Almost all the infrastructure in Quintana Roo state is concentrated in a coastal ribbon of beach resorts and timeshare properties, especially from Tulum to Cancún, about 80 miles (130km) to the north. Air-conditioned white minivans filled with tourists buzz over hot asphalt as palms stand by on parade. But this land is in a perilous position.
According to The Guardian, rises in sea level driven by the climate crisis could reach 40cm (15in) by 2050, says Ruth Cerezo-Mota, an oceanographer at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), with four to 20 metres of beach lost. This “would mean chaos”, says Christian Appendini, a coastal engineer at UNAM. “All the beaches in front of urban developments would probably disappear unless drastic nature-based beach restoration measures are taken.”
The 700-mile coast of Quintana Roo has been eroded at a rate of 1.2 metres a year, with some parts losing up to 4.9 metres a year, according to Mexico’s tourism ministry.
Beaches are disappearing, and some are only maintained artificially with sand dredged from the seabed. Often they are little more than strips of sand, no wider than a dirt road. Sometimes the strand has completely vanished, leaving waves breaking against the walls of swimming pools, restaurants and houses.
Hurricanes are expected to increase in intensity due to higher ocean temperatures, leading to storm surges and exacerbating beach erosion. In 2005, Cancún lost large swaths of an eight-mile beach after Hurricane Wilma, which were later artificially restored, and then hit again by Hurricane Dean two years later. In 2020, the Riviera Maya region experienced 17 tropical storms and 13 hurricanes in one of the most active hurricane seasons on record.
Algal blooms have also plagued the coast of the Riviera Maya, a phenomenon scientists have linked to warming sea temperatures.
The beachfront along the coast is frequently lined with mounds of rotting black seaweed. In Tulum, the seaweed is often stacked high in piles with workers shovelling it onto wheelbarrows on the shore and hotel owners despairing over where to put it all.
Yet as the region starts to rebound from the pandemic – about 12.5 million tourists visited Quintana Roo last year – experts say few are thinking about the climate crisis.
Source: The Guardian