We Thought We Wanted a Reserve: One Community's Disillusionment with Government Conservation Management

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"A protected area near Cancun was the first in Mexico initiated by local communities. In 1994, three communities placed their lands in the federal category of an Area for the Protection of Flora and Fauna. Ethnographic research in one of the communities (2003-2004), documented local perceptions that the director of the protected area was not allowing local residents to participate in decision making concerning the major tourist attraction, a nesting colony of seabirds. Previously, an advisory council ceased to function, and a local conservation organisation of young people was disbanded. The latter had built observation facilities, provided services to nature tourists and protected the colony. The director was perceived as undermining this organisation and refusing to heed community requests for reforestation of the nesting habitats. Cumulative damage to vegetation from hurricanes eventually resulted in the complete disappearance of these birds (2005-2006). This created a decline in small-scale tourism, reduction of local livelihoods, and increased pressure on the reserves director to allow the community to sell its commons, including beach frontage. If the community sells its lands, the buyers officially will be obligated to operate within the regulations of the protected area. The regulations allow eco-development, gated housing projects that include 2.5 acres of land per house. These homes are for the very wealthy, for vacations or retirement. Eco-hotels are also being built to serve an international elite. All of these developments exclude the previous residents."



Maya (Native American people), conservation, protected areas, tourism, participatory management