lifestyle, travel This is Cozumel

Some of Cozumel's precious reefs were badly damaged by Hurricane Wilma, but the natural recovery pattern is going "like clockwork", said Robert Cudney Bueno, Director of the island's Marine Park in an interview with this week.

He explained that shallower reefs were hit hardest and some larger coral formations have been lost for ever, but sea life is still abundant and things are progressing as should be expected. He added that from a marine biologist's point of view the health of the recovering reef is "excellent" and the underwater eco-system is amongst the most resilient in the Caribbean.

Work continues to clean debris from the Park and special measures are in place to help it recover. Diving is not permitted in certain areas and groups of divers are smaller and more spread out - which also means more enjoyable diving for those that prefer to avoid underwater crowds. Night dives are currently not permitted as even the best divers are more likely to touch and damage reef in the dark. The C-53 wreck is also off limits as it was broken in places and needs to be secured before it is safe to dive again.

Divers working for the Marine Park continue painstaking work to survey the reefs inch by inch. The worst hit areas were Yucab, Tormentos, Chankanaab and Paraiso. In some areas large quantities of sand were shifted and dumped in the channel or in the far north of the island. This means many new coral and rock formations have been exposed and caverns and tunnels created. In the future, these may make for interesting exploring, although this is not a good idea now since rising air bubbles from curious divers could further damage reef.

Those who wish to snorkel from the beach will still find plenty of sealife, but some of the shallower reefs are no longer there. It is recommended to snorkel on an organised trip, with an authorised guide, to see the most interesting sites without hurting the reef.

There is no hiding the fact that the reefs were badly damaged by Wilma, but it is important to remember this was a natural phenomenon that has occurred many times before in Cozumel's history. For those interested in how the underwater world recovers from a natural shock, now is a great time to dive or snorkel in Cozumel. The most important thing is not to inadvertantly add damage to that made by Wilma already.

Mr Cudney Bueno stressed that now it is more important than ever to follow the rules of the Marine Park. For example: don't use gloves, keep 3 metres (10 ft) between yourself and the reef, do not touch or take anything, do not feed fish or other animals and avoid using sun creams or polluting the water in any other way.

Jacques-Costeau's underwater dream world is still here - come and see for yourself - but please be extra careful and help the dedicated staff of the Marine Park to do their job.