Tourism + Ocean Safe Cosmetics
Pancho Mendiola is a local resident and avid scuba diver residing near Playa Del Carmen along the Yucatán Peninsula’s strip of Caribbean shoreline. In collaboration with his wife Iliana Loza, a chemical engineer, they’ve been researching the chemicals that go into making cosmetic products and its affects on humans and the ocean since 2010. Their findings include direct linkages between sunblock, shampoo and soap and the degradation of coral reefs in particular. Personal care products are responsible for 3 million tons of waste dumping into the ocean globally each year. And in Mexico, 6,000 tons of sunblock has been found on the beaches alone!
According to Pancho, there are 100,000 hotel rooms in the Mayan Riviera area – one can only image how many tons of chemicals are making their way into the ocean. As Pancho reports, the water treatment facilities are poor leaving behind a polluted the sea. Most of the owners of the hotel industry are multi-nationals from US and Europe and currently do not see the benefit of ocean safe options since naturally-derived products are typically 3 times the cost. The reality is, the MAR may be dead in less than 20 years without action from hotels and consumers alike. One hotel, Hotel Esencia has chosen to bring attention to this important issue by working with Pancho on using organic amenities and he hopes more will follow their lead.
With the immediate link between coral degradation and cosmetics, Pancho created AHAL for Oceans in collaboration with local divers and activists. Their main objective is to spread awareness on the toxic ingredients found in cosmetic products and to take action by repairing depleted reefs. While 80% of the reefs are in good health, 27% are in fair condition and the rest are in poor shape. In partnership with several dive shops in the Mayan Riviera, Pancho is rebuilding a shallow reef destroyed from the infestation of chemicals.
There is an impetus on preventative action by consumers by purchasing organic and safe options before its too late. As Pancho describes, there are three categories of people; “those who litter and walk away, the ones who see litter and ignore it, and those who pick it up and tell people stop, they’re more active with the issues and that’s exactly where we want to get.” His long term goal is the legal banning of sunscreen in the Mayan Riviera.
Pancho and the local community are doing an incredible job fostering dialogue and action on an important issue which is barely discussed. The Mayan Riviera Hope Spot is taking a global concern and activating their citizens to protect their marine environment. Reef safe sunblocks and other cosmetics are essential to protect marine life, as well as the user at hand.