TULUM, México – Amid the verdant landscape of Quintana Roo, a silent crisis brews beneath the surface. The Aktun T’uyul cave system, a subterranean marvel stretching below the Maya Train’s Tramo 5 Sur from Playa del Carmen to Tulum, now bears the scars of modern development. Speleologists and activists raise an alarm: the ecosystem is under threat.
It was a recent Sunday when members of the Sélvame del Tren collective and SOS Cenotes documented the first instance of piles being driven into the dry caverns. Hydrologist Guillermo D’Christy and speleologist Roberto Rojo express grave concerns. The piles, they explain, pierce through the heart of the caves, including the intersections of the Manitas and Oppenheimer caves. D’Christy’s disappointment is palpable as he narrates the intrusion of concrete and steel into this ancient realm.
The stakes are high. These activities not only disrupt the geological heritage but also endanger the crystal-clear underground water, now turned milky and turbid. D’Christy and Rojo emphasize a broader threat: the iron corrosion could damage the aquifer, the lifeblood of Quintana Roo, affecting over two million residents reliant on this water source.
Their worries extend beyond the Maya Train project. Urban chaos, over 600 real estate developments, deforestation, and insufficient wastewater treatment plants compound the risk. “We are facing a potential water crisis,” D’Christy warns, highlighting the gravity of the situation.
The ecological implications are far-reaching. Roberto Rojo speaks of the unique wildlife within these caves, some species are endemic, now facing disrupted natural conditions. The impact on the geological and archaeological heritage is profound. Stalagmites and stalactites, some as old as 800,000 years, are being destroyed. “These structures predate human existence by half a million years,” Rojo points out, underscoring their significance.
Quintana Roo, known globally as the “Mecca of cave diving,” faces another blow. The once-clear waters are now turbid, raising alarm in the diving community and beyond. “The full impact of this turbidity, whether temporary or permanent, remains unknown,” Rojo adds, highlighting the lack of rigorous scientific evaluation in the project’s planning.
Although the environmental impact statement for the Maya Train, submitted to the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) in May 2022, briefly mentioned pile driving, details were scant. Biologist Jorge Escobar notes the absence of a comprehensive soil mechanics study, essential for such undertakings.
The government’s promise to protect cenotes and caves during the train’s construction now rings hollow. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s pledge on May 15 and earlier assurances have been contradicted by the evidence at hand. The discovery of cave perforations and pile driving, notably on January 21, starkly contradicts these commitments.
As The Tulum Times delves into this unfolding story, the juxtaposition of development and conservation in this region becomes increasingly contentious. The fate of Tulum’s underground wonders hangs in the balance, a testament to the complexities of progress and preservation.