The Maya Train could put biosphere reserves at risk

Mama jaguar and her cub.

By: Angélica Enciso L. and Fernando Camacho

Calakmul, in Campeche, because of its continuous extension of vegetation, is the second most important rainforest reserve of tropical America, after the Amazon. The Sian Ka’an area, in Quintana Roo, shelters a system of underground rivers that interconnect cenotes and petenes. [1] We’re dealing with two biosphere reserves of high importance in the country. The Maya Train will pass through them with the threat that they will lose their ecological connectivity and fragment.

The above is pointed out in the study “The Maya Train, why are the biologists so concerned?” Casandra Reyes, Celene Espadas and other experts from the Scientific Research Center of Yucatán and the Social Sciences Unit of the Autonomous University of Yucatán authored the study.

The report exposes the importance of the jungle: it is equivalent to the planet’s lungs; it regulates the temperature and provides water. Its fauna contribute to the natural control of pests, besides services like pollination, which allows plants to produce fruits. “This kind of pollination is required by the vast majority of the vegetables that we eat, therefore the mass death of bees or bats could threaten food production.”

It adds that large mammals that inhabit the region, such as the jaguar and the puma, control populations of herbivores and help the regeneration of plants in the forests. There are other tangible environmental services, like wood, firewood, fruits, medicinal plants, dyes, spices and animals for hunting, among others. Cultural services are added to all that; local communities with “their practices and thoughts seek to establish a harmonious relationship, the least predatory possible, with nature.”

It points out that the archaeological zone of the reserve is still difficult to access; there is little tourist infrastructure and less than 40,000 visitors come per year. The report projects that with the train’s arrival, of the almost 17 million visitors that would arrive in Cancun per year, 3 million would go to Calakmul, which would multiply the current numbers.

Regarding the social impact, Giovanna Gasparello, a researcher at the National Institute of Anthropology and History, warns that this project would generate massive tourism, with the supposed objective of creating “development.” It brings with it illegal economic activities, such as human trafficking, money laundering and drug trafficking.

She points out in an interview that, according to official data, in 2017 in Playa del Carmen there was an index of 89 intentional homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants, when the national average is at 25 for every 100,000. In Bacalar, with only 90,000 inhabitants, the index is 38.1. She alerts that instead of being a tool of inclusion and social wellbeing, mass “sun and beach” tourism is based on a series of land dispossessions, in which large investors are involved.

She proposes that this project promotes territorial reordering on the Yucatan Peninsula. Its purpose is to concentrate the campesinos that live in disperse communities in 15 urban centers to be built or already existing, to have their labor available for the tourist industry. That is serious not only because of the uprooting, but also because that population would depend on an activity that can go down due to factors like the [toxic] sargassum seaweed or an increase in violence.

As if that were not enough, the geographic characteristics of the Peninsula mean that water is very scarce, she warns.

[1] Cenotes are sinkholes that expose the water underneath limestone. Petenes are islets in a salt marsh with important vegetation.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Monday, July 15, 2019

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee



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