Environmental Restrictions in Akumal Bay

Akumal Bay (Source: Q-Roo Paul)

Several readers have been writing me lately to ask if the rumors are true that they can no longer swim with the turtles in Akumal Bay. Since I always try to be responsive to the needs of the readers, I headed down to the beach in Akumal this morning to get some clear answers.

Well, the truth is that I didn’t head to the beach with that intention – and come to think of it, it really wasn’t that immediate.

What really happened was that we were eating breakfast at our favorite restaurant on Akumal Bay when we saw an employee from PROFEPA walk by with four marines from the Mexican military. They were there to enforce the new environmental restrictions.

Linda turned to me and said, “You should go and ask them about the restrictions and then write an article about it.”

So I did.

That was an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the intense planning and preparation that goes into articles like this one.

Akumal Bay Restrictions

After finishing breakfast, I spoke with a very friendly representative from PROFEPA who explained that the government imposed certain restrictions on the area to protect both the turtles and their environment.

For those readers unfamiliar with PROFEPA, it is the government agency tasked with protecting the environment in Mexico. PROFEPA is short for the Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente.

She advised me of the following restrictions:

* No organized tours

* No fins can be used in the bay

* If a turtle comes close to you, maintain your distance 

* Swimming / snorkeling is only permitted within the areas designated by buoys and ropes. If there are no buoys present, swimmers / snorkelers must stay within 30 meters of the shoreline.

In the section of the bay where turtles are normally found, there are buoys to designate the swim area.

I was surprised to learn that the 30-meter swim restriction actually extends south down the beach to a point well beyond the Akumal Bay Beach and Wellness Resort.

She said that employees from PROFEPA patrol the beaches and the water to enforce the restrictions and the violators can face administrative fines. When I asked how much the fine would be, she said that she didn’t know.

When I asked how long the restrictions would be in place, she didn’t know that either.

Let’s Wrap This Up

Tourists are still permitted to snorkel inside the swim area and several that I spoke to reported being able to see turtles just beyond the buoys. That’s good news if you have your heart set on seeing these magnificent creatures while visiting the area.

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About the Author

Q-Roo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) is a former lieutenant from the Polk County Sheriff's Office in Florida. During his 25-year career, he received numerous commendations to include two of the agency's top honors: a Meritorious Service Medal and a Medal of Valor. In 2015, Paul retired and moved to Mexico with his wife. He now spends his days enjoying the Riviera Maya and blogging from the beach.

26 Comments on "Environmental Restrictions in Akumal Bay"

  1. Ms Suzanne Nye | March 28, 2017 at 8:50 am | Reply

    What is important here is not “swimming with the turtles”, but protecting them from tourists that are sometimes ignorant of their habitants and put them in danger. I am pleased to see that the government is getting involved in protecting the turtles. I live in the Yucatan (Merida) and would rather see turtles being able to live in peace and lay their eggs undisturbed by curiosity seekers than promoting this event for tourism. Many of the Dolphins in the “swim with dolphins” exhibit have died. Lets not sacrifice our precious natural resources for tourism. Go PROFEPA!

  2. Trevor Rowden | March 28, 2017 at 9:03 am | Reply

    Hey Paul, I took my family to Akumal on Saturday and found out about the restrictions when we arrived. I wasn’t too excited about it but we still saw some turtles close up in the designated swimming area and the beach is still fantastic. It’s sheltered from the waves and is very sandy so it’s great for people young and old. I would go back for sure. Plus there is lots of parking and it’s only 50 pesos for the day so is pretty cheap if you come from pretty much any city in North America.

  3. Was there a week ago, glad they have done this so the bay can heal.

  4. PS I shared your link on Tripadvisor akumal forum. 🙂

  5. So thankful that the Mexican government thinks so highly of this environment. As mentioned by others, tourists aren’t always the sharpest tool in the shed, and end up abusing the wildlife and the fragile eco-systems. Wish there were more caring countries to protect what we have left.

  6. Thanks for the article! We are staying at Las Casitas, can we swim out from there to see the fish on the reef? I normally swim out and than south and than walk back.

  7. Just curious as to I have seen many photos of people kayaking out onto the water along the beach. Will this also be restricted to staying within the bouys or will you be able to go farther out in the kayaks. I had read that they were no longer allowing tours to go out and let people snorkel in the area. Does this ban run from Cancun all the way down to Tulum or do the turtles mainly stay in the Akamul area along the coast

    • The only kayaks that I saw in the bay were the ones used by PROFEPA. The ban is only in Akumal Bay. You can snorkel north or south of there are see turtles, just not as many.

  8. This is such good news!!! I couldn’t agree more with Suzanne Nye. And kudos to the PROFEPA.

    However on a much less encouraging note, my partner and I recently returned from a 2 week vacation at the Tao resort just south of Cancun. The place is beautiful, replete with creature comforts……lovely condo units, great poolsl and wellness centre, fabulous golf course…..the “full monty” so to speak.
    To our deep disappointment we discovered that the Tao Developments’ claim of environmental/ecological commitment is at best less than honest. For example although we were encouraged to separate food waste from recyclables in our rented unit I discovered personally that all waste is thrown together and according to others in the know, then trucked into the jungle for disposal. We also noticed a construction machine digging out a portion of one of cenotes located close by. We were encouraged, again by knowledgeable locals to believe that cenotes are highly sensitive areas not only because of their unique geology but also by virtue of the fact that cenotes are a major source of fresh water. These experiences aside there are lots of billboards around the development, along with the usual marketing materials promoting a common message…….the environment matters…..sustainability is a priority. Unforunately our (brief) experience, our effort to research other investgative sources plus feedback from informed locals tell a different story.

    Bottom line, or as you would say Paul, “wrapping this up”, there is so much positive potential for this part of Mexico, but for this very reason so much is at risk. I’m as big a hedonist as the next guy, but it’s painful to see yet another example of big money, typically off-shore developers ignoring the fundamentals of ecological sensitivity, in favour of the almighty dollar.

    Paul Wilson

  9. Rebecca Nelezen | March 28, 2017 at 11:01 am | Reply

    Thanks for all you do​, the information is valuable!

  10. We live in Chan Chemuyil for 6 months a year and can verify what you said to be true. Just one question if they really have these restrictions to protect the turtles why would they allow a huge hotel like Secrets to be built and thus compromise the nesting areas.

  11. Great article once again Paul. I sympathize with your sacrifices that you guys make in order to research these articles. :))

  12. Thanks for the update! Last summer in Cancun we were told you can no longer aid in the Mama’s birthing or baby releases due to Federal restrictions. Something we’ve done annually for 15+ years. At the time, many resorts still participated, so I questoned the validity. If you hear anything about turtle releases or birthing, I ‘d be grateful for details.

  13. Don’t like tours or fins anyways. Sounds good to me!

  14. Thanks! You always have the answers! Shared on Facebook. Jane

  15. Cinzia Traboni | March 28, 2017 at 2:16 pm | Reply

    Last month I talked with PROFEPA in front of LolHa and I understood that the area marked by buoyants is that in which is forbidden, not allowed to swim with turtles. Am I wrong? That actually makes sense since that area has the most dense seagrass prairie and is the preferred feeding ground of the turtles. It is the place you find most of them, where the snorkelling tours used to go. Anyway you can still find turtles a bit South of that point, and also manta rays. Not as much as in the old times but still some of them.

    • There are buoys that mark the swim area and a second circle of them around the sea grass which is off limits. You must stay within 30 meters of the shore south of there too.

  16. Sheila Lupul | March 28, 2017 at 3:28 pm | Reply

    Thank you for researching and confirming the update!

  17. In many visits to the bay we have noticed most of the damage to the coral has been done in the shallower in shore areas of the bay where weak swimmers stand on the coral. By concentrating in the 30 meter area they are condemning that area! I have found the area behind the reef where it is deep and one cannot stand on coral head to be the choice areas. I totally agree in restricting the turtle areas and limiting harassment. How about narrow corridors out to the deeper waters. No sunscreen allowed only sun shirts for snorklers! Thanks

  18. I don’t know, my thoughts on this topic are a little different. And I’m surprised I haven’t read one comment about the life jackets you now need to wear, another enforced rule “to protect the turtles.” I’m all for that. I always hated seeing that idiot trying touch or worse. But there were never swarms of people coming in before, on tour buses. Long lines of them swarming to the sea. All slathered in sunscreen, all stupider than every idiot I previously saw occasionally. My feeling: current state is far worse than it was before. It’s like an amusement park now. It’s disgusting to me. And very very sad. To me it just looks like someone capitalizing on an opportunity to make a buck. And I think the turtles are in some of the worst danger they’ve ever been in due to this gross overexposure to average a.i tourists.

  19. Thank you for this article..I understand and agree with the need to protect this gorgeous reef and the turtles.I think the ban on groups is great.not sure about the fins..swimming with fins makes it easier and safer for me to swim..so that part is a huge disappointment to me! I think they also should sell/ rent blow up life vest..while on my honey moon I saved a woman from drowning..very easy to misjudge how far out the reef is at times.snorkeling vest would also detour tourist from getting so fatigued and standing on the reef..and also aide at promoting safety..just my thoughts .

  20. Connie Chris | April 5, 2017 at 12:37 pm | Reply

    Great news! If only they would be as vigilant about building codes.

  21. Reading the paper last week it sounds like things are back and open for business as usual there?

    • Not exactly. They are allowing some tours but there are still several restrictions in place as far as days of the week etc. I plan on stopping by and speaking with someone in charge to get the facts before I update this one.

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