Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve: Finding a Balance between Conservation and Development
Tourism has become one of the most important industries in the world with significant growth potential. Mexico attracts most tourists in all of Latin America, and with over 20 millions visitors each year, it is among the top ten tourist destinations worldwide.
Tourism is one of the leading industries in the country, and the Mexican Caribbean relies largely on tourism. Pressure imposed on the environment by the drastic and constant increase of tourism in the Riviera Maya and Cancún – as well as the lack of sustainable planning and management in many of Mexico’s towns and cities over the past forty years – has led to an environmental crisis and the industry is urgently required to seek greater harmony between economic needs and environmental sustainability.
The industry is endangering the same natural resources that tourism relies on to attract visitors. To build large hotel and resort complexes, forests and mangroves have been cut down at an alarming rate, leading to coastal erosion. Inadequate waste and water treatment are polluting the cenotes, or underground rivers. These are just a few of the negative impacts irresponsible tourism development has had in the Mexican Caribbean.
Fresh water canal originally build by the ancient Mayas
In recent years, there has been a new trend in increased environmental consciousness, and many tourism businesses and developments companies, with the help of local and international NGOs, are working to reduce the impacts of new constructions. The government has also set aside protected areas, one of which is the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve in Quintana Roo, south of the Riviera Maya.
Unique Natural Treasure – UNESCO World Heritage Site
One of the most important protected areas in the Mexican Caribbean, the Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka’an (Mayan for “Gift from the Sky”) is a place with an incomparable natural beauty and immense richness in flora and fauna. For these unique characteristics in biodiversity and its cultural treasures Sian Ka’an was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 1987.
Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka’an – “Gift from the Sky”
On January 20th 1986, Sian Ka’an was established as one of the first Biosphere Reserve in Mexico and also is part of the UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) program, which tries to find compromising ways of low human activity while securing the long term conservation of the area.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve spans for an area covering 652,000 hectares, making it the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean. Including the world’s second largest coastal barrier reef, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, Sian Ka’an is the most important coastal protected area in Mexico.
The Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka’an has gained significant importance as a destination for ecotourism and sustainable livelihood development projects for local communities. It is known for its biodiversity and various ecosystems, consisting of a mosaic of inland water canals, mangroves, marshes, and tropical lowland forests containing ancient Mayan sites.
Small Mayan ruin in the Caapechen lagoon
There is also an abundance of wildlife including manatees, four species of marine turtles, as well as howler and spider monkey, crocodiles, the rare Jabiru Stork, and some of the most elusive large mammals in the region including jaguar, puma, ocelot and tapir. By 2008, over 370 bird species had been identified, from tiny little birds to giant birds the size of a small person.
Visit Sian Ka’an – a Small Local Tourism Project
Recognizing the tremendous value of Sian Ka’an’s natural, historic and cultural resources, as well as the needs to conserve and foster these resources for future generation, Aldo Ancona has launched the small and responsible ecotourism project Visit Sian Ka’an. A locally-owned tour company, Visit Sian Ka’an offers ecological boat tours within the lagoons and coastal wetlands of Sian Ka’an. The tours are designed for travelers who are seeking to experience the nature in a respectful manner and are interested in learning about various wildlife, Mayan history, cultural heritage and local conservation efforts.
Visit Sian Ka’an Experience – Enjoying the Silence
Visit Sian Ka’an’s tour guides are natives from the area. Equipped with a lifetime of experience, these local guides are professionally trained to showcase local history and culture. Committed to offering the most intriguing and informative tour, they have a sincere respect and passion for the cultural treasures and natural wonders that make Sian Ka’an the amazing place that it is.
At Visit Sian Ka’an, we are proud to have established our projects inline with the principles of biosphere reserves – to enhance people’s livelihoods and to ensure environmental sustainability. Our strong commitment to sustainable livelihoods and to the rich biodiversity of these fragile ecosystems is part of our business culture.
Visit Sian Ka’an tours only take very small groups of 2 up to 6 people. This contributes to two important factors: the exclusivity that enhances each guest’s experience, and the guarantee that the environmental impact of the tours is minimized and the unique coastal wetlands remain viable for our future generations.
A relaxing float through a fresh water canal surrounded by mangroves
Photos by Visit Sian Ka’an
More About Visit Sian Ka’an
Visit Sian Ka’an is committed to protecting the local area and its fragile ecosystem, through a business model based on sustainable tourism – minimizing the environmental impact of tours. Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to thousands of species of flora and fauna, and remains the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean.