Gateway to Yucatan Biosphere Reserve Protected

CANCUN, Mexico, February 6, 2002 (ENS) - Working together, Mexican and U.S. conservationists have taken the first step to acquire a coastal area south of Cancun called Pez Maya, the Nature Conservancy said today. The purchase on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula will help protect millions of acres within the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve from increasing development pressure.


Cancun (Photo courtesy Sunny Beach Vacations)
Officials from the Cancun based concervation group Amigos de Sian Ka'an and The Nature Conservancy said they will work together to raise US$2.7 million to pay for the acquisition and protection of the 64 acre Pez Maya.

Just 90 miles south of the tourist destination of Cancun, live all of the endangered cat species of southern Mexico - jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay and the jaguarundi, along with spider and howler monkeys, white-tipped and collared peccary and tapir. They inhabit the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, which was designated as Mexico's first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Over the next five years, the 80 mile swath of development that extends from Cancun to the Mayan ruins at Tulum is projected to quadruple its capacity, encroaching south from Cancun at a rapid pace and increasing the number of hotel rooms to 80,000.

Pez Maya lies 15 miles south of Tulum, and several developers have tried to acquire the property. With zoning designations as small as 50 meters, Pez Maya's shoreline had been threatened to be subdivided into as many as 60 parcels. The purchase will allow the conservationists to establish a barrier between the bioreserve and hotel development.

"This property, which includes two miles of Caribbean coast line, is one of the most important and threatened natural areas along the Caribbean coast of Mexico," said Marco Lazcano, director of Amigos.


On the beach at Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve (Two photos courtesy Mexican Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources)
"It is breeding ground for least terns, osprey, American crocodile, manatee, and loggerhead and green sea turtles. Nourished by mangrove swamps, the coastal waters of Pez Maya harbors one of the world's most pristine coral formations and are renowned for their abundance of sport fish such as tarpon, bonefish, snook and permit," Lazcano said.

Brian Houseal of The Nature Conservancy, said the location of these 64 acres as the gateway to the biosphere reserve is critical. "Sian Ka'an is Mexico's largest protected coastal wetland, providing refuge for thousands of species of plants and animals," Houseal said.

The purchase of Pez Maya was from Banco Mexicano de Comercio Exterior. Once the $2.7 million is raised for the property, Amigos will hold title to the land and the Conservancy will place a permanent conservation easement on the property to protect it from further development.

"We see this is an important, first step in protecting this coastal area," Lazcano said. "Much of the coastal area in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve is privately owned, so we will need to work closely and creatively with other property owners to ensure that if development does occur, it is low density and it does not adversely impact this fragile natural area."


Aerial view of the unspoiled Yucatan coastline
The private land holdings are located in the coastal buffer zone, where sustainable use of natural resources is permitted. Of the 1,000 inhabitants in Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, most live in the two fishing villages at Punta Allen and Punta Herrero, which depend primarily upon the spiny lobster fishery.

Amigos officials said that in addition to protecting the protecting dunes, coastal shrub and mangroves at Pez Maya, they plan to use the property for environmental training and research.

Amigos de Sian Ka'an was founded in 1986 in an effort to reduce human impact and preserve the remaining natural landscapes of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.

The creation of Amigos established a new precedence in Mexico, as this was the first time a private association, composed of conservationists, coastal landowners, concerned developers and natural resource researchers, was formed to support the conservation of a protected area administered by the federal government, the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve.