Hol Chan Marine Reserve bans motorized watercraft within Secret Beach
Friday, November 22nd, 2019
Motorized watercraft (small boats, motorized paddleboards) and recreational equipment of that nature are no longer allowed to operate within the Secret Beach area, which is within the Hol Chan Marine Reserve (HCMR). In the case of jet skis, these will have to be registered with the HCMR and will only be allowed to transit through the area. These regulations became necessary to guarantee safety, while protecting the natural marine habitat, from the negative impacts the unregulated activity of said motorized vessels can cause.
The measure came as an enforcement to the Fisheries Regulations, 2015, which prohibits motorized watercraft within a marine reserve. An initial meeting was held in March of this year with a follow-up session later in September at Secret Beach. Issues and concerns were raised by stakeholders and others in attendance. The presence of water sport activities is allegedly affecting the fly-fishing tourism sector, and persons swimming near the beach are at risk of getting injured. It was discussed that a decision would be made regarding whether they would be allowed to continue operating in the reserve and if they were allowed, under what conditions. These involved the usage of jet skis and motorized vessels within the reserve. In the case that they could continue operating, they would need to respect stakeholders like fly-fishers and fishers in general. Some of these suggested regulations included respect ‘no wake’ zones, operating away from the coastline, and respecting the safety of persons near the area. However, after a constant breach of these rules, the decision was made on October 30th that no watercraft vessels would be allowed to operate in reserve.
According to HCMR’s Executive Director Javier Paredes, the area around Secret Beach is within Zone E of the extended part of the Reserve. He indicated that according to the law, a person shall not, within the boundaries of the Reserve, engage in water-skiing or jet-skiing, except in areas that may be designated. Paredes indicated that although the regulations include jet skis, they do allow them to transit through the area. “We ask jet ski operators to visit us so they can register them. We will then give them instructions on how they can go about when heading towards the Secret Beach area,” said Paredes. “I want to make it clear that we are not trying to affect anyone’s business, but there are regulations that must be followed, and we just want everyone to abide by the rules,” Paredes emphasized that jet skis can only be used to move from point A to point B along Secret Beach and not for recreation within that area. Although Paredes said that there had been some cooperation from stakeholders, he warned that failure to comply with such regulations could lead to legal prosecution.
These regulations are an effort to avoid the disturbance of natural habitats for species like Bone Fish and Permit, which supports the multi-million-dollar fly fishing industry. The use of these motorized watercraft can stir up sediments, which can be detrimental to the flats where these native marine species live. Paredes indicated that the decision also helps in preventing potential accidents from occurring as tourists and residents flock to the area in large numbers, particularly on weekends.
A jet ski operator on the eastern coast of the island told The San Pedro Sun that their business has been affected by the new regulations. They continue doing business around other areas away from the Reserve, but Secret Beach was one of their best sellers. However, they understand the need for the rules and will be visiting the HCMR offices to discuss the issue and adhere to the necessary new changes.
The Secret Beach Area is one of the most popular spots on the island for visitors and locals. A couple of years ago, it was a secluded area where only locals visited, hence its name Secret Beach. Today, it is booming with restaurants and bars, with sub-divisions slowly developing in the area. The area surrounding Secret Beach became part of HCMR in 2015 when the Reserve expanded to include the Bajos (flats), Cayo Frances, and Mexico Rocks.
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