Playa del Carmen was not planned as a city. It was originally a fishing village, growing without a plan and with no thought as to drainage. From Playa to Tulum there is one of the most extensive cave networks in the world, fragile and important. All of this is under threat from the one thing that makes it such a great economic success: tourism.
Otto von Bertrab, the Director General of Rio Secreto, shares his insights on the problems facing the Riviera Maya, and possible future solutions.
The Playa Times: What are the effects of the rapid growth of the Riviera Maya as a tourist destination?
Otto: It is leading us to an environmental collapse. We are overloading the land, and with so many people the residual untreated water is affecting the underground rivers, which empty out into the sea. This affects the reef and the marine fauna, putting at risk the thing that made this attractive for tourism is the first place. If the reef and mangroves die, we lose fish, we lose sand on the beach, it smells bad or it becomes contaminated. The irony is that too much economic success equals greater risk of ecological collapse.
How does sustainability weigh in?
Our beaches needed a plan for sustainability, so that we can enjoy the environment, taking into account our behavior, habits and necessities. It is an emergency and it’s very late, because it suggests that we knock down the city and rebuild.
What about tourists and their responsibilities?
We must transmit the importance of protecting the environment by helping to share the vision with locals and those that serve them. Everyone who is involved in tourism must absorb the tourists’ needs and values. If tourists show that it is important, then the developers and hotels will understand the reasons people come here.
As humans we need to stop wasting so much; it stays where we leave it. Tourists consume a lot, so we must attempt to change this. If we lose what we have here, then we all lose as humans. It is our job to protect it.
What can we do now?
Don’t waste water, make sure it is treated, and lower consumption. Our economy is based on tourism, and people come here to enjoy nature. We need to value its protection, and if we pass this tipping point there will be no more tourism, which will lead to the abandonment of the area.
What vision do you have for the future of the region?
The creation of hydrogeological reserves. The underground rivers should be considered biological corridors and kept clean. In the cities we should have criteria for building large parks, like they do in the US and Canada. With the growth in Playa del Carmen, we need to have urban parks that are connected to biological corridors and reserves. This is not an impossible vision, but we must change the ideas of the people, their minds and their perspective.