Category Archives: Conservation news

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve- Finding a Balance between Conservation and Development

This following article was written by us and we are very grateful to the Ecotourism Society who has published our article at We have thought it might be a good idea to publish the article again in our blog as there might be some of our readers who have not had the chance to read the article. It is a very informative article and I hope you enjoy it!!

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. Visit Sian Ka’an is one of the very few eco-tourism enterprises in Sian Ka’an that are run by natives from the Sian Ka’an area. It is a community based tourism project that supports other locally run tourism enterprises, so revenues generated by tourism stays within the local community.

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

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.

Manatee, a Threatened Specie and Protected in Sian Ka’an

I have been thinking to write about the numerous species that inhabit the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and I think a nice introduction to this theme would make the magnificent Manatee!!!

  • Manatees are mamals and the largest vegetarian creatures that live in the sea.
  • Manatees inhabit the shallow, marshy coastal areas and rivers of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, West Indian Manatee), the Amazon Basin ( Amazonian Manatee), and West Africa ( West African Manatee)
  • Manatees are one of the few aquatic animals that can happily move between fresh and salt water but they depend on fresh water to drink. That is the reason we find Manatees in Sian Ka’an, as there we find brakish water in the laggoons, but also there is fresh water supply from the various waterholes (Cenotes) coming up within a brakish water lagoon.
  • Manatees have no natural enemies (with exception of the human) they have evolved no defense mechanism, even when breeding.
  • Manatees have good hearing and communicate with other manatees through high pitched sounds but until today it is a mistery how they make these sounds as they do not emanate from mouth, throat or lips.
  • Manatees cannot survive below 15°C ( 60°F), because their low metabolic rate does not protect them in cold water. Prolonged exposure to water temperatures below 68 °F (20 °C) can bring about “cold stress syndrome” and death.
  • Half a manatee’s day is spent sleeping in the water, surfacing for air regularly at intervals no greater than 20 minutes. Manatees spend most of the rest grazing in shallow waters at depths of 1–2 metres
  • Manatees can reach an age of 60 years.
  • On average, manatees swim at about 5 to 8 kilometres per hour (3.1 to 5.0 mph). However, they have been known to swim at up to 30 kilometres per hour (19 mph) in short bursts.
  • Manatees typically breed once every two yearsm, gestation lasts about 12 months, and it takes a further 12 to 18 months to wean the calf.
  • Human activity represents an existential threat to all three manatee species.
  • In Florida the manatee is facing serious difficulties; their slow-moving, curious nature, coupled with dense coastal development, has led to many violent collisions with propellers from fast moving recreational motor boats, leading frequently to maiming, disfigurement, and even death.
  • Florida manatee deaths caused by humans have increased through the years, and now typically account for 20%-40% of recorded deaths.
  • Hurricanes, cold stress, red tide poisoning and a variety of other maladies threaten manatees, but by far their greatest danger is from watercraft strikes, which account for about a quarter of Florida manatee deaths.

Here in Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, until around the end 1960, Manatees were hunted by local fishermen, thankfully not on a large scale basis. This was at a time before the area was declared a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by the UNESCO,

However, there live a small number of  Manatees in the laggoons of the Boca Paila Area. Some reserach says, there are less than 20 animals left in the Boca Paila lagoon area. In the Ascension Bay Area and further south, we do not actually know how large the number of Manatees is, but we estimate that there is a larger population.

Now they face strong protection and no threat. The only threat they are facing is by speedy motorboats, not respecting the park regulations. Fortunately there are not many motor boats allowed in the Biosphere Reserve. And thankfully, most are respecting to carefully speed down, when reaching the area where the Manatees are expected. The Manatees in the area of Boca Paila lagoon are a big eco tourism attraction. Part of our Nature Cruise Tour is to visit the area where we find the Manatees and where they come up to breath. The visitors are very thrilled for an close encounter with these gentle giants. Manatees are an endangered specie and we are very passionate about educating about their plight.

Here are a few Manatee Protection Tips:

We are concerned about people interacting with manatees which include:

  • touching manatees
  • riding manatees
  • poking manatees
  • feeding manatees or giving them water
  • any actions that might separate a mother and calf
  • chasing manatees
  • surrounding them

On our Nature Tours in Sian Ka’an we offer the opportunity to get close to these magnificent creatures without disturbing them at any point. We try to be the silent observer who apreciates nature as it is.  We provide our clients with a knowledgeable and informative tour and just seeing these giant animals in their native habitat gives an additional thrill. We are passionate about what we are doing, getting close to nature and giving this same opportunity to people who wish to experience an outstanding place of the world, World Heritage Site Sian Ka’an.