Cancún's new beaches already eroding
CANCÚN, Mexico -- Cancún and Mother Nature are at it again.
Mexico spent $19 million to replace beaches washed away by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, but erosion has shrunk Cancún's sandy playground to the point where waves at high tide lap against some hotel patios.
To bring tourists pouring back after Hurricane Wilma, the ocean floor was dredged to rebuild 8 miles of beach, nearly double their prehurricane size, and hotels were refurbished.
Just a year after the grand refurbishment was completed, the beaches have shrunk again, from 100 feet to less than 70 feet at midtide in the tourist zone, and swimmers are forced to clamber down 3-foot drops in the sand level to reach the water.
Most sections of beach remain about as wide as before the hurricane hit, although some are less -- barely 30 feet wide -- and the sea is relentlessly munching at what's left, said biologist Alfredo Arellano, Yucatán director for the government's Commission for Natural Protected Areas.
Officials, developers, and investors foresaw erosion and are preparing for a long-term response. They plan a public-private fund for future beach restorations, and an artificial reef to help contain the sand. Meanwhile, sandbags line some beaches and large, clothlike tubes have been installed offshore.
But environmentalists see no point as long as hotels continue building at the water's edge and ripping out vegetation whose roots once helped to hold the sand in place. They are lobbying for a belt of native plants and walking paths to separate hotels from beaches, even in places already developed.
"The type of construction that is going on is causing the beaches to erode at a much faster pace," said Patricio Martin, director of the Quintana Roo chapter of the Mexican Center for Environmental Rights.
Cancún has had a building boom since Wilma washed away beach and exposed rocks.
Hotel owners responded by giving Cancún its biggest makeover yet -- a high-speed, $1.5 billion effort that brought the area back to No. 2 on this year's list of top spring break destinations, after slipping to No. 8 last year.
The Cancún Convention & Visitors Bureau says beaches typically erode in winter, when wind and currents are strongest, and that the shore returns to normal the rest of the year.
Environmentalists, however, say erosion has worsened since the 1970s, when the Mexican government began converting the area into the nation's top resort.