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Paradise Lost

Outside my backdoor lay the sparkling blue Caribbean Sea, which contained the Mesoamerican reef, the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, the second largest reef in the world. Dazzling arrays of different types of coral formed our underwater wilderness. When Luis Felipe and Molly first lived on the property, Luis Felipe was a black-haired swashbuckling adventurer. He would take off in his motor boat with a spear and a fishing knife strapped to his thigh and come back a few hours later with a mesh net full of lobsters or conch for Molly to cook for dinner. The sea seemed a boundless source for food for locals and for the fishing industry of the area. Sometimes a lone fisherman would steer his boat into our cove and come onto the shore to sell us lobster for far less than we had to pay at the market. I could hardly believe what I saw once with my own eyes—-a lobster the size of a Cocker Spaniel, and other lobsters nearly that size.

But over the years, the lobsters became smaller and less plentiful. Sometimes Luis Felipe would go off in his boat, fish for the entire afternoon and come back empty-handed. Increased tourism, pollution and over-fishing threatened the marine life of our bay and the entire Caribbean beyond. By the time I lived on the property on a full-time basis, the Mexican government finally passed laws prohibiting fishing for lobster and conch, except during certain seasons. We had lobster then only on rare occasions, an accommodation we were happy to make. Naively, I thought that would be enough, that the area where I lived would stay forever as I had known it, lush, tranquil and undisturbed.

Nothing could prevent the changes from happening. My last morning in Mexico, after visitng for nine years and living and working there full-time for over a year, I woke to the grinding noise of excavators digging up the earth with their metal jaws. The ground shook as the destruction began. An Italian developer was building a 400 plus room hotel on his property next door to Luis Felipe’s. It would be the first high-rise on our cove. With the trees felled, what would happen to the birds? I imagined the roar of motors coming from a fleet of wave runners and jet skis, with loud music blaring on the beach and hundreds of sun-worshippers littering the ocean with their empty bottles of lotion. It wouldn’t take long for the entire cove to succomb to the commonplace.

I am so fortunate to have lived in this part of the world when I did. It will stay in my mind as it once was; the beach is empty, the jungle alive with songbirds and marguay and tapiers, and Luis Felipe is still young, steering his boat into the cove, bringing home his catch. The fragile coral reef is safe and whole, growing new branches that flourish under the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.

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