El Arrecife de Alacranes (or Scorpion Reef), is located 65 miles (130 kilometers) north of Progreso, Yucatán; which is the closest point in the mainland.
Alacranes is a group of 5 small Coraline islands and atolls.
The reef complex is about 17 miles long and about 13 miles wide and only one of its 5 islands (Isla Perez) is only inhabited by the lighthouse keeper, a small Mexican Navy platoon, and groups of migrant scientists and fishermen that come and go.
The other 4 islands are named Pajaros, Blanca or Chica, Muertos or Desertora, and Desterrada which is at the northern tip of the reef and none of them are inhabited or have any buildings on them.
It is believed that the name Alacranes was given to the reef by a group of Spanish sailors who were shipwrecked there in 1545, this wreck, as well as probably more than a thousand others, was due to the fact that Alacranes is the only reef located right in the middle of the open ocean and in the route from the Caribbean to the ports of the Gulf of Mexico. Therefore, Alacranes has been a great risk to navigators in the area for more than 4 centuries now.
That is why a lighthouse was placed on Isla Perez by Lloyd’s insurance company of London in the mid 1800s, to prevent more wrecks.
The lighthouse we see today is not the original Lighthouse built by the British, but the original keeper’s house is still there.
Historic ship wreck
In June 2013, after following underwater clues that hinted at a nearby shipwreck, a Mexican archeological team discovered the remains of a 19th century British ship.
The remains of the HMS Forth were found by a team from Mexico’s National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH), led by marine archaeologist Helena Barba Meinecke, INAH’s head of underwater archaeology in the Yucatan Peninsula.
The former mail ship, part of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, sank on January 14, 1849, while sailing to Bermuda, according to Spanish News Agency EFE. (The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company was founded in 1839 and was the most important British shipping company in the Caribbean and eastern Latin America, according to University College London archives).
Meinecke discovered several metal items on the seabed off the Yucatan Peninsula coast, indicating the presence of a possible ship, according to a press release from INAH. Closer examination proved Meinecke correct.
Researchers also found remains of boilers, machinery, shafts, propellers, anchors, and skegs from the ship.
The ship was found near by Alacranes Reef, this notoriously treacherous region infamous for sinking ships.
INAH and Meinecke believe that there may be several others — including the HMS Tweed (sank in 1847) or the Belgian Charlote (sank in 1853) — scattered in the area.
You need a special permit for making a stop at Alacranes and it has to be purchased by day and by person, at the CONAMP office in Merida which is located at: Avenida Perez Ponce No. 120 Col. Itzimna, Merida, Yucatan. The phone numbers are (999) 9380708 and (999) 942 1304.