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Oil exploration banned off Yucatán coast, Los Alacranes reef

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A scuba diver explores Los Alacranes reef off the Yucatán Peninsula. Photo: Getty

President Enrique Peña Nieto has issued decrees prohibiting oil exploration less than 180 kilometers off the coast of Yucatán.

The ban protects Los Alacranes, also known as Scorpion Reef.

Officials want to preserve coral reefs, wetlands, the environment in general and the tourist potential of the area.

The decrees do not restrict exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons in waters located 200 or more kilometers from the coast, reports Diario de Yucatán.

The decree will help fishermen, said José Luis Carrillo Galaz, president a regional fishing cooperative. He noted that catch rates have declined dramatically in neighboring Campeche, as well as Tabasco and Tamaulipas, likely because of offshore industrialization.

Two years ago, Sipse reported that Pemex had been actively exploring potential drilling sites near Los Alacranes.

Giant anemone, Codylactis gigantea and soft coral at the Alacranes reef. Photo: Getty

Oil explorers have long seen Yucatán’s Gulf as having riches that would boost Mexico to No. 3 among the world’s oil-producing nations.

Both environmental activists and financial realities have slowed Pemex’s progress off the coast.

Pemex had planned 15 exploratory wells at Los Alacranes, whose coral reef has been designated a national park and is part of the United Nations Biosphere Reserve.

Yucatán’s oil reserves are tied to the Chicxulub crater, which is thought to have helped the formation of fossils off the peninsula.

The reef is 65 miles north of Progreso and surrounds a group of five small coraline islands. Just one island, Isla Perez, is inhabited — and that’s just by a lighthouse keeper, a small Mexican Navy platoon and scientists and fishermen who come and go.

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