MEXICO CITY (AP) – With tourism devastated by the pandemic, critics say another cruise ship dock is the last thing the Mexican Caribbean island of Cozumel needs.

Cozumel already has three such docks and was the busiest port of call in the world for cruise lines before the pandemic.

But not a single cruise ship has disembarked passengers there since last June.

Residents said Thursday that it is all the more inexplicable that another dock is being planned for an area of ​​the ocean floor that is hosting a coral reef restoration project. However, the project is supported by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Environmental groups are also protesting.

“The new proposal to build the fourth cruise ship dock on Cozumel will destroy the most important coral regeneration project,” said a statement by the Global Coral Reef Alliance on the island.

The company behind the roughly $ 25 million project believes the cruise industry is expected to grow and is already bringing in Mexico $ 480 million a year.

The location for the new dock was chosen “so as not to affect the coral reefs,” says the proposal. “This was underpinned by fieldwork on the seabed where there were no coral reef structures.”

Activists say there is coral there. While recognizing that the region’s reefs have been devastated by years of human activity and hurricanes, they state that volunteer divers put years of effort into transplanting small pieces of living coral anchored to seabed structures to breed new reefs. Thousands of corals have been transplanted so far.

The problem is difficult. Tourism accounts for 87% of the economy in the state of Quintana Roo, where Cozumel is located. The state has lost tens of thousands of jobs in tourism to the pandemic, and only a few have returned so far.

According to a petition, which has received over 38,000 signatures to date, “There are enough docking positions for the total number of cruise lines that arrived in Cozumel prior to the pandemic, and that number will not increase, on the contrary, it will decrease once the pandemic ends. “