On her debut assignment for Foreign Correspondent, reporter Jane Cowan plunges into the seemingly bottomless canyons of Cancun’s Aquifer to assess arguments about the scale of the threats to its sanctity, and the economic necessities of the tourism push.
Cancun is America’s Bali. On a drop-dead stretch of Mexico’s Caribbean coast, what was just a simple fishing town as late as the 1970’s has grown to become one of the world’s largest holiday spots that now draws visitors – way beyond the US – all the way from Europe. It’s an all-inclusive, all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-do, package-holiday wonderland featuring gargantuan resorts and golf course as far as the eye can see.
It’s loud and brash and party-central.
But under all those stomping feet is the spectacular silence and epic grandeur of the pristine Yucatan Aquifer, described by some as the world’s largest underground river.
“I can tell you the very first dive of my life was in one of these places and in 45 minutes it completely changed my life.” LUIS LEAL, cave diver
The Aquifer is a vital resource for thirsty Mexico. It also nourishes vast tracts of rainforest, is home to unique flora and fauna and serves an integral role in the function of other ecosystems. Intriguingly, the aquifer also holds a treasure trove of prehistoric skeletons, and bones from the time the Mayan people held sway in this strikingly beautiful part of the world.
Environmentalists are deeply concerned about the future of the aquifer, as resort development continues unabated above, limestone quarries gouge the filtering bedrock to provide cement for construction while sewerage and run-off threatens to leach into and taint the crystal clear waters.
“This area is so rich in biodiversity that it has become – literally – the beachhead for the fight on sustainability. If this area goes, if the biodiversity is defeated here then the planet is defeated.” MICHAEL HALLE, ecotourism manager
“Maybe in the short term they are gonna make big money but in the medium and long term they are going to pollute this, they are going to destroy this and we are not going to have anything unique anymore. It’s going to be lost.” LUIS LEAL, cave dive.
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Photo: stock image.