Ecosystem Alteration

The tourism in Cancun, Quintana Roo is fundamentally based upon the natural resources- sun, sand, and sea. In addition to these basic resources, coral reefs and cenote are important assets of local tourism industry. Except sun, almost all of them have a significant impact of tourism and are subject to depletion. Overcrowding and inefficient waste disposal on the beaches can result in pollution in from of solid and liquid waste, reducing the physical appeal of the place (Martinez, 2006). Additionally, beach overcrowding and excessive use of recreational vehicles can cause sand compaction that can affect back-beach vegetation and can also impact turtle nesting sites. The hatchlings of turtles tend to move towards the lights and away from the ocean; hence, the bright lights used by tourism facilities on beaches affect the level of survival of turtle hatchlings (Trejo, 2003).

Rather the main impact of tourism on beaches, is its faster erosion due excessive crowding and improper management. There has been a substantial beach erosion in a hotel zone resulting in a significant modification in their content, further making it difficult to maintain just by sand deposition. During 2010, tons of cubic meter sand was poured onto the beaches of Cancun, brought from marine banks near Isla Mujeres and Cozumel, despite the opposition of environmental organizations (Varillas, 2010). The extensive sand-mining in support of large scale construction projects have also contributed to erosion of beaches. Furthermore, the extraction of building materials such as sand affects coral reefs, mangroves, and hinterland forests, leading to erosion and destruction of natural habitats (Pérez and Carrascal, 2000). Activities required to sustain tourism such as construction and maintenance of jetties, groins, piers and wharves, dredging and spoil disposal have a significant negative impact on coastlines. The construction activities can also result in changes in currents and deposition patterns of sand, ultimately leading to a disruption of land-sea connections (Hall, 2001).

The ecological impact of tourism in Cancun is complex in nature characterized by interrelationships between ecosystems. The construction of tourism infrastructure such as airports, roads, resorts, golf course etc., have been accompanied by extensive deforestation, destruction of mangroves and filling of wetland areas, despite having legal protection under Mexican law. Very little importance is being placed, mangrove forests were often cut down or dredged for the tourism development (Calderón and Aburto, 2009). The emphasis was not placed on the fact that these ecological systems are inter-dependent and the destruction of one would lead to significant ecological degradation of the others. For instance, wetland areas and mangroves remove nutrients and restrict the rapid flow of freshwater into the marine environment, creating the conditions that are ideal for the development of coral reefs.

Apart from affecting the coral reefs, the destruction of wetlands has also affected the nesting and feeding habitat of birds and marine species. It will collectively result into the loss of marine and aquatic species and a reduction of sand production, as it is produced from the physical erosion of coral (Salazar Vallejo et al., 1993). Coral reefs are an important tourism resource for diving and provides protection to the shoreline during storms. They contribute to the development of white sand beaches that the Cancun is so famous for. Being part of a fragile marine ecosystems coral reefs are suffering worldwide as result of reef-based tourism developments involving shoreline development, trampling by tourists and divers, ship groundings, pollution from sewage, and explosives that destroy the coral habitat. Overuse in an inappropriate manner can severely damage reefs and impair the benefits.