In March of 2011, Mexican President Felipe Calderon announced official plans to drive an additional twenty-five million tourists to Mexico over the next seven years. As one of the country's most important tourism draws, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef will face significant impacts from this edict--especially because tourism is already cited as one of the top contributors to poor reef health in the area. Ironically, the push to expand tourism could degrade the very attraction that tourists come to experience.
To prevent that undesirable outcome, CORAL has stepped up our efforts with the Mesoamerican Reef Tourism Initiative (MARTI). Since 2006, the MARTI partners have been working directly with tourism stakeholders, including marine recreation providers, cruise lines, and hotels, to reduce their impact on the marine environment. CORAL, a founding member of MARTI, has been central to these efforts, spearheading the initiative's work to promote sustainable marine recreation practices. In 2011, CORAL also assumed a more extensive leadership role as the secretariat of MARTI's steering committee for the next two years.
With CORAL's support, MARTI recently achieved two major milestones in ensuring its long-term success: appointing a diverse and talented board of advisers and hiring its first director general, Thomas Meller. Thomas is in charge of coordinating all partner efforts and identifying creative new ways to engage the tourism industry.
"In five years, MARTI has become the most important sustainable tourism initiative in the Mesoamerican Reef region," says Thomas. "I look forward to integrating the individual strengths and expertise of our six partners to build an even stronger initiative that will achieve our vision--transforming tourism into a force for biodiversity conservation and sustainable community development."
Thanks to your support, CORAL has been expanding our successful work with marine tourism operators and integrating our efforts with those of other MARTI partners. With nearly 50 conservation leaders trained as educators through our CORAL Reef Leadership Network in Mexico, our sustainable marine recreation trainings have reached nearly all marine tourism operators on the island of Cozumel--that's more than 700!--and we are now ramping up our efforts in Playa del Carmen and other key tourism destinations on the mainland.
"For MARTI to be successful," Thomas says, "we need to emulate CORAL's Cozumel model, working with marine parks, governments, private businesses, and local communities to save coral reefs throughout the entire Mesoamerican Reef region."