Yum Balam, the hidden treasure, and threatened in Mexico

MORE INFORMATION Acapulco, Holbox and Tabasco, which are threatened by sea level rise in 2050 Holbox, el paraíso mexicano The island of Holbox is a destinatio

Yum Balam, the hidden treasure, and threatened in Mexico

MORE INFORMATION

Acapulco, Holbox and Tabasco, which are threatened by sea level rise in 2050 Holbox, el paraíso mexicano

The island of Holbox is a destination increasingly well-known among tens of thousands of visitors who long for a getaway in the mexican Caribbean. Less than 200 kilometers from the Riviera Maya and Cancun, but without the all-inclusive hotels, or the hustle and bustle of the nightclubs, Holbox went from being a fishing village to a tourist paradise. The best kept secret of the island and Yum Balam, the natural protected area where it is located, are not its turquoise waters or white sand, but a series of coastal ecosystems, which are a powerful weapon against climate change, with the ability to mitigate annual emissions of carbon dioxide of more than nine million people. But that can change. More than 20 lawsuits promoted by real estate developers seeking to dismantle the ecological reserve of Yum Balam and the consolidation of Holbox in the last branch of the mass tourism of sun and beach.

Mangroves in Holbox. Getty

Yum Balam is since 1994 an area of protection of flora and fauna of most of 1.540 square kilometers, more than double the surface area of Madrid. Account with biodiversity is surprising and is home to endangered species like jaguars, manatees, loggerhead and the hawksbill turtle. But the secret of the zone against greenhouse gases is extended in a small strip of 66 square kilometers of mangrove forests (coastal wetlands) and 170 square kilometers of seagrass beds. These aquatic organisms will not only house a large number of species and form a natural barrier against storms and hurricanes, also stored between three and five times more carbon that the terrestrial ecosystems through photosynthesis.

Amount of carbon in terrestrial ecosystems, and coastal. The Country

The organic carbon that is stored in the oceans and coastal ecosystems is known as blue carbon and has awakened a great interest in the scientific community worldwide, but is relatively little-known and barely begins to study in Mexico, despite being the fourth country with the most mangroves, according to the Geological Service of the united States. "The lack of scientific data has to do with the lack of public interest, a lot of people in the country don't even know that there are agencies such as the seagrass," says Jorge Herrera-Silveira, the expert of the Center of Research and Advanced Studies. Yum Balam account with less than 1% of the mangroves of mexico, but thanks to the trees of the mangrove and sea grasses, stores 38 million tonnes of carbon a year, according to the calculations of Herrera-Silveira.

human settlements have already left their mark in the Yum Balam. The areas with mangrove less dense are the people of Holbox —which has about 3,000 permanent inhabitants, but can receive up to 20,000 visitors per day in high season, according to Government estimates— and Chiquilá, a small community of about 1,500 people from where ferries that connect the island with the Yucatan peninsula. "80% of the settlements of Holbox and Chiquilá have been done on mangroves," explains Herrera-Silveira. "There are very strong economic interests that threaten to Yum Balam, there should be no tourism development on the area of mangroves because they are prohibited by law and when allowed, we are faced with acts of corruption," says the researcher.

In the last fifteen years there has been a real estate boom in Holbox, after a constitutional amendment removed restrictions to sell and to divide the communal land, a regime of collective property in Mexico. The flexibility in land tenure led to a homing owners and newcomers who bought the original inhabitants with the hope of realizing large tourism and real estate projects. "The convinced saying that they were going to develop the place and that would make them sharers in the business, but in the end, the local owners were displaced," says Pilar Diez, director for the Southeast region of the Mexican Center of Environmental Law.

Since 2012, the conglomerate Peninsula Maya Developments, an association of mexican entrepreneurs, asked permission to the mexican Government to build an ambitious tourist complex in 980 hectares of protected land and with 2.450-quarters of a hotel known as The Cove, which sparked protests from civil organizations, and villagers. In 2014, about 70 members-entrepreneurs, as it was called developers newcomers, promoted that subdividiera the ejido of Holbox in four suburbs in order to facilitate the efforts of those who oppose that the island is part of a protected area. In 2016, after the scandal of a fire intentional in the island that washed away with 87 acres, Peninsula Maya Developments withdrew to build The Cove.

global Distribution of ecosystems in carbon blue. The Country

After a series of disputes, in 2018 to be issued by the management program for the natural protected area, the guidelines that regulate what can be built and that do not, in addition to identifying areas of preservation, sustainable use, human settlements, and even the recovery areas that were devastated by the fires of 2016. The regulations that insulate Yum Balam unleashed a series of demands of those who seek to end the restrictions, and even reverse the decree of protected area.

One of the main arguments of those who promote disputes that did not receive the right to a hearing, despite the fact that most bought their land almost 20 years after it was declared as an ecological reserve and that there are national laws and international conventions that guarantee the protection. It is expected that several of these disputes should be resolved this year, but it is very likely that the rulings are appealed and reach all the way to the Supreme Court, have said THE COUNTRY sources who have followed the case.

While the world discovers the potential of blue carbon, Herrera-Silveira warns that Mexico already loses each year to between 2% and 3% of its mangroves. But there are scenarios more worrisome. Yum Balam and other coastal areas that contain the secret against the emissions of greenhouse gases are also the most vulnerable to climate change and could sink them completely in 2050, according to a study by Climate Central published last year in the journal Nature.

Updated Date: 20 January 2020, 16:00

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