Blasted sand: Cancun struggles to keep beaches

What a beach: In the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma in 2005, Cancun has had a hard time keeping sand on its beaches in its resort areas. Rebuilding efforts from the hurricane are quickly eroding away again, with up to 30 percent losses.
What a beach: In the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma in 2005, Cancun has had a hard time keeping sand on its beaches in its resort areas. Rebuilding efforts from the hurricane are quickly eroding away again, with up to 30 percent losses.
After a devastating hit by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, Mexico spent $19 million to rebuild beaches in the popular tourist destination of Cancun. Now, those efforts appear to be quickly eroding away.

Following the devastating impacts of the hurricane, ocean depths were dredged and eight miles of popular beach front were rebuilt, and actually expanded, to try to prevent the huge loss of beach to happen again.

But less than two years later, up to 30 percent of that sand is now missing. On some portions of the beach, swimmers and tanners have to jump down a three-foot drop in the beach to get to the current sand level.

What’s going on?

Environmentalists in the area insist any efforts will be wasted efforts unless more vegetation is worked into the areas between hotels and beaches. The roots of those plants and trees would help stabilize the impacts of erosion along the coast, they contend.

But the people in the tourist industry feel that building an artificial reef along the beach would help to lessen the impacts of waves and tides on the beaches. They’re drawing up plans to create a public/private partnership to develop and maintain such a reef.

The tourist industry concerns also say that there is a cyclical action to the growth and decrease of Cancun’s beaches. It contends that erosion happens in the winter months when coastal winds and currents are stronger. Then the sands return to the beach in calmer months.

But the environmentalists contend that situation has been getting progressively worse since the 1970s when large hotels began being developed along the beaches and native vegetation was pulled out.

What do you think? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

bryan kennedy's picture

Well it seems that sand is in the news these days. I read an interesting article on one of my favorite blogs, Pruned, over the weekend.

In their story The Sands of Singapore the report on the country's number one import, sand. Singapore is using it for building concrete instead of beach sand but still it faces some stark realities about raw materials in a global economy. Indonesia recently cut off sand exports to Singapore and there have even been some military incidents around the smuggling of this grainy commodity.

Both of these stories put an interesting focus on the idea of humans trying to construct their environments and the environment sometimes having a different idea.

posted on Mon, 03/19/2007 - 8:57am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I really just have a question. My family and I just returned from Cancun and I wanted to know if the rocks all along the beach were put there to keep it from eroding away the beach?

Mike and Kim

posted on Thu, 08/09/2007 - 8:35am
kch's picture
kch says:

Yes, often boulders are often placed along beaches to prevent further erosion due to bad storms or the rising sea levels. In some areas this is no longer allowed (such as Maine) except in emergency situations. Big rocks and seawalls tend to reflect waves back on the water and this scours the ocean/lake bottom infront of the rocks and leads to sand moving either offshore or alongshore--resulting in a lower beach profile. Sea walls and boulders prevent the sand from natually migrating along the shore. Shoreline recession is a problem along many beaches.

posted on Fri, 08/17/2007 - 10:23am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I just got back from Cancun, and it seems like the beaches have shrunk since I was there last. I mean that the actual tide has come up higher than I remember it. Even old aerial shots show a much larger beach that today.

posted on Wed, 02/13/2008 - 10:12am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Instead of dredging the sand from the sea, which is affecting the environment heavily, Cancun should import the sand from Guyana. The company GUYANA SAND INC. from Guyana is the actual supplier of white Sand to all Caribbean Islands that are in need of sand to replace its beaches.
It is really sad to see that Mexico is fixing one problem by creating a new one. The Marine lifes are under risk and the erosion will grow faster.
It is time to take wise decisions and move forward to solve this matter, but always respecting the environment.

posted on Tue, 11/16/2010 - 10:32am
DErek Branum's picture
DErek Branum says:

I was in Cancun and nearby Playa del carmen years ago and noticed the dramatic loss of sand and beach. I witnessed the 3-4 foot drops of sand levels a few feet from several hotels and seaside bars and was quite perplexed. I first visited the area back in the early 80's when the density of hotels was no way near what exists today. Back then the hotels were substantially smaller and spread out. The actual island of cancun had long strips of undeveloped virgin beach . Native vegetation was abundant. In nearby Playa del Carmen the largest hotel was only 2 stories in height and maybe had only 40-50 rooms maximum. Again to the north and south of town there were immense swaths of virgin beach . And it was simply beautiful. Subsequent trips to the area a year or two later gave e a hint that this paradise would soon fall victim to over development, and that I best enjoy it as much as possible while it was still good. My last trip to Cancun and Playa del Carmen happened back in 2011. I was horrified at the new level of development.The once empty natural beaches I fondly remembered from yesteryear were now hideous displays of greed and corruption. Hotels , bars and shops stretching out as far as the eye could see. Humongous crowds of people and the lazy quiet atmosphere I once enjoyed now gone forever. I've heard that if you find an idyllic travel destination when it is fairly new it will have ideal conditions for about 7 years. After that the hordes will come and destroy your paradise. And you will never recognize it again.

posted on Tue, 12/02/2014 - 2:51pm

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