By Stephen Leahy*
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 10, 2011 (Tierramérica)
The booming tourist industry along Mexico’s Caribbean coast, particularly in the area of Cancún and the “Riviera Maya,” is polluting the world’s largest underwater cave system and harming the world’s second largest coral reef, a new study has found.
Pharmaceuticals, cocaine residues, shampoo, toothpaste, pesticides, chemical run-off from roads and many other pollutants have been found in the immense system of underground rivers and aquifers south of the resort city of Cancún, located on the Caribbean coast of Quintana Roo state.
“There is little question the pollutants we detected have come from human activity along the coastal region,” said Chris Metcalfe, a researcher with the United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health.
The British journal “Environmental Pollution” published a study by the Institute this month, titled ” Contaminants in the coastal karst aquifer system along the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.”
Metcalf told Tierramérica that pit latrines, septic tanks, leaking sewer lines and golf courses were the most likely sources of groundwater pollution.
The flow of groundwater takes much of this pollution into the coastal zone and the region’s famous Mesoamerican Barrier reef, the second largest in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef off Australia.
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Land-based pollution is just one of the impacts on the coastal reefs, Metcalf said. Overfishing, coral diseases, and climate change have also contributed to an estimated loss of up to 50 percent of coral since 1990.
“Without serious attention to preventing groundwater contamination, tourist development will kill the goose that laid the golden egg,” Metcalf said.