Despite overwhelming support from local and national governments to increase cruise traffic to Cozumel, as well as an attempt to bring cruise ships to the island for homeporting, the fourth cruise dock could be off the table.
Opposition from local environmental organizations is growing as the fourth dock could potentially destroy newly formed coral reefs in the area. With a tourism industry shattered by the pandemic and income for locals decimated, the build of the fourth dock has both sides up in arms.
Busiest Cruise Port of Call Worldwide
Before the pandemic hit, Cozumel was the busiest port of call for cruise ships worldwide. In 2018 Cozumel led all destinations with $474 million in direct spending from cruise ship passengers, crew, and ships. The Bahamas followed Cozumel with $406 million, Jamaica with $245 million, the Cayman Islands with $225 million, and the USVI with $185 million.
3.5 million cruise passengers visited the island during 2018, averaging around 10.000 passengers per day. While these numbers are staggering, the income for the port in docking fees, navigational fees, and taxes amounted to more than $50 million.
With another dock, the island can increase its income by an additional 20-25%. The project has the backing of Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador but is experiencing push-back from environmental organizations.
“Location is chosen “in order not to affect coral reefs,”
The location for the new dock was chosen in order not to affect new and existing coral reefs. However, the Global Coral Reef Alliance believes this is not the case. In a statement, the organization said the following:
“The new proposal to build the fourth cruise ship dock on Cozumel will destroy the most important project to regenerate coral.”
Cruise ships are already able to dock in Cozumel at the Punta Langosta cruise pier located downtown at San Miguel, the Puerto Maya cruise facility which caters for Carnival Corp ships further south of downtown, and nearby is the International Pier, which is mainly used by Royal Caribbean vessels. The new pier has already received approval from The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat).
Thousands of Corals in the Immediate Area
The issues environmental groups see with the building of the new pier are multiple. Volunteer divers have worked for years to transplant small chunks of living coral anchored to seabed structures to grow new reefs.
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They say that thousands of corals have been transplanted so far, repairing damage from human activity and hurricanes. The new pier, with the additional traffic and disturbance in the water, could destroy this even more, while dive sites and marine reserves are only hundreds of feet away from the pier.
The question is also if the pier is still needed. With the pandemic, the chances are that cruise ship traffic could take more than a year to recover to pre-pandemic levels. Leaving the pier empty for most of the time in the worst-case scenario.
A return to cruising is vital to the local economy and provides jobs to the thousands of people who depend on the industry. Tens of thousands of tourist jobs were lost in the pandemic, in a sector that accounts for 87% of the state’s economic activity. Therefore, it is a delicate balance between providing the economic stimulus the area needs without destroying the area for which people come.
Although the efforts from the environmental group have received widespread support through social media efforts, it seems unlikely the efforts will pay off. The dock has a huge support base politically and economically, which during these times seem unlikely to be changed.