Responding to a past rat infestation blamed on visitors who unknowingly carried the vermin on their boats, authorities will inspect vessels coming into the Arrecife Alacranes National Park.
Visitors have also unintentionally introduced cockroaches or fleas to the parkland. Cats and dogs would also be considered invasive species, endangering a fragile ecosystem of birds and reptiles.
The protected chain of islands on what is also known as Scorpion Reef, off the Yucatan Coast, is under control of the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas (Conanp).
The reef, part of the Campeche Bank archipelago, is the largest reef in the southern Gulf of Mexico
The director of the park, Cristóbal Cáceres G. Cantón, said that the measures are due to the fact that visitors sometimes do not realize how easily nature’s balance can be disturbed on the habitat.
“When the boats arrive they will have an inspection because we do not want the island to be filled with invasive species like rats, for example,” he said, sharing the example of a roaming dog attacking a bird’s nest.
Rats and cats brought into the island and stranded there are also bad news for birds tending to their eggs. The islands are important as a nesting site for seabirds, as they are for migratory birds crossing the Gulf of Mexico and seeking shelter from storms.
On Isla Pérez, the only island that is inhabited, a plague of mosquitoes came along with visiting fishing boats.
“The measures are strictly to control the non-introduction of exotic or invasive species. This is already in operation,” the park director said.
He added that it is a basic inspection, mostly to create awareness among visitors so that before leaving their ports, check in detail the boats so they do not carry animals, plants, seeds or any species other than what is natural to the reef ecosystem.
Scorpion Reef consists of Isla Pérez, Isla Desertora, Isla Pájaros, Isla Chica and Isla Desterrada.
Because it is home to the Gulf of Mexico’s largest coral structure, and is the only reef in the state of Yucatan, the site is a popular snorkeling or scuba destination. Shipwrecks dating from the 15th century are visible to divers.
Its high biodiversity makes the park an important site for preserving endangered species. Its isolation and lack of infrastructure make Scorpion Reef ideal for people who like to connect with nature or engage in recreational fishing. Mackerel, dorado, tarpon and grouper are plentiful at different times of the year.
Access to the park requires a permit, which are purchased at the Conservation and Management Program office in Merida, Avenida Perez Ponce No. 120. Call 999-938-0708 or 999-942-1304. Each permit consists of a bracelet for each person on board, good for just one day.