Scientists work to save Mexico’s coral reefs

By Lourdes Cruz

Cancun, Mexico, Sep 25 (EFE).- Fifteen years ago, seeing the damage done by hurricanes and development to the coral reefs of this tourist mecca on the Yucatan peninsula spurred a group of Mexican marine biologists into action.

Gabriela Nava, co-founder and executive director of Oceanus, A.C., says that the success she and her colleagues have had in restoring a section of the El Bajito reef at Punta Nizuc in Cancun shows the deterioration can be reversed.

Using an approach implemented previously along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in Veracruz, the Punta Nizuc project aims to seed the reef with 1,000 colonies of coral annually year and establish coral nurseries to supply the restoration effort.

“When we began there was less than 1 percent coral coverage at the site, much growth of algae and sedimentation. Punta Nizuc is one of the places most visited by tourists and now we have coverage of 7 percent,” Nava told Efe.

Reef ecosystems are threatened by white syndrome, tropical cyclones and the effects of tourism-focused economic development.

“We look for colonies that are naturally resistant to these events,” the Oceanus director said, acknowledging that the process is expensive.

“Even so, it would be cheaper to support the recovery of reefs than the recovery of beaches,” she insisted. “If each one of the hotels, just as they invest in beach replenishment or coastal investment, invests in restoring the coral reef they could restore their beaches more quickly and at lower cost.”

“We need to act quickly, not to compete and not to fight, but instead to unite to make these efforts, to really create a change. Despite all the damage we do, nature tells us that there is hope,” Nava said.

The Mexican government officially recognized Oceanus’ contribution to environmental preservation in 2019 and the group was honored a few months ago with an award from the Premios Latinoamerica Verde (Latin American Green Prizes).

More important in practical terms was a decision two years by Spanish hotel chain RIU to help fund the work of Oceanus.

“In general, one of the most significant environmental impacts that tourist activity generates is that which is linked to the pressure it exerts on marine ecosystems, especially on coral reefs,” RIU executive Alma Tesillos told Efe.

“Taking into account all the services these ecosystems offer us, it’s beyond doubt that we had to do something,” she said. “We are convinced that sustainability of not just business, but also that of humanity, is directly linked to the preservation of biodiversity.”

Tesillos said that RIU will continue to support the Oceanus project through at least the end of this year and called on others in the tourism industry to join the effort. EFE lc/dr

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