MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's government has declared a 93,477-acre territory on Cozumel island off the Yucatan Peninsula a protected natural reserve, in a bid to limit development within the zone and protect wildlife.
The new federally protected zone covers the northern and eastern end of the teardrop-shaped island as well as an offshore zone of about 1,161 acres, Mexico's environmental and Natural Resources Ministry said in a statement (links in Spanish).
The designation is meant to help protect the 533 species identified in the region, including algaes, sea sponges, fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals, said the agency, known in Spanish as Semarnat.
Rising tourism and development in Cozumel have threatened the wildlife, environmentalists say. Coral reefs and mangrove trees have suffered because of increasing human activity along the so-called Mayan Riviera, environmental studies show.
In August, Semarnat denied a petition by a private energy developer to build a wind-energy park on the island, citing lack of specifics on its potential environmental impact.
The Semarnat announcement is the 18th such designation made during the term of President Felipe Calderon. This year, Calderon's government canceled a proposed mega-resort project on the Baja California peninsula that environmentalists say would have harmed the biodiversity of the nearby Cabo Pulmo National Park.
The declaration on the Cozumel protected natural reserve prohibits any "change of use" of the land -- including construction -- that would affect the "original ecosystems." However, the decree permits sustainable tourism within the zone.
-- Daniel Hernandez
Photo: A view of the northern shore of Cozumel island off the Yucatan Peninsula. Credit: Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (Semarnat)