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Mexican nature preserve could take 200 years to recover from fire damage

MEXICO FIRE | 16 de julio de 2019

By Lourdes Cruz

Sian Ka'an, Mexico, Jul 16 (efe-epa).- The most fragile zone within the Sian Ka'an nature preserve, in the southeastern Mexican state of Quintana Roo, could take 200 years to recover from the damage left by nine forest fires that have destroyed about 5,000 hectares (some 12,500 acres) so far this year.

Felipe Angel Omar Ortiz Moreno, the director of the Sian Ka'an preserve, told EFE that the fires have been caused by people fishing and hunting illegally in what they call "the nucleus," the most preserved part of the ecological reserve.

The largest fire, very close to the Muyil archaeological zone, forced authorities to shut down all ecotourism activities in the area.

"We have a fire in the savannah zone, medium forest, low forest, 'peten' zone (tree formations that grow in wetlands), affecting approximately 2,500 hectares," he said.

The Sian Ka'an preserve is located right in the heart of the Maya area of Quintana Roo and includes portions of the municipalities of Tulum and Felipe Carrillo Puerto. It was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1987.

The temporary closing of the Muyil archaeological area and the adjacent same-named lagoon has begun affecting local residents, given that the local economy is based almost exclusively on tourism.

During a tour of the village of Muyil one could see local evidence of the intense activities of firefighters in the region.

The sports field in the small town has been converted into a base of operations for the National Defense Secretariat (Sedena) where firefighters are taken to the firelanes by helicopter.

Sedena is being aided in its work by the Mexican air force, the National Commission for Protected Natural Areas (Conanp), the National Forest Commission (Conafor), Civil Protection authorities of Carrillo Puerto and Tulum, as well as the state government.

"Sian Ka'an ... has 652,000 hectares. It includes three natural protected areas, ... the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, the Sian Ka'an Reefs Biosphere Reserve and the Uaymil Flora and Fauna Protection Area," Ortiz Moreno said.

"There are less than 5,000 hectares (affected by the human-caused fires) but ecosystems are being affected that regenerate quickly only with difficulty," he added.

The largest fire broke out on July 7 and was detected using satellite technology.

Despite the efforts of firefighters, that fire is only 45 percent under control and estimates are that it will take two weeks to extinguish it. Work in recent days has focused on halting the spread of the fire.

Some of the firefighters told EFE that the lack of rain in the area is making their work difficult, and in just a few days the fire has devastated a total of 2,500 hectares of pastureland.

No heavy equipment can be brought into the zone, which is accessible only by air and by water, and firefighters are forced to create firelanes by chopping down undergrowth with machetes, axes and power saws.

On Monday, the air force helicopter dumped 21 loads of water - each of some 1,200 liters (317 gallons) - pulled from Muyil Lagoon onto burning areas.

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