Xel-Ha Lagoon - Eco-park, Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Xel Ha Lagoon -Nature, Ecology and History
Ecology plays a key role in sustainable natural parks. For Xel-ha, a healthy respect for nature is at the base of all their projects. By protecting the park's naturally occuring habitats and working supportively with natural systems they work to achieve a 'sustainable' system. Education is almost as important as ecology and so Xel-ha sponsors on-going social, biological and environmental programs.
The turtle camp is a great way for non-scientists to get hands-on contact with marine turtles. The objective is to encourage awareness in both local and international visitors by observation and contact with the turtles, thus educating both as to the importance of habitat and species preservation. A favorite attraction is the baby turtle release. This is a nocturnal event done in season. The beach at Xel-ha is one of a dwindling number of beaches where the turtles feel safe enough to come ashore to lay their eggs. The season runs April through November. Females excavate, lay and bury their eggs in the sand. Xel-ha staff recovers eggs and carefully reburies them in the Turtle Camp where they are watched over until they hatch. Hatchlings are released at night in order to increase their chance of survival.
Birds like parrots are national symbols of beauty and distinction, and are raised at Xel-ha as a hedge against extinction. They also care for wild birds and provide feeding for migratory birds on the 64 hectares of lowland tropical forest within the park. A large part of the plant life in the park is composed of native trees and plants preferred by migratory bird species as habitat and food sources. The park does not fumigate, burn or clear land. One of the park's on-going projects is the reforestation of all park areas with native plants.
Fish get special attention at Xel-ha. Not only are they protected and fed daily, but their population and health are monitored and recorded. They do the same for conch and other marine life, creating databases and sharing information with like-minded scientists. Additional projects include habitat and artificial reef construction, reforesting the sea floor and the creation of water quality monitoring systems.
Treatment of gray water is an important part of protecting the environment. Xel-ha reprocesses gray water for use in vegetation irrigation. There are actually three plants working together to process gray water without chemicals. Process products are used to fertilize, water and otherwise cultivate native plants in the parks conservatories and nurseries.
Above: Lagoon areas for snorkeling and tubing, the beach and the "Swim with Dolpins" experience.
Below: Snorkeling the cave, eco-train ride, a nature trail and baby turtles at the Turtle Camp.
A little Xel-Ha history - Francisco de Montejo
In December 1526 one of Cortés' party, the wealthy nobleman Francisco de Montejo, after persistently lobbying the Spanish crown for several years, was granted a royal contract (capitulación) to raise an army and conquer Yucatán. This involved three separate campaigns from 1527 to 1546.
In his first attempt (1527-1528) Montejo brought three ships with several hundred men to Santo Domingo from Spain, landing at Cozumel in September 1527 with two ships and about 200 men. Crossing to the mainland at Xel-ha and Xcaret (called Pole in colonial times), Montejo left 65 men at these two coastal towns under his lieutenant Alonso d'Avila, then marched inland with 125 men. They toured a series of towns in the northeast part of the peninsula, some (including Xamanha and Mochis) unknown today, another (Belma) is possibly El Meco. Early in 1528, after two months spent wintering in Ecab, they fought a large battle at Aké, 10 miles north of Tizimin. There, while Montejo lost half his men, over 1200 Maya were killed, with all neighboring chiefs surrendering.
Returning to Xel-ha and Xcaret with only 60 of 125 men (some having perished from disease), Montejo learned that most of the 65 Spaniards left there had been massacred. Boarding his third vessel from Santo Domingo, Montejo headed south along the coast to Chetumal to determine the size of the Yucatán region, using information from Cortés' 1524 march to Honduras. Failing to meet up as planned at Chetumal with d'Avila whose overland march fell short, Montejo learned that Guerrero, the other Valdivia survivor, now an effective Maya war leader, was nearby. Doubtless wishing to eliminate Guerrero as a potential foe, Montejo attempted but failed to make contact. He then sailed as far south as the Río Ulúa, which he determined to be the southern portion of his administrative domain. Finally rejoining d'Avila at Xamanha near Xel-ha, Montejo returned to Veracruz.