Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Environmental Sciences

First Advisor

Jose E. Martinez-Reyes

Second Advisor

Georgia Mavrommati

Third Advisor

Jorge Capetillo-Ponce


National parks and protected areas are an integral component of the Mexican government’s long-term natural resource conservation strategy. They comprise over 90 million hectares throughout the country. However, the establishment and upkeep of these protected areas often incites conflict both between and among local actors. From poachers taking protected resources to indigenous peoples exercising their rights, protected areas have become a source of political, economic, and moral contention across the globe. In addition, their effectiveness in either ecological or sustainable development terms has been ambiguous at best.

Tulum, Mexico exemplifies this dilemma. The site of pre-Columbian Mayan architecture, Tulum is now facing explosive economic growth driven largely by an international tourism industry. This fragile ecological site and vulnerable cultural community have the potential to be seriously impacted by mass tourism. Accompanying the myriad social, political and ecologic implications of tourism are real challenges for park managers, who are placed in the delicate position of attending to federal objectives while mitigating on the ground realities.

This report chronicles nearly two months of ethnographic field work conducted with The National Commission for Natural Protected Areas, a federal government agency responsible for the management and administration of protected areas in Mexico. Preliminary results suggest that effective management strategies of protected areas are constrained due to “top down” and hierarchical management philosophies and approaches that do not adequately incorporate the multiple challenges faced by local communities, especially in light of the burgeoning tourism pressures. This report recommends the implementation of a participatory applied ecological management framework that adequately includes perspective from local actors. Hopefully, Tulum can come to represent a locality in which internationally-based tourism development can coexist with an increasing capacity for the adaptive management of natural protected areas.