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Contoy Island


Conservation benefit: 3,927-acre permanent lobster refuge

Community benefit: Restoration of five fishermen’s shelters

Date Approved: 06.2016


This project protects ocean ecosystems, making coastal communities more economically and physically secure in the face of climate change.

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.

Project Updates

January 2018

This project is now complete. Strong winds and high waves made it difficult and expensive to get building materials to Contoy Island in the fishermen’s small boats. But they persevered and eventually rehabilitated four shelters on the island. The lobster refuge is being respected.

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September 2017

Bad weather has continued to frustrate many attempts to get to the island, but the fishermen have still managed to make progress. The shelters are almost finished.

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May 2017

The fishermen finally made it to the island in March and conducted a cleanup of the site. They managed to get back twice more in May with wood and other materials to build the new shelters. According to our field rep Marisol Rueda Flores, if the weather stays relatively calm, the shelters should be finished by July.

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December 2016

Building materials for the project were delivered in November, but since then, six different times, strong winds and high waves have thwarted efforts to move the materials to Contoy Island in the fishermen’s small boats. When the weather calms down, they will try again.

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Full or partial funding for this project provided by Seacology Japan.