The Marietas Islands is a group of small islands located close to the coast of the state of Nayarit, Mexico. If you are visiting Puerta Vallarta or close to it, you will see many tours going there as they are a very popular tourist destination.
The amazing marine life includes 40 different species of plants and wild animals: blue-footed boobies, dolphins, manta rays add in different varieties of corals has led the islands to become protected and a national park.It is also a UNESCO biosphere reserve. The islands are protected from fishing and hunting by the Mexican government.
For many years, the government allowed selected tourism to access the islands for snorkeling, scuba diving and whalewatching. The tourist operators must have a permit to go.
In May 2016, the National Committe for Natural Protected Areas (CONAP in spanish) closed tourist access to the islands because of ecological damage to the Reserve. Authorities found damage in the corals and recorded that the amount of tourists during last spring break, overlapping 4x the permited number of people. In average, 3,000 per day in a 2 week, when the regulation only allows up to 625 people per day.
Typical tourist activities from boat anchoring, scuba diving and the high concentration of people in such a small spot generates pollution from fuel, trash and waste… yes garbage, food wrappers, cigarette butts, water bottles! Tourist take souvenirs from the coral reef and sea shells. Add in illegal fishing and it is causes massive destruction.
Currently CONAP has restored and recovered at least 10 species of corals and 115 species of fish. It has now re-opened with much more supervision. CONAP is only allowing 15 people at the same time for not more than 30 minutes. This means no more than 116 people per day. Scuba diving was also banned in certain spots of the islands.
Another threat and not just here, is illegal fishing and hunting. Poachers take both protected turtles and sharks and other endangered fish. Many of the tour companies that have cooperated with CONAP to restore the National Park, have even received threats from illegal fishermen to avoid getting reported.
I have been to the islands myself. Once I went whale watching and the second time just visiting and snorkeling. This was before they closed the reserve. I was able to go into the hidden beach and snorkel around the island to see the many beautiful fish and corals. When the weather conditions are friendly, visibility under water is amazing and if you are lucky, you can maybe swim close to a turtle or a dolphin!!! I strongly believe in the efforts of the Mexican government trying to restore the eco system and avoiding human damage. I hope they can keep this program for a long time so in the future, the Marietas can become home to more species of wonderful life.