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Cancun Tourists May Not Be Able To Snorkel In Coral Reefs Much Longer 

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One of the most popular activities enjoyed by tourists when visiting Cancun is snorkeling around the coral reefs in the region.  One such reef is even part of the second largest reef system in the world, the Mesoamerican Reef Barrier System, a spot that snorkel and diving enthusiasts look forward to being able to see. 

But Cancun tourists may not be able to snorkel in these coral reefs much longer due to a number of phenomena that are ravaging the reef system. 

Brain Coral and Tropical Fish in the Caribbean Sea

White Syndrome Disease 

White syndrome, or stony coral tissue loss disease, kills the living tissue that is on coral and, in recent years, has been spreading extremely fast in the Mexican Caribbean.  It was first detected in Florida in 2014, not making it to the shores of Quintana Roo until 2018, and it has already wreaked havoc, affecting at least 20 out of the 45 species of coral that exist in Quintana Roo today.  There is no treatment for the disease, and it has the capacity to kill coral in as little as a month. 

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Coral Bleaching  

Coral bleaching is caused by a number of things, all of which are related to the conditions of the environment.  Coral bleaching is the process of a living coral expelling algae that live in its tissue, which not only turns them white but also breaks down its defenses. 

Rising water temperatures due to climate change, the presence of excessive sargassum changing the nutrients in the water, pollution caused by tourist activities and wastewater, and the warming of the planet, in general, all contribute to creating conditions for coral bleaching.   

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@opalstreasuresgb Coral bleaching – a direct impact of climate change to our precious #ecosystems #coralbleaching #marineconservation ♬ As It Was – Harry Styles

Severe Hurricanes 

Severe hurricanes have been on the rise over the last decade, and these powerful storms contribute to the damage being done to coral in the Mexican Caribbean too.  Shifting sand, storm surges, and strong waves are all dangerous to delicate coral that can be easily broken under the right conditions.  In fact, these conditions can smother or even collapse coral. 

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How Bad Is The Damage 

Some species of coral have been nearly wiped out due to not only the issues mentioned above but other diseases and conditions as well.  In 2018, during just a six-month period, 30 percent of coral species in Quintana Roo that were infected with white syndrome alone were killed.  And in the last 20 years, 50 percent of reef-building coral was lost to other diseases.   

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What Does The Future Hold 

Coral reefs are an important part of our ecosystem, providing a range of benefits.  They protect the coast from erosion caused by storms, they provide a place for marine life to spawn and shelter, and they keep the beaches in tourist areas like Cancun beautiful.  The economical losses of a collapsing reef system would be detrimental. 

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What Can Be Done To Fix It 

While some phenomena affecting coral can not be easily corrected, studies have shown that the problem may be worse near tourism hotspots and urban areas.  Some of the bandaids being applied now are the restoration of reefs, genetic material preservation, and the administration of antibiotics and probiotics.  In the Mexican Caribbean, at Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, one thing that they have tried is shutting down the park for a couple of months at a time to allow coral to rest and get a break from the stress.  

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What Cancun Tourists Can Expect 

It’s likely that tourists will see more protected coral reefs in the Mexican Caribbean in the future and that snorkeling and diving will be limited at least some of the time.  Tourists can also expect a bigger focus on what they can do to help.  Simple things like wearing biodegradable sunscreen, diving, snorkeling responsibly, and keeping the beaches clean can greatly impact protecting the reef system in Cancun. 

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Melissa K

Monday 13th of March 2023

You really think it's the .5 degree tempurature change and not the sewage and other contaminants in the water?