Last updated on November 3, 2017
Riviera Maya, Q.R. — Studies on Yucatan centoes continually show high levels of contamination.
A study conducted by United Nations University in 2011 on Riviera Maya cenotes showed excelled levels of toxins and various pollutants in underground water supplies. The study points to pit latrines, septic tanks and leaking sewer lines as the likeliest sources of these pollutants, stating only one-third of the area is served by municipal wastewater treatment systems.
Lack of a proper sanitary sewage network has been a pressing matter for areas around Tulum where many regions are still without the necessary connections, adding to the surface and groundwater pollution problem.
Among the groundwater pollutants, researchers found illicit drugs (cocaine and its post-digestion “metabolite” form, benzoylecgonine), chemicals from pharmaceuticals including painkillers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen and personal care products from items including deodorants, perfume, toothpaste, hand-sanitizing lotion as well as caffeine and a metabolite of nicotine.
Pesticide applications (such as on golf courses) and run-off from highways and other paved surfaces are also sources of groundwater contamination.
Researchers point out that the district has “a general lack of expertise and equipment for monitoring or tracking sources of pollution”, and that there are “few administrative links between those responsible for water and coastal management and the labs that generate the (monitoring) data.”
Recently, federal delegate of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat), Jorge Carlos Berlin Montero, announced that this year they will continue the rescue and cleaning of 22 cenotes in the interior of the state.
He commented that last year, due to the dirt and contamination of these bodies of water, divers cleaned and preserved 14 of the state’s most visited cenotes. For 2017, Semarnat will carry out the maintenance and rescue of 22 freshwater cenotes in different municipalities of Quintana Roo.
According to Semarnat, there are approximately 6,000 cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula of which 80 percent have pockets of contamination.
“The bad state of the cenotes is a consequence of the hand of man because people who live near these beauties of nature use it to throw bottles or garbage or use them for their physiological needs and unfortunately are contaminating all groundwater,” he said.
“Someday we’re going to need the fresh water from the cenotes and that’s why we need to take care of them,” he added.
The state official noted that they are waiting for resources to be assigned to the unit and said that they will give special attention to the marginalized population once those resources are allocated.
The study, which was part of UNU-INWEH’s Caribbean Coastal Pollution Project, was conducted with the cooperation of Amigos de Sian Ka’an, a local nongovernmental organization. The 2011 United Nations University study concluded that unless changes are made, “the tourism-based economy of the Maya Riviera region will not be sustainable over the medium to long term.”