Southern Yucatan Peninsula
Laguna Bacalar Institute is a 501(c)3 nonprofit
The Institute's mission is to draw attention to Laguna Bacalar's world class ranking from scientific based organizations, conservation minded groups, and world governmental bodies especially those that also have lakes of this stature. It is believed that by drawing attention to this unique Mexican natural treasure, those bodies capable of stewardship will be linked together to build the political, economic, business, and scientific consortium necessary to effectively preserve Laguna Bacalar. To do nothing will accelerate the gradual degradation of Laguna Bacalar and loss of this world treasure.
Laguna Bacalar Institute's goals encompass several areas and are aimed at enhancing the conservation mission.
Goal 1 is to assimilate all documents from the scientific, regulatory, and business communities that address issues pertinent to Laguna Bacalar. A literature base will provide the hub from which sound decisions can be made. Part of this goal is to facilitate the translation between Spanish and English, and others, in order to facilitate communication between these important participants.
Goal 2 is to facilitate infrastructure implementation prior to a surge in development. Laguna Bacalar will be rapidly developed during the next two decades. If the lake's ecosystem is not protected before development, the ecosystem will suffer severe consequences. It is important to remember that Laguna Bacalar is a freshwater lake and not the expansive ocean, even though it looks like the Caribbean. If Laguna Bacalar is assaulted without infrastructure in-place to accommodate developmental expansion, the consequences will be long lasting and likely nonreversible.
Goal 3 is to seek funding from all sectors -- government, business, philanthropic -- to support the stewardship of Laguna Bacalar. Successful funding, when coupled with personal commitment, is what will leverage the conservation of Laguna Bacalar. Funding involvement at the personal, academia, government, and business levels is critical to success.
Goal 4 is to support science and cultural projects that directly enhance the understanding of how ecology and development interlace together with a shared objective of preserving Laguna Bacalar.
Laguna Bacalar is a World Class Lake
Few know of this 35 mile long freshwater lake, but Laguna Bacalar is Mexico’s 2nd largest natural lake and one of the world’s most unique lakes. The dense Yucatan jungle and distractions such as Cancun and the Caribbean coast have helped keep this secluded lake obscured. Laguna Bacalar, however, is a world class freshwater lake. In fact, put on the table photos of all world class lakes and choose one that is visibly unique-- virtually everyone will select Laguna Bacalar. This exercise directly translates the visible uniqueness of Laguna Bacalar into a unique ecology and biogeochemistry.
Laguna Bacalar has many characteristics of the Caribbean including sharing its beautiful hues of turquoise and blue, prompting the ancient Maya to name it "Laguna de Siete Colores" (Lake of Seven Colors). Several marine species have adapted to the Laguna’s freshwaters and also freshwater stromatolites, mangroves, and resident crocodilians. Submarine cenotes, karst sink holes analogous to those in the Niagara formation of the Great Lakes, are located both within the lake itself and on its adjacent shores. The most notable of these cenotes is believed to be up to 200 meters deep (some suspect much less) and has a rich cultural history--the Maya believed they were spiritual places.
The lake today is on the cusp of becoming one of the most threatened lakes in the world. Recently discovered by the tourism industry, construction of new accommodations is accelerating rapidly, yet there is no concomitant effort for environmental protection, e.g. there is no infrastructure for sewage treatment and efforts that produce change are slow. Mexican and some international scientists are well aware of the groundwater and sanitation problems of the Yucatan Peninsula and numerous groups are working to bring this to the attention of the world community. Laguna Bacalar is a special focus point.
Water clarity of this oligotrophic, nitrogen limited system is superb, however, the eutrophication potential as a result of increasing seepage, point and non-point discharges looms large. If the lake reaches its nutrient load thresholds a series of ensuing ecological/biogeochemical changes will likely occur. One scenario is the population explosion of a cousin of the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha), the invasive black striped mussel (Mytilopsis sallei) that likely is the only worldwide example of an invasive dreissenid currently in ecological balance. This mussel is as ecologically lethal as the zebra mussel in upper North America. If enrichment of the Laguna advances, food web and nutrient cycling perturbations, the severe over-colonization by dressenids as seen elsewhere, and probably the destruction of the unique freshwater stromatolites may ensue.
Laguna Bacalar is not immune to human activities from the surrounding watershed. Current patterns of land use, especially the sewage effluent delivery to the lake via marginal septic disposal systems threatens the sustained ecology of the lake. As nutrient thresholds are reached, first near shore and eventually throughout the lake, Laguna Bacalar will undergo eutrophication processes that will remove the lake from its world class status. Reversal of the eutrophication process generally is impossible. Construction of a centralized Bacalar sewage system, and moreover for Quintana Roo of the Yucatan Peninsula will preserve the World Class status of Laguna Bacalar.
One of our immediate goals in Laguna Bacalar is to videograph the submarine cenotes and record data to determine directional flow related to the cenotes. Chemical and microbial data will also be collected.