TAMUG researchers work to unlock secrets in Yucatán’s underground rivers

From the Yucatan Times

diverScientific teams from Texas A&M University at Galveston and the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City are working jointly to explore and investigate the Ox Bel Ha System, the world’s longest underwater cave, which extends across 150 miles in very remote areas away from tourists.

By WES HOLT and GLENDA SWINEY (Texas A&M University at Galveston students).

With a funded cooperative research grant from Texas A&M and CONACyT — the Mexican National Science Foundation — this binational project combines the research of professors and students from both universities.

Tom Iliffe, marine biology professor at TAMUG, feels that pressure on the fragile ecosystems of the Yucatán Peninsula because of rapid, extensive development for tourism could become an environmental disaster.

Specifically, the teams will attempt to determine what promotes diversification of eyeless, albino cave fish and crustaceans utilizing three approaches — determining the water chemistry, examining potential food sources and investigating the biodiversity of these ecosystems.

The northern portion of the Yucatán Peninsula lacks surface rivers or streams so that all runoff is subterranean. Along the Caribbean coastline, partially totally submerged caves, known as cenotes, contain fresh to slightly brackish water at the surface separated by a well-defined boundary of underlying seawater.

Groundwater from cenotes (or wells) is the primary source of drinking water but developing mega-resorts for tourism has led to resource overexploitation.