Mexico is a popular destination due to its amazing natural heritage. In fact, Mexico is one of the world’s most popular destinations as visitor numbers have grown by 4% since 2009. However, the environmental impact of mass tourism throughout the Caribbean has changed coastal communities. For example, mass tourism has forced people to rapidly change from their traditional fishing lifestyles to a regional economy based almost exclusively on mass tourism. The result has been the degradation of coastal and marine ecosystems and undermining of local communities.

Impact of Mass Tourism on Mahahual Mexico

One increasingly popular destination, the little Mexican town of Mahahual, is no exception. What was once a small fishing village became a growing tourism center. Today, there are more than 1,500 permanent residents and between 2,000 and 12,000 daily visitors, depending on the number of cruise ships berthing that day. However, what seems like a flourishing new economy has come at a considerable environmental and socio-economic price.

Environmental Cost Of Mass Tourism

The model of mass tourism is far from sustainability. Indeed, the ever-growing number of visitors to Mahahual has been associated with an equally growing quantity of waste.

The Environmental Impact of Mass Tourism on Mahahual Mexico

Lots of this trash end up in the streets, the nearby mangroves or even directly in the sea. This not only represents a threat to the local fauna but it also creates a whole new set of sanitary issues. We’ve all seen pictures of animals trapped in six-pack rings or with their stomach full of plastic.

Indeed, different materials and substances dumped in the ecosystems have created various types of contamination. Moreover, the water quality has degraded because of toxic substances released into the water stream. Chemically based shampoos, detergents, oils, and metals used by both locals and tourists have contaminated the waters.

These practices are particularly harmful to fragile ecosystems. In Mahahual, 40% of vegetation cover and mangroves have considerably degraded. Likewise, 70-90% of the fish stocks have disappeared and 90% of corals have been lost. This has all been partly due to the poor waste management situation and the enormous contamination created by the tourist industry.

Socio-Economic Cost of Mass Tourism

This environmental impact of mass tourism affects Mahahual’s community in various ways. First, electricity and water consumption by tourists combined with contamination has led to increased prices.

The Socio-Economic Cost of Mass Tourism Mahahual Mexico

The cost increase is still cheap compared to US standards. However, for most local residents who are living in precarious financial situations, these increases are directly impacting quality of life.

Second, the advent of mass tourism has affected water quality and created various degrees of ecosystem contamination. This situation also affecting resident health and lifestyles that depend on the bounty of the sea.

An important part of the community still consists of fisheries. However, the quantity and quality of their stock have considerably diminished over the years. The fish stocks left in the area are constantly decreasing (partly because of the high demand created by the touristic establishments), and those left are increasingly affected by contamination, which, by going up the food chain, eventually reaches us, humans.

Local Efforts To Improve The Situation

Thankfully, there are people in Mahahual lending a hand to improve the town’s precarious situation. Local organizations are organizing regular beach and street cleanings. Also, some are educating both locals and tourists about the issues.

Educational Programs to Lessen Environmental Impact of Mass Tourism Mahahual Mexico

Eco-Mahahual Tourism Certification

One organization, the environmental research center Takata Experience, even developed a whole range of ecological and environmental programs targeting themes like coral restoration, recycling, and environmental education focused on both schools and the local community.

One of Takata’s newest initiatives, the Eco-Mahahual Certification, is already starting to draw lots of attention. This latest program exclusively targets the actors of the touristic industry, more precisely accommodation and catering establishments.

The goal is to encourage local hotels and restaurants to adopt greener habits and lower their ecological footprint. It is a free eco-coaching service created to lessen the environmental impact of mass tourism on these businesses. Even though it is still quite new, the program already counts many establishments on board, with four of them having already obtained their certification.

This local initiative was launched with the long-term goal of creating greener institutions in Mahahual and changing the perspective of both tourists and locals by showing how accessible eco-tourism actually is.

To achieve its goals, the program focuses on three main areas: waste management, responsible sourcing and sustainable use of energy and water.

Eco-Mahahual Certification Mexico

Blueprint for Mexico’s Coastal Communities

Establishments can lower their environmental footprint, reduce their production of waste materials and resource consumption, and make supply chain choices with minimal environmental impact and better outcomes for the local community. Businesses that comply with this process, along with all the other local green initiatives, are slowly turning Mahahual into the eco-destination it aims to be.

The best part is that this eco-tourism development strategy is both accessible and easily reproducible in other cities affected by similar issues. Applying this process to other communities and businesses could create a shift in the industry’s standards. Seeing the rapidity at which the environment degrades in areas impacted by mass tourism, it is necessary that we act now to create a better, greener travel lifestyle.

In the meantime, it is important to look for eco-friendly accommodations before booking your next trip! To find out more or volunteer with Takata Research Center’ efforts for Mahahual, visit this link.

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Frederique Thibault-Lessard
About the author

Frédérique Thibault-Lessard is a soon to be Environmental Studies bachelor at the University of Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada. Currently interning at the environmental research center Takata in Mahahual, Mexico, she has an avid interest for environmental justice matters, eco-tourism, and the mass consumption model’s dynamic and socio-ecological issues.
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