New park created to preserve natural wealth in tourist-heavy southeast Mexico
By Lourdes Cruz
Cancun, Mexico, Apr 13 (EFE).- Mexico’s government is aiming to preserve the natural wealth surrounding a major tourist area of the country’s southeast through the creation of a new environmental reserve and the deployment of National Guard troops to prevent land invasions.
Located in the municipality of Tulum and known as the Jaguar Flora and Fauna Protection Area (APFF Jaguar), that reserve – the second-largest in the Mexican Caribbean region – has existed by decree since July 2022 and covers a total of 2,249 hectares (5,550 acres).
The reserve’s 282-hectare buffer zone also includes the archaeological sites of Tulum and Tankah.
The three agencies charged with overseeing this new reserve are the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas (Conanp, the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and the National Guard, a unit of the National Defense Secretariat and Mexico’s main federal law enforcement agency.
Jose Manuel Ochoa, INAH’s head archaeologist for the Tulum and Copa archaeological zone, told Efe that during the vacation periods, including the current Holy Week season, the number of visitors rises considerably.
“We’re talking about around 2,000 visitors (per day) and on some days or certain moments the number (climbs even more), reaching an estimated high of approximately 7,000 people a day,” he said.
The archaeological site of Tulum, which was a pre-Columbian walled Mayan city, measures just 400 meters (1,310 feet) long and 200 m wide. But it is a major tourist draw due to being the only city of the Mayan world built on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
Quintana Roo’s Tourism Secretariat estimates that the archaeological zones of that state received 1.8 million tourists in 2022, with Tulum alone welcoming 1.4 million.
Minerva Zarate arrived in Tulum with a group of tourists who departed from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.
“It’s the first time I’ve been here and I’m delighted with everything I’ve seen. We came by highway as a group. We had a nice trip, with no difficulties,” she said.
Ochoa said the APFF Jaguar takes the shape of two polygons, “one corresponding to Conanp, which is east of the Tulum National Park, and the other corresponding to INAH, which in this case is the zone of the Tulum and Tankah archaeological monuments,” she added.
The construction of a Tren Maya (Mayan Train) station and the announcement of a new airport in Tulum, both priority projects for President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, have further boosted the value of developed plots of land and inadvertently encouraged invasions of protected territories.
Several attempts have been made to invade seaside land, while others have tried to occupy plots located along the federal highway that links the Riviera Maya resort area with Cancun.
During a survey of tourist areas of Tulum, Gabriel Bautista Tapia, the National Guard’s inspector general, told Efe that a permanent contingent of that law-enforcement agency has arrived in recent weeks to patrol the reserve and its environs.
“There’s an exclusively designated force for the (APFF Jaguar) that comprises the archaeological zone and all of the protected natural reserves, as well as the Mexican Caribbean biosphere reserve,” he said.
Bautista said the National Guard also is tasked with avoiding invasions of lands that form part of the new reserve.
“The main risk is that people keep coming in to invade the different plots inside the park” and erecting illegal constructions inside a natural protected area, he added.
The contingent of 225 National Guard troops have been deployed in all of the important places in Tulum, with some personnel sent to areas deemed to be at risk of land invasions. EFE