Transforming Akumal into an Official Fish Refuge

The fish of Akumal can now “breathe easy”, so to speak, thanks to a new fish refuge in the area. Due to excessive sport fishing and commercial fishing in the Akumal area of Mexico’s Riviera Maya, members of the local community have been pushing to cut down on fishing and give the local fish a new chance to flourish in their natural habitat. Paul Sanchez-Navarro Russell (currently working with the OMCA – Mexican Organization for Environmental Conservation) is the man behind the new Akumal fish refuge; for four years Sanchez-Navarro lobbied to get the funding for the refuge and put together the perfect team to get the job done, and in 2015 his efforts are finally being rewarded.

In April 2015, government organization SAGARPA (Secretary of Agriculture, Cattle, Rural Development and Fishing) declared the new Akumal fish refuge based on research carried out by Sanchez-Navarro, his team and other Riviera Maya eco organizations.

Half Moon Bay Akumal

The new Akumal fish refuge covers an impressive 2,441 acres of ocean right off the coast of the southern Riviera Maya, beginning just north of the Yal-Ku area and running south all the way to Bahia Principe. It includes roughly five miles of coastline, and extends nearly a mile out into the ocean at its widest point.

Akumal fish refuge map

Key points for the new Akumal fish refuge include the following information:

  • The refuge will be in place for six years, which is the minimum length of time needed to evaluate the resulting changes in the fish population and local environment.
  • Sport fishing can be done in this area using only the catch-and-release method.
  • The only consumption fishing allowed within the refuge area is for lion fish, which must be done through free-diving, and only with a harpoon. Lion fish are considered an invasive species to the Riviera Maya region, and it is beneficial to the local environment to keep this population under control.
  • The capture of any fish species (besides lion fish) is prohibited.
  • Any violation of the refuge agreement will result in fines.
  • Enforcement of the new refuge agreement will be carried out by SAGARPA, CONAPESCA and the Secretary of the Navy.

The new Akumal fish refuge has several objectives for the local environment. It hopes to recover populations of commercial species like lobster and grouper, as well as improve the quantity and quality of fishing opportunities in nearby waters. Over the six-year term, the area will be monitored and evaluated in order to ensure habitat preservation and rehabilitation, and to encourage the growth, feeding and reproduction of the species living within the refuge.

Akumal Bahia Principe beach

The official declaration of the Akumal fish refuge is joined by the recent announcement of an upcoming Akumal sea turtle refuge, yet another initiative spearheaded by Sanchez-Navarro. You can read more details about the Akumal sea turtle refuge here!

One aspect that remains to be seen is how the new restrictions will affect the area’s lion fish invasion. In recent years, local lion fish hunters have made significant strides in population control of this invasive species, but they can only continue to be affective if they are allowed to do tank dives.

Thanks to its incredible natural beauty, the entire Akumal area has become an increasingly popular travel destination and a beautiful location for expats who want to live in paradise. The addition of the new fish refuge will create positive changes for the local environment as well as the local economy: the marine species will have a place to live and thrive, fishing tour companies will find more abundant catches in the surrounding areas within the next few years, and tourists will be returning year after year to experience a vacation in a natural destination that looks out for its local species.

Akumal sunset

Thanks to Paul Sanchez-Navarro Russell, SAGARPA, and everyone else who has worked so hard to protect the animals of Akumal!