For those of you planning a trip to Akumal Bay to snorkel with sea turtles, please be aware that there are new rules in effect for snorkelers who have signed up with tour groups. At present, the new rule states the following:
- government authorities are issuing approximately 20-22 permits to various snorkeling tour companies, including dive shops, which conduct tours within Akumal Bay. If you choose a company to tour with, make sure they have a legitimate permit.
- each of these permits allows the company to only take out 12 persons per day on guided tours. If you find yourself in a large snorkeling tour group, chances are that company does not have a legitimate permit in which case there is a possibility your group may be intercepted and denied access to the bay to snorkel.
- to date, permits only pertain to the areas marked off by buoys and ropes designating sea grass feeding areas for the turtles. Therefore, some tour operators are trying to get around these restrictions by taking customers out by boat for a brief tour and then dropping them off beyond the buoys for their snorkel tour. Places such as the Akumal Dive Center are respecting the 12 people per day limit for the entire bay, not just the marked off areas.
- the government has hired a group of inspectors (wearing green shirts and an official badge) to aid them in monitoring the new Akumal Bay rules. While their job is supposed to consist of observing and reporting any seeming infractions of permit rules or snorkeler behavior which may damage the ecosystem (re. touching or harassing turtles, standing on coral beds, etc.), there have been numerous reports of harassment by such individuals and those pretending to be such individuals (those with tour group affiliation looking to drum up business perhaps?). Harassment accusations have included denying water access to individuals including those outside of tour groups, calling snorkelers out of the water stating they needed to pay for a tour to go snorkeling (this is not true since anyone can snorkel, even without taking a tour), or statements made that only 240 visitors each day may enter the bay (the number only applies to the total amount of tour group customers per day).
- some guests staying at ABBWR and Secrets Akumal have also reported being harassed while others staying at ABBWR have reported that inspectors have backed down once they noticed their identifying wristband (Secrets Akumal guests do not wear wristbands). At the present time, it appears that snorkelers not taking a tour are less likely to be harassed if they enter the bay in front of Secrets Akumal or ABBWR.
- Both Secrets Akumal and ABBWR management were reportedly approached and asked not to give out complimentary snorkel equipment at one time, but it looks like the resorts are continuing to do so; however, this may change given the fluid nature of the situation. Regardless, it is always a good idea to bring your own equipment; short fins are recommended in order to potentially avoid any confrontations about damage done to the ecosystem by long fins. There have also been reports of people being allowed to snorkel (not harassed) if they wore their snorkeling equipment minus their long fins. COME PREPARED FOR ANY EVENTUALITY.
Due to the recent implementation of these rules, this is obviously a fluid situation with much confusion, irritation, and information changing very quickly. Those who would like to follow this topic can do so on the Akumal forum on TripAdvisor, or the Friends of Akumal Bay page on Facebook (if you have an account).