Beneath the Yucatán Peninsula is an underground system of streams and lakes so vast it contains about 25 percent of Mexico’s total fresh water supply. These subterranean waters are extraordinarily rich in biodiversity. A preliminary search of species catalogues revealed hundreds of freshwater species specialized for life in this unusual habitat, including blind, cave-adapted fishes. Because this subterranean habitat is not connected to similar habitats elsewhere, these species are nearly all endemic to Yucatán .
LEARN MORE: Explore Mexico and the Gulf of California.
This groundwater supported the Mayan civilization and continues to support the descendants of that culture. It is also essential to an economic boom based mainly on tourism and, to a lesser extent, on agriculture. This development is exploiting water resources without accounting for the needs of indigenous people in the interior.
Unfortunately, the peninsula’s groundwater quality is increasingly threatened from both above and below. Rising sea levels are causing saltwater incursion, and at the same time, agricultural runoff and urban waste disposal is contaminating the upper layers of fresh water.
CI is working with local partners to protect this critical groundwater system. As a first step in creating a watershed management plan, CI and our partners are gathering data on the endemic species in the cave system and assessing human water use and needs.
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