One of the tubes used to dispose of Cozumel sewage. One of the pipes used to dispose of sewage.

Another threat to coral: sewage discharges by Cozumel hotels

At least a dozen pipes dispose of wastewater in waters off Cozumel

Just after environmental authorities closed some of the reefs around Cozumel due to the presence of white band disease, another threat to coral has been detected: sewage discharges from hotels on the island.

Renowned speleologist Germán Yañez has discovered at least 12 pipes that carry sewage from hotels to reefs around Cozumel, the newspaper Milenio reported. One hotel disposes wastewater via a cave that opens up to the Caribbean Sea.

The hotels responsible won’t be made public until the environmental protection agency Profepa has investigated.

“I’m not against development but they [hotel owners] have to be more aware,” Yañez said.

“What they really have to do is find a precise balance between [looking after] the environment and the economic spillover that the hotel industry generates,” he added. “The message is that they have to update all their practices . . . their methods to manage wastewater . . .”

Claudia Padilla, a researcher at the National Fisheries Institute, said that coral around Cozumel doesn’t have the capacity to fight off white band disease – an ailment that destroys the tissue of Caribbean acroporid coral – because the seawater is contaminated and warmer than usual.

“What coral, the reef environment and a lot of coastal ecosystems need is good quality water and that doesn’t start at the reef . . . it starts on land,” she said.

Iliana García, an expert with the non-government environmental organization Amigos de Sian Ka’an, said that wastewater disposal is a problem across Quintana Roo, explaining that only half of homes and businesses in the state are connected to proper drainage systems.

She also said the federal Environment Secretariat has failed to update regulations that govern wastewater disposal for 23 years, even though it should do so every five years.

“The parameters are very lax at the moment, they’re no longer consistent with the [tourism] activity . . . in Quintana Roo, we now have a significant number of hotel rooms,” García said.

Reefs off the coast of the state are also under threat from an aggressive bleaching problem and the annual arrival of sargassum, experts warn. In addition, scientists have issued an alert about a decline in coral spawning in Mexico’s Caribbean Sea.

However, the Quintana Roo government is addressing the problem. Three thousand colonies of lab-grown coral were planted in the Garrafón reef near Cancún in late August and authorities are aiming to plant 265,000 coral colonies in reefs off the state’s coast by 2022.

Improving connectivity to Quintana Roo’s sewage systems also looms as a key challenge to ensure the long-term survival of the vast networks of coral off Mexico’s Caribbean coast, part of the extensive Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System.

Source: Milenio (sp) 

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