern border state of Coahuila. Founded in 1800, it has some historical significance, since it was the birthplace of Venustiano Carranza, Mexico’s president from 1915 to 1920.

The natural nearby “marshes” are highly unusual. Situated in an arid region (part of the Chihuahuan desert), they include several natural springs that feed more than 200 small ponds and wetlands. Some of the water supporting these unique wetlands, which cover an area of 84,400 hectares, is believed to be more than 200 million years old. The wetlands are an integral part of the UNESCO-designated Cuatro Ciénegas biosphere reserve. The reserve is home to several endemic organisms, including microorganisms such as cyanobacteria that historically helped produce oxygen for the Earth’s atmosphere. The area is considered “a living laboratory of evolution and the origin of life”.

Cuatro Ciénegas. Credit: Nancy T. Wilson (MexConnect)

Cuatro Ciénegas. Credit: Nancy T. Wilson (MexConnect.com)

Human activities in the surrounding area have led to severe water stress on the Cuatro Ciénegas marshes. The basin’s average natural recharge rate (replenishment rate) is about  25 million cubic meters a year, but the average yearly extraction rate, almost all for agricultural use, is close to 49 million cubic meters.

Water stress may be exacerbated in coming years by climate change, which may reduce rainfall while simultaneously increasing evapotranspiration.

Scientists have also identified five particular exotic (introduced) species that pose a significant risk to the long-term quality of the Cuatro Ciénegas wetlands. Whether naturally or deliberately introduced, these five species – African jewelfish, blue tilapia, giant cane (giant reed), Guatemalan fir and tamarisk (salt cedar) – threaten to displace endemic species and change natural nutrient flows and food chains. Guatemalan fir and tamarisk soak up water as they grow, further drying out the marshes (though, eventually, when little water is left, they will die off). The blue tilapia carries parasites that can jump to local species that have no resistance to them. The African jewelfish occupies the same ecological niche as the endemic mojarra and gradually replaces it.

Mexico’s Comision Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONAMP), is now working with the Mexican Fund for Nature Conservation (FNCN) and the Canadian government agency Parks Canada to develop and implement a control and eradication program to tackle these five invasive species. The long-term survival of this highly unusual ecosystem may well depend on this program’s success.

Related posts:

Apr 182016
 

Only weeks after the suspension of hotel construction work in the Malecón Tajamar area of Cancún due to the wanton destruction of mangroves, work on another major hotel project in Cancón has also been stopped.

This time, it is the building of Riu Hotel’s 95-million-dollar, 530-room, Hotel Riviera Cancún, with two 70-story towers, that has been halted. The project is in the Punta Nizuc area of Cancún’s Hotel Zone, off Boulevard Kukulcán. A judge has now ordered that the project be permanently suspended because it infringes a federally-protected zone that extends 100 meters from nearby mangroves in the Nichupté protected area.

Cancún by Arthur Gonoretzky (Flickr)

Cancún by Arthur Gonoretzky (Flickr)

The judge also ruled that Fonatur (the National Tourism Development Fund) had illegally sold a beach access road to benefit the Riu development. In addition, the municipal government of Cancún had approved a change of land use category (zoning) for the area in order for the hotel construction to begin. The original zoning limited construction to a height of only three stories.

According to press reports, Luis Riu, the president of the Riu hotel chain, claims the issue has nothing to do with mangroves but is about political influence, and because the wealthy owner of a neighboring hotel had been upset at not acquiring the land himself.

Despite these local successes, it is unlikely that this latest setback to hotel construction on the coast really signals a sea-change in Mexico’s attitude to unbridled development of its shoreline. There are still numerous other projects underway in other parts of the country that endanger local habitats, as well as many more major projects on the drawing board. Even so, it is encouraging that the judicial process is showing signs of siding with environmentalists and those seeking to ensure that Mexico’s magnificent coastline and scenery survive its grandiose tourism development plans.

Related posts:

Apr 112016
 

According to ECOCE, a non-profit environmental grouping of 24 food and beverage firms, representing more than 80 brands such as Peñafiel, Bonafont, Herdez, Jumex and Coca-Cola, Mexico is the world’s leading recycler of hard plastic PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles and containers.

Mexico has 14 PET recycling plants, the construction of which represents total investments of around US$314 million.

Ever wondered what thousands and thousands of crushed plastic bottles look like? Try this short video showing the processes involved in a PetStar PET-recycling plant:

In 2015, Mexico produced 722,000 metric tons of PET, of which 364,000 tons (50.4%) were recovered for recycling. This rate of recycling is well ahead of Canada (40%), Brazil (42%), the U.S. (31%) and the European Union (21%). Recycled PET, worth about $250 a ton, is reused to make bottles, containers, and various textile products.

60% of Mexico’s recycled PET is destined for the national market, the remaining 40% is exported to China, the U.S. and elsewhere.

Source:

Related posts:

Feb 292016
 

The English language press has lavished dollops of praise on The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science, the biography of Humboldt written by Andrea Wulf, a design historian at the Royal College of Art in London.

wulf-humboldt

Cover of U.S. edition

According to a review in the New Scientist, “Historian Andrea Wulf calls Humboldt the lost hero of science. It is extraordinary that a man once so revered is now largely forgotten.” This claim is gross exaggeration. It has limited validity in the English-speaking world and even less validity in the German-, French- and Spanish-speaking worlds.

There have been several previous English-language biographies of Humboldt, some better than others. The earliest that immediately comes to mind, and one of the best illustrated, is Douglas Botting’s Humboldt and the Cosmos (1973). More recent works include Humboldt’s Cosmos by Gerard Helferich (2004); The Humboldt Current (2006), by Aaron Sachs (2006); and The Passage to Cosmos, by Laura Dassow Walls (2011). Generations of geographers have grown up learning about Humboldt’s explorations and his revolutionary ideas.

There is no question that Humboldt’s life and work are worthy of numerous biographies. There is no question, either, that Wulf’s biography is an interesting read, and contains lots of valuable ideas. The author clearly went to great lengths to visit many of the important locales in Humboldt’s writing, and to read dozens of his books in their original German, and much of his voluminous correspondence, as well as examining Darwin’s copies of Humboldt’s works, etc., etc.

However, Wulf misses the mark in this biography in two main regards. First, too much of the book is taken up with accounts of the sometimes tenuous links between Humboldt and later thinkers about environmental and other matters.

The second concern, and the one that most concerns Geo-Mexico, is that Wulf completely ignores Humboldt’s time in Mexico, despite providing detailed accounts of his explorations elsewhere. It is arguably his year-long visit to Mexico that gave Humboldt not only the opportunity to collect yet more data and information, but also to reflect on the significance of his discoveries in South America.

Surely, Humboldt’s views about volcanoes, for example, were shaped by the opportunity he had in Mexico to study Jorullo, the volcano (in present-day Michoacán) that had erupted a few years previously? Equally, Humboldt’s observations in the “Mexican Andes” (Sierra Madre Occidental and Volcanic Axis) undoubtedly helped Humboldt arrive at the conclusion that vegetation zonation with altitude had general applicability and was not confined to South America. Furthermore, it was Humboldt who first remarked on the fact that Mexican volcanoes lie in an East-west belt (Volcanic Axis) and were not arranged parallel to the main mountain ranges, as in South America. (The alignment of the Volcanic Axis is still something of a geological puzzle, since it does not appear to fit the general model of plate tectonics).

The omission of Mexico and the large number of pages devoted to later thinkers detract from the quality of Wulf’s biography, making it an interesting and readable, but unbalanced, and ultimately unsatisfying, portrait of one of the world’s greatest ever thinkers.

For a definitive account of Humboldt’s time in Mexico, see, La Obra de Alexander Von Humboldt en Mexico, Fundamento de la Geografía Moderna. by Rayfred Lionel Stevens-Middleton (Instituto Panamericano de Geografía y Historia, 1956).

Related posts: