Stakeholders to Find Balance Between Tourism, Mexican Reef

Conservation International (CI), Cozumel, Mexico’s Department of Tourism and the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association on Jan. 15 signed a groundbreaking conservation agreement by cruise industry leaders representing government, private sector, civil society, and cruise lines as part of the Mesoamerican Reef Tourism Initiative (MARTI). By facilitating this agreement, the partners set into motion a major environmental initiative that will help preserve some of the most endangered biodiversity on the planet living in the world’s most visited cruise destination: Cozumel, Mexico.

“This is an exciting moment in time, bringing many different interests together to work on the common goal of protecting Cozumel’s natural heritage in order to strike the right balance between tourism and conserving the environment it depends on,” said Seleni Matus, MARTI adviser for CI. “Maintaining the health of Cozumel’s natural assets is vital not only to global biodiversity but also to the island’s economic health and stability and the well-being of its inhabitants.”

The agreement provides a framework to facilitate the sustainability of cruise tourism in Cozumel through concerted action. Cozumel’s cruise industry leaders have agreed to work together to:

  • Enhance environmental awareness and education of cruise ship passengers, tour operators, service providers and the local community,
  • Improve island management of tourism infrastructure, including improving island traffic and waste management,
  • Fostering increased protection for Cozumel’s reef system, and
  • Promoting consistent application and enforcement of laws and regulation.

Cozumel’s rich biodiversity makes the island a site of high global conservation importance.  In 2006, the island had 1,058 cruise ship dockings, which brought approximately 2.6 million cruise ship visitors to Cozumel. On peak days, the island receives up to nine cruise ships, which can bring more than 10,000 visitors to the island in one day. The rapid growth in cruise tourism has put greater pressure on environmental resources.

“As the world’s most visited cruise destination, Cozumel takes seriously the challenge of balancing continued growth of cruise tourism with protection of our island’s natural heritage,” said Cozumel’s Mayor Gustavo Ortega Joaquín about the initiative. “Moving forward, all sectors of Cozumel’s tourism industry will need to continue to work together to face the larger challenge of balancing continued growth of tourism and development, both within and beyond the cruise sector, with sustained and large-scale conservation efforts.” 

These lines of action emerged from a series of focus groups and a multi-stakeholder workshop that brought together more than 80 cruise industry leaders to define high-priority environmental issues related to cruise visitation, and reach consensus on collaborative actions for addressing them.  

Cruise industry leaders formed a multi-sector Destination Stewardship Working Group through which they will collaborate to implement the commitments outlined in the conservation agreement. Over the past four months, this Working Group has implemented three easy conservation projects that are already demonstrating tangible improvements, including the production of a 30-second educational video shown to passengers onboard cruise ships encouraging them to leave a light footprint, a display of a photo exhibition highlighting Cozumel’s most pristine areas near piers and shopping areas, and a recycling campaign on board all tour boats and offices of onshore service providers.

Next steps include continuing to develop the environmental education campaign, not only for cruise ship passengers, but also for service providers and the local community. It is estimated that Cozumel’s destination-level Cruise Passenger Education Campaign will reach more than 500,000 cruise visitors over the next six months.

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, of which Cozumel’s coast is a part, is one of the world’s most endangered reef systems.

 This initiative was made possible with support from National Fish and

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