Community members work to defend a beloved dive site

Divers and photographers pose at Villablanca Reef.
More than 50 divers and photographers gathered to collect data about biodiversity at Villablanca Reef.

More than 50 divers and marine photographers came together on May 1st and 4th, 2021 to photograph species and collect data about the biodiversity of Villablanca reef. Their aim was to raise awareness about the vibrant marine life that is at risk if the government approves the construction of a fourth cruise ship pier at this location. The pier developers had recently submitted an Environmental Impact Statement to the government in which they claimed that there is little to no marine life or corals present at Villablanca, therefore purporting that this major construction project will have no significant environmental impact. The construction of this huge pier, and all the cruise ship traffic that will follow, will undoubtedly cause the destruction of coral formations and the habitat of marine creatures.

In response to the statement that the site had little marine life worth protecting, Punta Sur Divers’ DM and co-owner Cris sprang to action, organizing a group of divers who were as passionate about countering this false claim as she was. The collaborative photo log took place during a period required under Mexican law in which citizens and local experts can provide evidence to the federal government regarding the potential environmental impact of proposed projects.  The findings from this activity, as well as findings from other initiatives led by local NGOs and research groups, all confirm that there is indeed significant biodiversity at this site, including fish and coral species currently protected under Mexican law.

As the group of divers worked to create a collaborative photo log of different species at Villablanca in early May, they were doing more than just collecting data. They were raising awareness about an issue that impacts the reef as well as our whole island.

To promote informed decision making, local environmental experts have participated in community research in hopes of educating the public about the true implications of the pier project. Cris has been participating in local citizen science initiatives for years, and she’s passionate about community members collaborating through research to build knowledge. She believes it’s crucial to increase awareness of the ways that many development projects put stress on Cozumel’s delicate ecological equilibrium, especially considering that island’s ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to stressors such as water use, increased coastal development, mass tourism, and poor waste management. She hopes that the gathering of these passionate divers will draw attention to the fact that blind exploitation of the island’s precious resources without focusing on its long-term ecological needs could be irreversibly consequential.

Cozumel is flanked by a reef system that forms part of the second largest barrier reef system on the planet, a system that’s been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Responsible development in Cozumel requires that people consider not only economic goals but also ecological balance and the health and wellbeing of our entire community and of future generations.  There is a growing sense among academics, NGOs, citizen groups and the public that we need to better understand the true implications of coastal development projects. More and more local residents are asking what responsible regenerative tourism can look like here. How can we continue to make Cozumel a competitive tourist destination while also keeping the long term health of our ecosystems front and center?

Divers and photographers shine their lights underwater during a night dive.

As of June 2021, the fourth pier project is currently still under revision. Though lawyers and community members will continue to lobby against the proposed project, Villablanca’s future is far from secure. Various interest groups will continue to put pressure on the government to approve this project despite evidence against its ecological viability. This is where you come in, dear divers and Cozumel lovers!

How can you help protect Villablanca Reef and Cozumel?

  • Sign the change petition here.
  • Share your Villablanca reef pictures on social media. Take a stance and help us educate others about the biodiversity that exists there.
  • Choose to spend your money in ways that create a positive impact on the local community. Practice responsible tourism and follow local laws and regulations. Hire legal operators that follow sustainable practices and abide by fishing bans.
  • Read and inform yourself about the environmental and economic impacts of mass tourism and the cruise ship industry.
  • Contact us here if you’re interested in engaging in coral reef restoration or a citizen science activity during your next visit. We’d be thrilled to help make your next vacation more than just a vacation.

Take scuba to the next level with a PADI course!

Once you’re certified to dive, you’ll never run out of new things to learn and ways to improve your own skills. Continuing your scuba education is fun and helps you reach new personal diving goals. Here are just a few of our most popular courses for divers who are already open water certified:

Nacho and a student practice using a compass before a dive.

Consider taking the Advanced Open Water course if you want to improve your diving skills and get a brief intro to various specialities. Besides the required focus areas of deep diving and navigation, you’ll choose three other focus areas. Common options in Cozumel include drift diving, fish identification, peak performance buoyancy, night diving and wreck diving.

Speciality courses are an awesome way to take your diving to a new level by focusing on one particular aspect of diving that’s most intriguing and relevant to you while working closely with an experienced instructor. Specialties that are especially popular in Cozumel are the deep speciality, peak performance buoyancy specialty, and drift specialty.

If you’ve ever wondered what the big deal is with Nitrox, you’ll be pleased to know it’s one of the shortest, simplest courses we teach; you can be enjoying longer allowable bottom times after just a couple hours of training. This is a great option if you want to invest in your own growth as a diver but you also want to minimize the amount of vacation time you spend on a course.

If you love hands-on and interactive learning, one of our most popular courses is the Rescue Course. Learn about how to handle emergencies at the surface and underwater.

If you’re looking to broaden your skills, learn more, focus on a particular aspect of diving that’s most fascinating to you, or prepare for a specific goal like a liveaboard dive trip or cenote diving, one of our courses could be the perfect addition to your next vacation!

Click here to book your next PADI course with Punta Sur Divers!

Amazing Whale Shark Snorkel Tour – 2021

This unforgettable snorkeling experience is only available from June through September each year. Experience the exhilaration of swimming alongside the largest fish in the world — the whale shark — which migrates through the area off the coast of Cancun each summer in search of plankton. These gentle giants are breathtakingly beautiful and you won’t want to miss the chance to see them up close.

The one-day snorkeling excursion costs $179 usd per person and includes transportation between Playa del Carmen and Cancun as well as snorkeling gear, a certified snorkel guide, and a light lunch on board. For people based in Cozumel this is usually scheduled on Wednesdays, but if you have a group interested then it could be organized on any day of the week. Transportation to/from the mainland by ferry is not included in the price.

Reserve your spots for the whale shark excursion!

Click here to see a video Nacho put together in 2013 after a gorgeous day swimming with whale sharks and manta rays.

Covid-19 testing in Cozumel

The Center for Disease Control is requiring all air passengers entering the U.S. to show proof of a negative covid-19 test before boarding. We’ve compiled what we know based on the CDC’s website as well as information we’re getting directly from our local clinics and testing sites. We hope you find this useful. If you have more questions after reading my email and need more detailed information, you might try reading the CDC’s FAQ page.

People here are bending over backwards to make this as easy as possible for tourists — so please don’t stress. We’re here to help you navigate this new info!

What’s required:

• As of Jan. 26, 2021 people entering the US (via air travel) will need proof of either a negative viral test (either PCR or antigen, but NOT antibody test) or proof of recovery following illness. Airlines can modify their own specific policies as they implement this new rule, so we recommend you contact your particular airline in advance and double check you understand which test type(s) they’ll accept.
• Your documentation of negative results needs to be in written form and from no more than 3 days before your US-bound flight.  
• If you provide proof of illness and recovery you’ll need a written statement from a doctor stating you are cleared to travel (must be from within 90 days of your US-bound flight date).
• You will not be permitted to board without presenting this documentation
• You will need to show this documentation even if you have already received one or both doses of a covid-19 vaccine.

How to meet the requirements here in Cozumel:

There are multiple testing locations here on the island. Here are just a few of the available locations for testing:

  • Several hotels and resorts are offering on-site testing as well as special arrangements for quarantining if you were to test positive before your return flight and need to extend your stay. Check your hotel or resort directly to get details about the resources and accommodations it can offer.

  • 42/7 Medical Service and HouseCalls Cozumel (see their FB page here)
    • House calls available
    • Covid tests accredited by all airlines
    • Results in your email inbox in just a couple hours
    • 800 mxn (about 40 usd)
    • Call or Whats App +52 1 987 104 1713 to make an appointment, or email urg24hrs@gmail.com
  • Azumed
    • They’ll come to you! Home visits available from 9 am – 5pm
    • PCR test – 120 usd – results available in 24-36 hours.
    • Antigen test – 40 usd – results in 8-10 hours
    • To schedule your appointment, email COZUMEL@AZUMED.MX or dial the phone +52 554-551-4954 (if calling from a local line, just dial the last 10 digits, not the +52 country code).

  • Drugstore at Marina Fonatur
    • Open 8-4 pm; no appointment necessary. Fast and convenient.
    • Antigen tests for 25 usd.
    • Test results available in just a couple hours; get a printed version or have it emailed to you.
    • This pharmacy is linked to the International Hospital.
  • Marko Test Zone Mobile Lab
    • Several locations – one right at the ferry pier, one by Punta Langosta pier near Señor Frog. (For updated locations, scheduling and prices, you can call +52 984 139 1962).
    • Antigen test is 690 pesos
    • PCR test is 2200 pesos
    • Home visits available for small additional fee (100 pesos or about 6 usd)
  • CMC Costamed
    • Located on Calle 1 sur between Av. 50 and 50 sur bis (a very short bike ride or taxi ride from downtown).
    • One of the top tier clinics on the island; it has a great reputation. It caters to a lot of tourists and you’ll have no problem finding staff who speak English. 
    • PCR test (viral test accepted for US + Canada) is 2499 pesos (as of today about 124 usd, subject to change based on exchange rate) and results are ready in 24-48 hours.
    • Antigen test (viral test accepted in US) is 999 pesos (about 50 usd today) and results are available in 2-4 hours.
    • They also offer antibody tests but it looks to me like that’s not accepted for flights into either US or Canada.
    • To make an appointment or get more info, call the Cozumel clinic at +52-987-872-9400 (or a general call center at 1-800.900.1133). You’ll have an option to speak with someone in English.

  • Clínica San Miguel
    • Located right downtown on Calle 6 norte between 5ta and 10a Avenida
    • Rapid antigen test (valid only for US travel) is 699 pesos (~37 usd) and results are available in a couple hours
    • PCR test is 2500 pesos (~132 usd) and results will be available in 24-48 hours.
    • Regular testing hours are from 7 am – 2 pm.
    • Call +52-987-872-0103 to make an appointment at least 24 hours in advance. Bring your ID.
    • Home testing service available upon request for an additional fee.

  • International Hospital
    • Located right downtown on Calle 5 sur between Rafael Melgar and Calle 5 sur.
    • Highly recommended that you make an appointment in advance due to high demand
    • They offer the PCR (nasal swab) test for 2499 pesos (~129 usd) and results are ready within 24-48 hours.
    • Staff recommends getting the test in the morning in order to facilitate quicker test results, possibly the same day in the evening. 
    • 24 hour staff available to hand in test results, though the lab is closed on Sundays so please plan accordingly.
    • They also offer the rapid antibody test, which again I don’t think is valid for US or Canada travel. 
    • Call +52-987-872-1430 to make an appointment.

If you think of other questions (or if you have used any of the clinics or services listed above and want to let us know what your experience was like so we can make try to keep this page updated and accurate) please feel free to email us at info@puntasurdivers.com

Covid hasn’t stopped us

What it feels like here

We’re happy to see that more and more visitors have been arriving here now that so many people in the U.S. and Canada have been able to get fully vaccinated and international travel is less risky. Cozumel’s residents continue to follow basic precautions like mask-wearing in public and businesses have adapted to be able to operate safely.  Most businesses operate at a limited capacity to avoid overcrowding. The majority of businesses require a quick temperature check at the door as you enter, and many restaurants have adapted in order to accommodate outdoor seating so people can be comfortable socializing together while eating and drinking. While things here don’t feel “normal” yet, we do feel pretty safe, in general, and we think it’s a great time to visit while still following local guidelines and protocols to minimize your chance of contracting or spreading covid. 

Getting tested in Coz

In short, as soon as the covid test became a requirement for all US-bound flights in January, people here started bending over backwards to make it easy and stress-free for tourists to get the test. There are multiple testing sites around town in clinics and pharmacies as well as a couple of stand-alone testing operations. There are also several testing services in which you can arrange for someone to come to your hotel/condo/private residence to carry out a test, if that’s more convenient for you.  There’s even a mobile testing lab right outside the Cancun Airport for those true procrastinators. If you need more information about the requirement or testing locations, check out our detailed blog post here.

Vaccination progress

Vaccinations are currently underway here and have been made available according to age groups. Right now people age 50 and up are eligible, so while we’re a bit behind the US in terms of widespread accessibility, we’re heartened by the public’s enthusiasm about the vaccine and excited to see progress. Cubano is the first one on our team to qualify and just received his first dose last week (woo hoo!).

Life in Coz!

We officially launched Punta Sur Divers almost a year ago in summer 2020. It’s been an exciting and challenging ride. We’re super excited about being able to run a dive shop in our own style and by our own high standards. We’ve all worked for different companies for years, and it felt like the perfect moment to carve our own path. Here’s what’s been going on with us and our community over the past year.

Our Team

Jorge (Cubano) participated in several triathlon races last fall and this spring, including the Ironman, Half Ironman, and Ultra355 (5K swim, 300k bike and 50 km run!). As always his training and dedication have paid off, and he earned first place in the Ultrathon, 2nd place for his age group in the half Ironman, and 11th place for his age group in the Ironman. We are so proud of his accomplishments!

Cris has been selected to participate in the SAM Leadership program which brings together conservation-minded people who want to learn about strategies for promoting the conservation of the Mesoamerican reef system. She’s excited to deepen her understanding of citizen science, reef conservation and public policy. 

Nacho has really enjoyed teaching a variety of courses lately! Whether it’s an Open Water Course or the Rescue course, he loves training divers and sharing in their enthusiasm for exploring the underwater world.

When she’s not changing diapers or attending daily royal balls in her living room, Cait has been busy responding to your emails and helping set up your dive reservations. She also keeps track of the dive sites you visit and updates our ever-evolving Island Guide, so if you have any questions about pricing, our services, or visiting Coz make sure to contact her at info@puntasurdivers.com

Hurricanes

The two hurricanes that passed through in October really hit us hard. While the storms weren’t devastating, many people on the island (including us) went days without power and had permanent damages to their homes. We’re grateful for the way that our neighbors, friends and colleagues pulled together to check on and support each other in the days following each storm.

Creativity and solidarity

Anyone who’s been here during the last 14 months will tell you that covid-19 hit us HARD. Everyone living on Cozumel depends directly or indirectly on the tourism industry, and when tourism came to a near standstill last year, it felt like the rug had been pulled out from under us. There were people here who had nothing — no income, no savings, no support from the government and no help from their employers. Eventually the government organized a biweekly delivery of food and basic supplies to any resident in need, and several grassroots groups and informal organizations have also formed to help support the most vulnerable community members. Many people were forced to leave the island because there was absolutely no way to make a living here.

We’re grateful that we were able to make it through those tough months and launch this dream project. We’re also really proud of our community. Several creative entrepreneurial endeavors have sprung up out of necessity, and you’ll see those if you visit. A perfect example is the new outdoor food truck patios where you can select from a number of cuisines and eat outside at picnic tables. They are an inspiring example of how people used their limited resources and worked collectively to innovate due to the current covid protocols and diminished tourism industry.  

Reef Conservation and Sustainability

You may have noticed that our national marine park now follows a reef rotation system to allow popular sites a chance to recover throughout the year. This month all dive operations are avoiding visits to Punta Dalila, Palancar Horseshoe and Palancar Gardens. Don’t worry — we still have the OK to visit most of your favorite sites, and we know long term that it’s in everyone’s interest to make sure we don’t overtax the reef!

We believe at PSD that our own choices, both big and small, have an impact on the health of our ecosystem. Some of our efforts to be a responsible, sustainable business include:
• composting the waste from your snacks during the surface interval
• providing sanitized reusable water bottles on board rather than single-use plastic cups
• encouraging customers to bike to and from the marina meeting point using bikes from our partner company, Rent a Bike Cozumel

Reef resting periods are scheduled throughout the year to allow popular reef sites a chance to recover.

Giving back

If you’re looking for a way to give back when you visit (or even from afar), we have lots of ideas for you! Here are just a few:

Donate money (or your time) to one of our community kitchens that are serving individuals in need. More info about Cocinas Comunitarias de Cozumel here.

Check out volunteer opportunities with Friends of Cozumel. They organize ongoing volunteer activities and are currently focused on providing water purification systems to low-income families.

Learn about organized beach and mangrove clean ups here.

Donate money or school supplies to Cozumel Chrysalis group, a highly-regarded local organization that provides resources to children whose families can’t afford to basic requisites for attending public school. In Mexico, families of kids who attend “free” public schools are responsible for paying for uniforms, registration fees and supplies — and sometimes they are simply unable to cover those costs.

Check out the CCRRP (Cozumel Coral Reef Restoration Project) to learn about current efforts to preserve our reef system and local volunteering opportunities.

We’ve got a boat!

We’re so excited to announce that we’ve got our own boat!

Keiko accommodates six divers plus guides, is fully covered to offer shade for everyone on board, has two 115 hp engines and is located at Marina Fonatur. We feel so grateful to have Edwin as its captain; he worked for the company to which the Keiko used to belong and knows this boat like the back of his hand.

After having rented spots on other operations’ boats for months, we are thrilled to be able to do things our own way now. Having Keiko means we have more flexibility about our dive schedule and dive sites. Come meet Keiko and join us for some dives!