Mexico’s Isla Holbox struggles with piles of tourists’ garbage

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Residents have organized to pick up trash on the island, but say that the problem has to be addressed at the source. Photo: Courtesy

Residents of Holbox complain that waste generated by the tourism industry is destroying their island.

The tiny island, which already struggles with poor infrastructure, is located between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribean sea. It is known for its white-sand beaches and diverse fauna.

Approximately 3,000 people live permanently in Holbox, but another 5,000 visitors a day arrive during the high season.

The tourism industry in Holbox generates up to 10 tons of garbage a day. Since recycling the waste is so expensive, much of it ends up in the ocean, dumped illegally or buried underneath the sand. 

Open-air dumpsites have been outlawed in Holbox, but the practice continues. Photo: Courtesy.

The problem has gotten so bad that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has ordered the Secretary of the Navy to personally look into the issue and make recommendations.

Some local officials feel that the tiny resort island has reached capacity and any further development would be catastrophic to its environment.

Earlier: Holbox threatens to halt future development

Holbox residents acknowledge the importance of tourism for the community but highlight that government and industry must do a better job of mitigating environmental damage. 

“Of course tourism is important, but all of this garbage is destroying our homes. We have to find a way to keep the industry alive without all of this destruction,” says Holbox resident Paulina Urbina.

Some residents have suggested introducing a total ban on plastics and polystyrene on the island.

Among the main attractions on the island are whale shark tours that take tourists out on motorboats to swim with these marine giants. 

But critics argue that the ever-growing amount of tourists is making these kinds of tours unsustainable, as they are detrimental to the health and migratory patterns of whale sharks. 


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