The additional territory expands the reserve to nearly a million hectares (2.5 million acres). Sian Ka’an provides habitat for 103 mammal species and 336 species of birds, has 23 archaeological sites, some as many as 2,300 years old, and several thousand local inhabitants.
Quintana Roo includes Cancun and the Riviera Maya, whose highly developed coast has more than 150 hotels and is Mexico’s prime destination for sun, sea and sand.
In recent years, federal authorities limited the activities of some hotels on the edge of the reserve, protected by a 1981 presidential decree that created Tulum National Park.
The nature of the hotel business poses a threat to Sian Ka’an’s turtles and other protected animals, and to the Mayan archaeological ruins.
In recent years, tourism authorities and the business sector have discussed developing tourism in the southern part of Quintana Roo on the border with Belize, which met with immediate protests from environmental groups.
“Everyone is after those plots of land,” the president of the Mayab Ecological Group, Araceli Dominguez, told Efe.
The area holds the biggest underground river system in the world, a vital reserve of fresh water, so that any construction would entail another threat to the natural state of the land and its wildlife, she said.
Dominguez complained that federal authorities are even thinking of putting a new international airport in the area to boost tourism development, and considered it a huge mistake “to have Tulum’s growth explode” through massive tourism.
“Development can be done, but in line with environmental criteria and in low densities,” she said.