Dominicana confessed to environmental damage from mass tourism

Business 26 July, 2022

Lack of fresh water, anarchic development, erosion of beaches, damage to mangroves, dunes and other wetlands… tourism, vital for the country, has played a role in this degradation, which now challenges the tourism industry itself.

From the terrace of the clubhouse overlooking the pool and pristine beach, Jake Keel surveys the current worries: sargassum, these brown algae from Caribbean waters that hotel groups are trying to stop on the high seas; water shortages in the Dominican Republic, which will eventually limit the growth of tourism; wild landfills and tons of household waste that government agencies do not able to collect; and this ocean, «which does not let you sleep at night», as the heated and polluted waters mercilessly bring new problems.

Jake Hill runs the Grupo Puntacana foundation, named after the tourism empire founded by his grandfather. He has nothing to complain about, but there is something to worry about. Punta Cana, once an uninhabited jungle on the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic, has become a global symbol of mass tourism and environmental damage caused by its anarchic development.

This elegant American with a degree in environmental management is considered one of those responsible for Dominican tourism. By correcting the excesses of the last century, he also wants to preserve the future of the family group. But his inner circle sums up the contradictions of the mission. Access to water, for example. «This is the main problem due to the lack of treatment infrastructure and investment from the state», – laments Jake Heal.

Behind him is a golf course supported by continuous automatic watering, where two friends work on their gestures on a spotless lawn. The water consumption of the group’s hotels is 17,000 cubic meters per day, of which 10,000 cubic meters are treated water.

In the Dominican Republic, the availability of fresh water decreased by 35% between 1992 and 2014. While agriculture harvests four-fifths of the remaining manna with a particularly low yield, tourism has played a role in the degradation of this resource: pollution by waste from tourism activities, deforestation, and now salt water penetration caused by pumping fresh water from hotels by the sea.

Several regions are already suffering from water shortages, including the border with Haiti, the driest and poorest area of the country. It is the one where the government is planning the most important tourist development since the birth of Punta Cana, in an ecosystem that, according to experts, is unlikely to withstand the arrival of tens of thousands of visitors.