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Cancun’s Disappearing Beach

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Contributing editor Charles Kulander offers a reminder to the delegates gathered at the COP 16 climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico this week.

As delegates from 193 nations convene at COP 16, the 16th annual climate change conference now meeting in Cancun, local environmentalists point to a pressing sustainability issue right on their doorstep: Ever since hotels have replaced Cancun’s dune-and-mangrove eco-system, Mexico’s most famous beach has been on life support.

Less than a year after its receding shoreline received a $74 million infusion of sand that extended the beach the length of a football field, two-thirds of it has disappeared. Left behind is a four- to six-foot sand cliff that nesting turtles cannot breach. (Or many people, for that matter.) Environmentalists also point to ecological disaster at the underwater dredge site near Cozumel island, and the threat to the Meso-American reef yards offshore. Hoteliers argue that life is a beach, and not having one would cripple an industry that provides ten percent of Mexico’s GDP. (And given last year’s triple whammy of swine flu, drug violence, and recession, Mexico is in desperate need of some hard cash.) This sand wall stands as a visual reminder of the obstacles that need to be breached in any discussion about environmental preservation and economic development. COP 16 delegates, please take note.

Read More: The COP 16 conference runs from November 29-December 10, 2010. To learn more about how the world’s coastlines are faring, read Traveler’s annual Destinations Rated guide in our current issue.  

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