Contoy Island, near Cancún, is famous for its wildlife. More than 150 kinds of birds, including pelicans, petrels, frigatebirds, cormorants, cranes, flamingos, herons, and hawks, migrate through the island or breed there. Four species of sea turtles (loggerhead, green, hawksbill, and leatherback) nest on the beaches. Offshore, giant manta rays glide through a rich array of reef fish, including mackerel, barracuda, and flying fish. A limited number of tourists are allowed to snorkel, use the beach, and visit the small natural history museum.
The area is also known for its Caribbean spiny lobsters, which march along the ocean floor. The local lobster fishing cooperatives want to set aside a permanent lobster refuge at Contoy Island. This will give the lobsters a protected place to increase and spread to surrounding waters, ensuring a healthy population for years to come. The cooperatives have submitted the project to Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP). They expect approval by early 2017.
CONANP will be in charge of patrolling the area. The fishermen will work with CONANP to gauge the effectiveness of the no-take zone by measuring the size of lobsters there. The nonprofit organization Amigos de Isla Contoy, which helps regulate tourism and conservation on the island, will help with monitoring.
The cooperatives will use a Seacology grant for renovations to five dilapidated overnight shelters (palafitos) on Contoy Island. The fishermen use the small shelters when bad weather makes it impossible for them to get home to Isla Mujeres, 30 kilometers away. The fishermen also plan to install solar energy panels, so they can avoid the emissions and noise of diesel generators.