Travel Tips

Sand-Snatching Scandal Leads to Shutdown of Gran Caribe Real Beach

Empty sky on beachCancun sunbathers hoping for a little relaxation on the placid stretch of beach in front of their resort got a big shock yesterday when they found crime scene tape and soldiers instead.

The reason: the sand had allegedly been illegally moved onto the beach by employees of the Gran Caribe Real resort.

So the Mexican government sent in armed Navy personnel and environmental officers to arrest those involved, and presumably “confiscate” the ill-gotten gains.

Authorities said that the hotel had been illegally pumping sand from the sea floor onto its several hundred-foot-wide coastline, then advertising that it had a better beach than adjacent resorts. The hotel’s owner had also apparently ignored an order to remove a breakwater, which authorities suspect had been illegally built.

Storm and boatsAfter Hurricane Wilma devastated many Mexican beaches in 2005, the government spent almost $20 million to restore them, but much of the replacement sand has already been washed away.

So in an effort to “shore up” their beaches, many resorts have taken matters into their own hands by pumping sand from the ocean bottom. Others have attempted to divert sand from other beaches by building breakwaters, which also prevent erosion.

Mexican beachside resorts depend on their pristine white sand beaches to lure in tourists from around the world. So it is not surprising that some less-than-scrupulous hoteliers might take matters into their own hands to restore what nature has taken away – especially considering the dismal occupancy rates.

Get more information on great Beach Vacations here.

April’s swine flu epidemic and reports of drug-fueled gang violence have caused fearful tourists to avoid the country in droves. Hotel occupancy is as low as 20 percent in some places, and the Mexico’s tourism industry as a whole has lost billion of dollars.

Mexico’s attorney general Patricio Patron said Thursday that five people were arrested in the raid on the Gran Caribe Real, which was no doubt intended to send a clear message to other resorts who might also be up to alleged no good.

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Patron added that the government has plans to restore beaches in an orderly, environmentally-safe way, but he did not elaborate on how or when these plans would be implemented.

By Karen Elowitt for

Related links: Washington Examiner, Associated Press,

For more travel information, don’t miss Ask the Locals Travel Guide: Riviera Maya, Mexico.