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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Climate change and dangers to Yucatán’s cultural heritage

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The archaeological site of Xcambó is among the most exposed to rising sea levels in Yucatán. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Much has been documented on climate change and rising sea levels affecting low-lying regions like the Yucatán Peninsula.

But one aspect seldom discussed is its impact on cultural heritage.

The principle is not particularly difficult to understand. As sea levels rise, structures — even those that have existed for over a millennia — will be submerged.

Large swaths of Yucatán’s coastline already exist in an uncomfortable reality. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The closer the archaeological remains are to the coastline, the more endangered they are. However, proximity to the ocean is not the only factor to consider.

For instance, the archaeological site of Xcambó lay less than a mile from the coastline but is also built in an extremely swampy area, making it liable to flood or, at the very least, get extremely muddy. 

The wetlands surrounding Xcambó often overflow during storms, making access to the site difficult. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

According to a recent NASA report, even conservative estimates project the globe should expect a sea level rise with averages of 25 to 30 centimeters, or nine to 11 inches, by 2050. 

Floods in 2020 were particularly severe in Mérida’s Fraccionamiento Las Américas. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

While that may not seem like a lot, when you combine this fact with the erosion along Yucatán’s coast and the destruction of the Peninsula’s mangroves, things could get very ugly. 

Despite being illegal, unsanctioned clearing of mangroves is commonplace in Yucatán and is done freely in the open. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

When it comes to archaeological remains, severe damage is already being detected in the region surrounding Ciudad del Carmen.

The remains of an ancient temple, swallowed by the sea on the shores of the Laguna de Terminos. Photo: INAH

Also at considerable risk is the archaeological site of El Rey, which sits next to a golf course on the lagoon opposite Cancún’s Caribbean beach. 

The archaeological site El Rey is seldom visited despite its location right in the heart of Cancún’s hotel zone. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

With the increasing size of developments along Yucatán’s coastline, concerns have begun to arise regarding the viability of continued growth in the region.

New apartment buildings, timeshares, and resorts are popping up all over Yucatán’s coast. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Though only time will tell just how much of Yucatán’s history will be lost for the coming generation, one thing is for certain: nature yields for no one. 

The contrast between the haves and have-nots is especially stark in coastal communities where erosion is eating away at people’s homes. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy, and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway.
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