TULUM, México – In a public letter addressed to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, residents, cultural centers, community organizations, academics, researchers, and non-governmental organizations have requested the immediate suspension of the Tren Maya project in the Bacalar-Chetumal section. The project has raised serious environmental concerns due to the detrimental impact it is causing to the natural water flow within the interconnected lagoons, wetlands, the Hondo River, and the Caribbean Sea in the southern part of Quintana Roo.
Specifically, attention has been drawn to the landfills in the Chac Estuary, a vast swamp located in the municipality of Othón P. Blanco, which is part of the Bacalar Lagoon System and connected to the Chac River and the Seven Colors Lagoon.
The Mexican Army, through the National Defense Secretariat (Sedena), decided to lay down the tracks for Segment 7 of the Tren Maya, connected to Segment 6, over a significant area of wetlands, including the Chac Estuary. This action violates Article 60 TER of the General Law of Wildlife, which prohibits any construction that disrupts the hydrological flow of wetlands.
“The decision to build the train tracks over this wetland jeopardizes the health of the entire lagoon system. It is a grave mistake that will have severe consequences for the fragile ecosystems in this region. Furthermore, it poses a threat to the well-being and safety of local communities who were never consulted and undermines our right to a healthy environment,” states the letter.
Signed by over 150 individuals, the open letter is also addressed to María Luisa Albores, the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat), and Javier May, the Director General of the National Tourism Promotion Fund (Fonatur), who recently announced his intention to resign as he competes for the governorship of Tabasco.
On July 7th, residents of Huay Pix, near Chetumal, discovered that in addition to the Estuary, Sedena had begun to fill the Chac River. This discovery prompted an intense mobilization on social media to denounce the act, leading to a peaceful protest at the site. As a result, Sedena suspended the work, claiming it was a “mistake,” and offered to construct a bridge.
“Constructing an elevated bridge to avoid impacting the Chac Estuary does not solve the problem. The real issue lies in the path chosen by Sedena, which involves filling several kilometers of wetlands, disrupting the natural flows and subsequently altering the temperature, color, and volume they regulate, thus modifying the habitat of hundreds of plant and animal species,” warn the signatories of the letter.
In addition to the lack of public consultation regarding the decision to construct the train over a flood-prone area, being a wetland, no engineering project or Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) with geological and geohydrological studies to rule out railway collapses has been disclosed or presented by Semarnat.
The situation is not exclusive to the Chac Estuary. For months, Sedena has been present in the southern region of Quintana Roo, creating a main pathway between 50 and 70 meters wide, toppling thousands of trees, as well as numerous secondary access points with openings ranging from 15 to 25 meters wide.
Within the jungle, heavy machinery has cleared space to establish material banks spanning over 15 hectares each, for the extraction of filling material. This was confirmed during a journey from Tulum to Bacalar along Segment 6 in April.
Those advocating for the suspension of the project explain how they witnessed hundreds of dump trucks loaded with limestone and stone, locally sourced construction materials, invading the road between Chetumal and Felipe Carrillo Puerto to fill the main pathway and secondary breaches.
“We have witnessed the gradual filling of wetlands. In southern Quintana Roo, there is a network of interconnected lagoons, channels, and hundreds of hectares of wetlands and low-lying areas covered by mangroves and orchids, forming the habitat of birds, reptiles, mammals, and fish.”
“This is the Bacalar Lagoon System, which hosts the largest bacterial reef on the planet. Its well-being depends on the continuous and free exchange of water between the lagoons, the Hondo River, and the Caribbean Sea,” they describe.
The importance of respecting cross-ecosystem connectivity processes, both within and outside the system, became evident in 2020 when a tropical storm caused the color of the Bacalar Lagoon to change from blue and green to brown, as a result of the accumulation of mud and water runoff reaching the water body. To cleanse itself, the lagoon releases water into the Chac Estuary, preventing nearby communities from flooding.
“We are witnessing a disregard for the immense value of wetlands in the construction of the train tracks. The project has failed to acknowledge the significance of connectivity processes within aquatic ecosystems. This has become evident in the Chac Estuary, southeast of the Bacalar Lagoon, and will be further realized along the railway route stretching from the western side of the lagoon to the city of Chetumal. The construction, based on the filling of limestone, will have incalculable impacts,” the letter warns.