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January 2, 2009

By Alicia Bjork, Marco LaNave, and Audra Whalberg

We started the day with two lectures. The first was given by the executive director of Centro Ecológico Akumal, Paul Sanchez-Navarro. He shared with us the many ecological problems resulting from the area’s exponential growth, particularly induced by a boom in the tourism industry. Not only is there an influx of tourists, but also an increased need for workers in the hotel and transportation services. The negative effects include a fresh water shortage, as well as waste management. For example, many of the resorts inject their sewage deep into the ground. This often ends up in the underground rivers and flows out into the ocean, where it harms the oceanic ecosystem. In trying to find solutions, there are many challenges. The monetary success of the hotels and their monetary contribution to the country seems to take precedence over environmental concerns, and the hotels are subject to few enforced regulations. Creating solutions is a matter of working with multiple levels of government, the private business sector, as well as the society at large, to recognize and address the wide range of issues.
Our second lecture was by Mark Krekeler. He is an industrial mineralogist at Miami University in Ohio. He is currently in Akumal with a research group that is trying to discover an efficient and sustainable waste management system. One option that is currently being used for sewage treatment is constructed wetlands. The Akumal area currently has about 50 constructed wetlands, which are capable of removing some bacteria, phosphates, and nitrates from human waste. They are far from perfect, however, as the constructed wetlands sometimes have insufficient area or can leak substantially. Mark also showed us a constructed wetland, using it as a model to explain how it operates. He also introduced us to a clay material (commonly found in kitty litter) that can also be used to filter some harmful chemicals from human waste. The clay is reusable and is relatively abundant in the Yucatan Peninsula. As with any solution to environmental concerns, there is still need for efforts regarding research and financing of such projects.

Picture 1: Mark Krekeler is explaining how the constructive wetland works
wetland.jpg

On the right side of the picture you can see the wetland with the plants that help to clean the water.

After our lectures, we walked up the coast to Half-Moon Bay to go snorkeling. Although we had to compete with some sizable waves (which caused a few of us to take in some salt water), we saw a diverse array of marine organisms including common and venus sea fans, grooved brain coral, sea plume, turtle grass, Sergeant Majors, foureye butterflyfish, porkfish, urchins, green turtles, blue tangs, a stingray, and a barracuda. We ended our planned activities with a talking circle on the beach at Half-Moon Bay. We shared our favorite quotes and conversations of our first six days in Mexico.

Picture 2: On the way to the Half Moon Bay
on the way to bay.jpg

Picture 3: Half Moon Bay
half moon bay.jpg

Picture 4: Brain coral
brain coral.jpg

In the evening, several people went to Playa del Carmen for dinner, while others enjoyed the evening in Akumal…THE END.

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