Mayan Train threats ecosystems in Bacalar

A Quintana Roo ecosystem that has survived 10,000 years could come to an end with the Mayan Train project, warns a document from the Center for Social Studies and Public Opinion of the Chamber of Deputies. It is the system of cenotes and stromatolites of Bacalar Lagoon.

The Mayan Train route: Project " Mayan Train " could put an end to an ecosystem that has survived 10 000 years in Bacalar. Publicity photo
The Mayan Train route: Project " Mayan Train " could put an end to an ecosystem that has survived 10 000 years in Bacalar. Publicity photo

The study points out that the "socioeconomic and even daily benefits that will come with the Mayan Train" are indisputable for the entire peninsula. But the study also predicts imminent ecological and cultural damage. In fact, it considers that the project does not qualify as culturally responsible.

It questions whether the "unique natural treasure" of cenotes and stromatolites will survive "the changes in land use, the mass tourism, and waste management that they will have to deal with. Even more so, when the Mayan Train project does not yet have a program aimed at preserving the biocultural heritage of the region.

Stromatolites continue to flourish in only 14 sites around the world. Two of them, in Quintana Roo: apart from Bacalar Lagoon, Chichankanab Lagoon.

The document explains that stromatolites were the first photosynthetic life forms. They are made up of thousands of cyanobacterial layers that secrete calcium carbonate. "Each stromatolite looks like an inert rock at the bottom of the water, but it is alive. The oldest in Bacalar are between 7,000 and 10,000 years old; they are also the most numerous that can be found together in sweet water. It's not hard to imagine that they require careful isolation in order not to die.

The document concludes that before the arrival of large-scale tourism, and intersectoral collaboration plan must be developed between the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources and the National Institute of Anthropology and History. The objective would be to preserve the biological, archeological, and cultural heritage that the peninsula protects.

The entire region where the Mayan Train will cross is populated by contexts where biodiversity, social identity, history, and community life are linked. The document, entitled The Mayan Train: A Culturally Responsible Project, also questions the viability of the project in the next lustrum in the face of climate change and the reduced availability of water that it will imply.

For example, it foresees an increase in the local and stationary demand for the liquid in a coming context of scarcity and demographic pressure. "This demand will take place in areas that have an important flora reserve to combat climate change". There is no plan to resolve the treatment of waste, the discharge of sewage, and the necessary purification of the same by the foreseeable increase in tourism.

"Both tangible and intangible heritage cannot be left unprotected. So far, more than a year after the project was announced, the official actions in this field are not sufficiently known or publicized; on the other hand, a strategy to attract the capital that will be invested and to convince public opinion of the project's advantages is more notorious - and a priority".

The document recognizes that the economic benefits will be profound. "The project will help articulate the internal market in the southeast, lower the cost of transporting goods and supplies to tourist spots, allow local producers to expand their market, and considerably reduce travel time between the states and the region's municipalities".

What is the Mayan Train?

According to the initiative of the federal government, the Mayan Train has as its objective an integral project of territorial reorganization, infrastructure, and sustainable tourism. If completed, the Mayan Train will connect the main tourist destinations in the states of Chiapas, Campeche, Tabasco, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo.

The first stone of its construction was laid on December 16, 2018 and the project is expected to be completed in 2024. The train is intended to offer three types of services: mass transport, tourist and commercial. The route includes 17 stations: Palenque, Tenosique, Balancan, Escárcega, San Francisco de Campeche, Mérida, Izamal, Chichén Itzá, Valladolid, Cobá, Cancún, Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Bacalar and Calakmul.

Map: This is the outline of the Mayan Train route that will go from Valladolid, Yucatan, to Tulum, Quintana Roo, from where a branch will be made to reach Cancun. Image: Fonatur
Map: This is the outline of the Mayan Train route that will go from Valladolid, Yucatan, to Tulum, Quintana Roo, from where a branch will be made to reach Cancun. Image: Fonatur

As for the route that the train will follow, 95% of the line will pass through existing rights of way. This means that this transport will pass through land that is already conditioned for roads and railways.

This infrastructure project will have different construction phases. The first phase consisted of repairing the railway lines that run from Palenque to Valladolid in 2019. The construction of Selva y Caribe II began in 2020.

By Mexicanist, with information from Luces del Siglo