If you have recently browsed through the best places to visit in Mexico, you may have stumbled across a gem of a town named Bacalar.
Bacalar is a small town with fewer than 12,000 people on the southern coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. During the last few years, Bacalar has been growing its tourism and attracting new expats because of its mesmerizing lagoon.
Unfortunately the recent growth in tourism has posed a threat to this beautiful ecosystem.
Jorge Trejo Pardo, who moved to Bacalar in 2015 for the lagoon, helped to start an organization called Agua Clara Bacalar to preserve this cherished place.
Below is an edited transcript of my conversation with Naranja about why he assisted in building Agua Clara Bacalar, his vision for the town of Bacalar, and how he keeps tourists and locals aware of their impact on this magical Lagoon.
Public Goods: Hi Jorge. Thanks for chatting. Can you tell me what inspired you to start Agua Clara Bacalar?
Jorge Trejo Pardo: Sure. I was living in San Cristobal de la casas, traveling and working in a community in the mountains. I came here traveling and in the first night, I felt a connection to this place.
This happened in 2013. In 2014 I came back to Bacalar from Mexico City and went back and forth for the year. In 2015 I decided to stay. It was something with the water/ lagoon. I heard this legend, when someone drinks the lagoon’s water, they will never leave. This happened to me.
We started to see the problem with the lagoon in 2015, because the color of the water was changing. There was foam in some areas of the water. We did some investigating, and found that there was no proper drainage system, which was causing this.
This was when me and my friends realized that we had to start to spread the word about this. So one of course, you can do this by being an activist to let the people know that you need this, but in Mexico it takes a while — it doesn’t always happen as fast as you need it. So we decided to “build” this organization/this group, Agua Clara Bacalar. This was the beginning of Agua Clara. I was just one person who helped start it, but there were many of us who started the organization together.
PG: What’s the problem that is happening with the lagoon in Bacalar?
JTP: The main problem is the amount of pollutants that go into the water because of the lack of a comprehensive sanitary and storm drainage system.
So, close to Bacalar is another town where they grow food. The problem is that farmers are using pesticides to grow food faster. All these pesticides of course are pollutants. All of these pesticides filter into the water underground. Because we don’t have a proper drainage, eventually the pollutants from the water system are taken to the lagoon.
When their pollutants come to the water, the lagoon has to balance it. The way for the lagoon balances itself is by having more plants or animals to eat the pollutants. Right now the water is currently blue, crystal clear blue. So when the plants start to grow in the lagoon, the water becomes green.
The cool thing about the lagoon, is that it currently has seven colors of blue. These colors come because the water is really, really clear. So when the plants start coming in the water, the color becomes green. The water is changing and eventually will change the color completely. So that’s something that we are struggling with.
This problem that we see Bacalar is having, is a problem that most of the lagoons around the planet have already had.
This problem that we see Bacalar is having, is a problem that most of the lagoons around the planet have already had. When you see it and it’s green, it’s not very nice to see. You realize that it’s green because of the amount of pollutants.
PG: What happens if things continue going this way in the next coming years?
JTP: I don’t know exactly what will happen. I will tell you for sure, though, that the lagoon is going to turn green. This is something that scientists will tell you. I don’t know in how many years, but this is definitely something that will happen.
Bacalar has been growing with tourism. Now with tourism, everything else comes, like the development of hotels, houses, restaurants — everything that comes with the magical act of tourism. Before this, we were struggling with contamination, because there was a big piece of infrastructure happening in Bacalar. But now that we have more people, we are seeing this problem getting closer than we thought.
PG: What are some of the solutions Agua Clara Bacalar is implementing to reverse to this problem?
JTP: The first step is to work to let people know, to grow conscious, and to explain to people what is going on. That is the first step. We are spreading this information to locals and tourists because the tourists, they need to be a part of the solution.
We have also approached the government of Bacalar to let them know and work with them to help us to find solutions. We realized that one of the big missing parts of this is the sewage system. So we reached out to them because we need their help on this to build a proper sewage system.
Because the pipes are not big enough, the sewage system does not properly work. So when it rains here, the pipes get full and then eventually, when they get into the pipes, the water goes everywhere. That’s an issue.
So just one of the things we have to think about are bigger pipes, and think about how we are going to manage this rain water. When it rains here, all of the garbage, gasoline, it carries straight up to the lagoon.
We have also reached schools to let young kids know what to do. One of the things we show them is how to separate the garbage. We let people know what is organic and what is not. We show them how to compost. Because these kinds of things can help. We tell people to also stop burning garbage because this is a big problem in Bacalar.
The second thing that we have done is we have built workshops with little kids to explain to them how the system of poo works! We let them know where it goes. I explain that the poo goes to the underland water and then it goes into the lagoon. The water that you take has now become contaminated. It actually worked really good, and they’re like WOW!!
PG: What do you hope to see in the next 10 years for Bacalar?
JTP: My personal goal for the organization is for Bacalar to become a proper sustainably green town. That is the main goal because the evolution of the tourism is going to happen. It is impossible to stop it. There is nobody who will stop it.
So hopefully with more people that come, then maybe we can balance it, but do it sustainably. Bacalar is so fragile and vulnerable. We need to do it sustainably.
PG: What can people who do not live in Bacalar do to help support this cause?
JTP: Well first I want to say how special and magical Bacalar is. There is no other place like this around the world. It’s really special. Why should we destroy this beautiful place?
What we need in Bacalar is help. We are losing the lagoon. As with every other organization, it needs money and people to be a part of it and help us grow it.
Perhaps, we can have someone who can put their finger on the table and help us to preserve it. Maybe we can have a natural and protected area around this place.
When travelers come to Bacalar, I also tell the tourist people that the way that they can help me is to ask the reception how they treat their waters. I have tips for the people who visit Bacalar so they know what to do and not do.
Bacalar is a really important place, and we should not mess it up. Otherwise, like every other natural area, we are going to lose this very magical place.
If you would like to donate to this cause, you can visit the Agua Clara Bacalar website.
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