Going Green in Huatulco

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By Kathy Taylor

Fonatur’s first foray into touristic development in 1974 resulted in today’s Cancun – glitzy, sunny and some might say, over-developed. When they cast their eyes to the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca in the 1980s, world and Mexican sentiment had tuned into environmental concerns, and Bahias de Huatulco was chosen to become a model sustainable tourism development.

Bordered by the Coyula and Copalita Rivers, “the master plan for this development considers a polygon of 20,972 hectares, of which 6.35 % are considered a tourist area, 3.45% are an urban area, and 90.19% are an ecological conservation space.”

Huatulco and area is arguably the cleanest, most pristine development in Mexico. Huatulco is the recipient of the international Earth Check GOLD award, the first and only destination in the Americas to receive this prestigious award.

Signs of environmental responsibility abound, but how does that translate to day to day living in Huatulco? Here is a rough guide to Getting Green in Huatulco.

Earth Check – Earth Check is NOT a United Nations designation. Earth Check is the largest environmental management system in use by the travel and tourism industry for the benchmarking and certification of their operational practices. That being said, the industry benchmarks set by EC are rigorous. To qualify, as it has for the last 5 years, Huatulco has had to meet standards in these areas: environmental legislation, energy usage, water conservation, wastewater management,  biodiversity, and waste reduction.

EarthCheck found that Huatulco exceeded “Best Practice” for energy consumption by 64.3%; renewable sources accounted for 23% of all the energy used in the region. It found potable water consumption (about 380 liters/person/day) exceeded “Best Practice” by 17%; 95% of all water used was recycled or came from rainfall-capture. EarthCheck reported that Huatulco’s solid waste disposal of only 0.2 metric tons/person/yea

In addition, Huatulco’s hotels exceeded “Best Practice” by 73.5% for travel and tourism accreditation and by 52% for habitat conservation and maintenance of biodiversity. As a result of its continued certification, Huatulco will be one of 13 global destinations featured on a new program, Travel wild, on the Discovery Channel in 2012.

Green Team – This is a group of hard working citizens from various sectors of the community – academic, professional, and business, who are leading tourism development in Huatulco down a “strategic path to sustainability”. (Read more about the Green Team in Huatulco Eye April 2011) From political lobbying to involving local schools in beach clean ups and recycling programs and sustaining the Earth Check certification, these are our green watchdogs.

Recycling – This is a mixed bag here in Huatulco. As always, funding is the problem. The first step to a great recycling program is education, teaching the population the hows and whys of recycling. A new recycling depot recently opened at the Fonatur site in Sector N. Separation bins receive the various recyclable materials, but not all of it is successfully handled. Plastic bottles DO get recycled, as do batteries. (Read about Huatulco’s Solar Clock in Huatulco Eye May 2011). Some schools have recycling containers, and a school in Sector M collected and recycled plastic to the tune of $30,000 pesos last year.

Carbon Neutral – This program describes sustainability in a nutshell. It is all about keeping the earth in balance, or at least balancing our corner of Mexico. You might look at the tourism industry and wonder how on earth it could ever be sustainable? Besides adhering to best practices with grey water recycling (golf course and our gorgeous green boulevards and parks), and using best industry practices, the hotel industry in Huatulco offers its guests (and others) an opportunity to purchase carbon offsets, or credits to compensate for energy used during their stay here. Suggested at $13 pesos per night per guest, the carbon tickets are a two part coupon, with your name and stay information on one side, and a link to the Green Team’s website and a registration number on the other, a bit like a raffle ticket.

A bit of patience is needed to really see the credit go into action. Once the various credits are collected and the money deposited (every couple of days), visit the equipo verde website, click on Programas EVA, and then on Huatulco carbono neutron. Input the number on your credit stub, and a certificate of your donation will be created for saving or printing.

Now to explain how this actually goes to work. All of the money goes to support SCOLEL’TE, a UNESCO certified project in Chiapas, which is reforesting 9,500 hectares of forest, which in turn supports 502 local families.

Alternative Energy- There is surprisingly little solar energy practice in Huatulco. One would think that with an average of 330 sunny days a year, it would be a popular option, but until recently the costs have been prohibitively expensive. As well as the initial cost of infrastructure, battery storage is an expensive proposition. CFE, however, has begun a program called Interconnection – whereby you can generate wind or solar energy and put it into the grid when you have excess, and draw on the grid when you don’t. This program requires a new type of meter , and detailed information can be found on the CFE website, under the heading “sustainability”.

At least one local business has “gone green”. Most of the local beaches are “off the grid”. That means hauling ice to each restaurant every day. Maguey Beach is no exception. But Caray Beach Bar owner Alfredo Patiño installed his solar refrigeration system last year, and can truly boast the coldest beer on the beach. As well, he has already paid for the system in the savings on ice alone. The system at Caray Beach Bar uses 2 x 50 watt panels of solar power to power a 4.7 cu ft fridge on a photovoltaic system that uses thermal insulation to ensure coldness even at night.  For the uninitiated, that’s about 100 watts for 100 bottles of beer!

Wind power provides all of Huatulco’s electricity needs. The Isthmus south of Huatulco toward Salina Cruz is the second narrowest part of the North American continent. It is here that the fierce winds from the Gulf of Mexico sweep unobstructed across to the Pacific, building to a truck-tipping velocity until they hit the Gulf of Tehuantepec and whip up the legendary Tehuantepec storms. This is the home of impressive La Ventosa, soon to be the largest wind farm in http://www.cfe.gob.mx http://www.gosolarmexico.com Mexico, already operating one 80-MW plant, and currently constructing another 103-MW plant. The Mexican government announced in December 2011 that financing is in place for another 318-MW plant.

Wind power provides all of Huatulco’s electricity needs. The Isthmus south of Huatulco toward Salina Cruz is the second narrowest part of the North American continent. It is here that the fierce winds from the Gulf of Mexico sweep unobstructed across to the Pacific, building to a truck-tipping velocity until they hit the Gulf of Tehuantepec and whip up the legendary Tehuantepec storms. This is the home of impressive La Ventosa, soon to be the largest wind farm in http://www.cfe.gob.mx http://www.gosolarmexico.com Mexico, already operating one 80-MW plant, and currently constructing another 103-MW plant. The Mexican government announced in December 2011 that financing is in place for another 318-MW plant.

Organic– Eating an organic diet in Huatulco can be challenging. There is a growing organic scene in Huatulco, but perhaps it is better put that there is a growing eco-consciousness in Huatulco. If you wish to buy organic groceries, such as rice, oils, and beans, there is a small section in the local supermarket. For some reason, this section also contains the diabetic treats which are anything but organic. Local organic peanut butter from the Las Productoras de el Tomatal Ecologicas S.C.L. is available from Café Juanita in Santa Cruz. (see Huatulco Eye November 2011).

BioAmigables in Plaza Conejo is the most comprehensive eco/organic store in town. They stock recycled and natural stationery, biodegradable paper plates and cutlery, natural soaps and beauty products, a few organic food staples like quinoa and amaranth, and bio-degradable cleaning supplies. You can also buy your carbon credits here. On Mondays they offer a very reasonable vegetarian take-out lunch.

Hagia Sofia, a stunning mountain eco-preserve of about 130 hectares about 40 minutes out of Huatulco, is a model of sustainable agriculture. From maintaining their own worm farm to establishing a colony of bees, the owners’ attention to detail is evident everywhere, including the taste of their spectacular honey. Hagia Sofia honey is available on site, and also at their office/storefront in Santa Cruz. For more information, visit http://www.bioamigables.com www.hagiasofia.mx

Natural Huatulco- Bahias de Huatulco is comprised of nine bays and 36 beaches. The National Park of Huatulco which was declared in 1998 contains 6,375 hectares of lowland jungle and 5,516 hectares of marine conservation, including Bahías Maguey, Órgano, Cacaluta , Chachacual and San Agustín. Several of the bays are only accessible by water or hiking, so it is important to be good stewards of the eco-system, and take out what you bring in. From the mountain waterfalls to the ocean coral reefs, Huatulco is a great green delight, and it is ours to conserve, protect and enjoy.

Kathy Taylor is a freelance writer who arrived in Huatulco in 2007 by sailboat. Her passions are food, sailing and Mexico. She writes about life in Huatulco on her blog  www.lavidahuatulco.blogspot.com

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