Snorkelling Cenotes – but can they be saved?

Dos Ojos ('two eyes')Read’s dispatch for CNN Traveler on the Mayan Riviera’s cenotes here.

The mystical depths of Mexico’s ceynotes attract cave divers from round the world. But what can be done to safeguard these ancient treasure troves from the impact of tourism? Deborah Bonello reports.

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Mexico’s environmental issues

The ‘complete disregard’ of most Mexicans for their environment is one of the biggest problems to improving the health of the country’s natural assets and surroundings.

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Snorkelling a Cenote in Tulum

Dos Ojos ('two eyes')The Maya Riviera down on the Caribbean Mexican Coast is home to some of the country’s best kept secrets – cenotes. Cenotes are underwater caves, and there are more than 150 forming part of the network along the Riviera. You can dive or snorkel them, and I had a commission to write a piece for CNN Traveler about the experience. Inside each cenote are huge formations that are created by the rain leaking through the rock above. Each formation grows 1cm every five years!

Tulum’s dirty beaches

New Correspondent paid a visit to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere reserve in Tulum, Mexico. Lucy Gallagher from Mexiconservacion explained why the Reserve’s beaches are so dirty.

Ignorance and corruption are some of the biggest barriers to improving Mexico’s deteriorating environment

Water pollution is one of the biggest problems, and the growth of tourism in the area prompts the growth of new settlements due to the new jobs created. The hotels are required to have a water-treatment plant, but the settlements for hotel workers have no such facilities obligations or facilities.

The direct impact of tourism is that hotels are being built too close to the water’s edge, and tourists trample the reef or break pieces off for souvenirs, says David Nunez of the Tulum-based environmental organization Mexiconservacion in Mexico.

The Meso-American Barrier Reef System is the second-biggest in the world, second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Activities such as the destruction of mangroves, over-harvesting of key marine species and tourism around the reef is damaging the coral, along with the release of waster water into the sea and the run-off water from agricultural lands and golf courses, which are springing up around the coast.

One of the biggest challenges for David and his colleagues is to change the typically ‘chaotic’ attitude Mexico’s inhabitants take towards the environment, which he describes as one of ‘complete disregard’. A lot of the towns and beaches and rivers are very dirty, and the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve nearby is home to one of the dirtiest beaches because nobody cleans it up – the beaches near the hotels are well-tended to by hotel owners in order to keep guests happy.