Environmental officials in the Mexican Caribbean have issued new regulations concerning whale shark tours in Isla Mujeres.
The directive is aimed at protecting the delicate species while allowing travelers to experience the majestic beauty of these gentle giants safely.
Isla Mujeres is the most popular location for whale shark tours, with a handful of companies operating daily excursions. Here’s the latest on how the new regulations will affect travelers this season.
Officials To Limit Whale Shark Swims To Two People Under New Guidelines
Every year between May and November, thousands of whale sharks migrate to the warm plankton-rich waters of the Mexican Caribbean to feed and mate. This year’s whale shark season is expected to be one of the busiest on record as Isla Mujeres becomes increasingly popular with travelers.
Whale shark tours are one of the most popular aquatic visitors for travelers to enjoy in Isla Mujeres, offering tourists the unique opportunity to observe and even swim with the world’s largest fish species.
While whale shark tours have been an annual highlight for thousands of travelers, this year, environmental officials have stepped up efforts to preserve the species, which is endangered in many parts of the world.
The Secretary for the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) published new guidelines this week on conducting whale shark tours safely and in an environmentally-friendly way.
The framework limits the maximum capacity for whale shark tours in the area, which is set at 1200 people per day on vessels measuring no more than 40 feet in length.
The new regulations also limit whale shark tours to observing the species whenever there are fewer than 5 specimens present in the waters near the vessel or if there are multiple vessels in any given area. As a result, tour companies have been advised to not guarantee whale shark swims on their excursions.
Swimming with the gentle giants is one of the most compelling parts of any whale shark tour. However, as of this year, a maximum of two people will be allowed to enter the waters to swim alongside whale sharks during tours.
The new guidelines are being implemented following pressure from environmental activists and animal rights groups, who have denounced whale shark companies for neglecting ethical practices and allowing too many people to get up close to the species.
Some tour companies may have to limit the number of daily departures, depending on the conditions at sea, and the availability of tours may become restricted during the peak of the season.
Mexican Caribbean authorities are also convening to decide whether to limit the whale shark season from the present four to two months, with the goal of further advancing environmental protection.
Meanwhile, the Mexican Navy will be carrying out inspections of whale shark companies during the season to ensure compliance with the new regulations. Travelers are also advised to report any cases of malpractice or animal abuse.
Despite the newly-introduced limitations, travelers will still be able to enjoy whale shark tours, although in a more environmentally-friendly way. Fortunately, Isla Mujeres is home to a handful of locally-owned tour companies that work tirelessly to preserve the whale shark population.
Isla Mujeres is gearing up for a record-breaking summer season, with hotels and resorts expecting an occupancy rate well above 80%. Despite the whale shark season officially beginning in May, travelers can already book tours through many reputable providers, such as Whale Shark Adventures, which offers a 6-hour whale shark tour starting at just $125 per person.
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