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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Sierra Papacal is as delicate as it is stunningly beautiful

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Sierra Papacal is a tiny community of roughly 1,100 inhabitants and 25 miles from Mérida’s urban core.

On her bicycle, a woman crosses the street in front of Sierra Papacal’s comisaria ejidal. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

But despite being so close, this tiny community and the wetlands surrounding it feel like a world away from Yucatán’s capital, despite the fact that it is within Mérida’s metropolitan area.

Because it is so remote, wildlife in the area is abundant, which makes sense given its large concentration of cenotes and wetlands.

Though flamingos are usually not seen in large numbers in Sierra Papacal, they can occasionally be seen flying over the community. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The area is also home to several abandoned haciendas, archaeological sites, and research facilities like the CICY.  

An arch leads to the ruins of a hacienda likely abandoned in the first half of the 20th century. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yuctán Magazine

But what truly makes Sierra Papacal stand out are its gorgeous wetlands which provide water and shelter to hundreds of species of plants and animals. 

Aerial view of Sierra Papacal’s wetland with the Gulf of Mexico visible in the background. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

But despite its beauty, the delicate balance of Sierra Papacal’s ecosystem has come under increased risk given the construction of new infrastructure projects, housing, and natural gas lines.

The road and natural gas ducts, which bisect Sierra Päpacal’s wetlands, may make for stunning photographs but depict an ecosystem far from healthy. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

“Given its proximity to both Mérida and Chuburna, combined with its unique geologic properties, Sierra Papacal could be described as the worst place in the entirety of Yucatán to build large housing projects,” said a Ph.D. in Biology candidate working in the area who preferred to remain anonymous.

According to the expert, there are two main problems with construction in the Sierra Papacal region. First, because the ground is so wet, the large pylons needed to create firm foundations disrupt the natural flow of nutrients in the area’s water and soil. 

While the righthand side of the road from Sierra Papacal to Chelem seems largely unaffected, to the right large swaths of former wetlands have been reduced to desertlike conditions. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Secondly, the construction of roads and highways act like barriers that alter the pH balance of the water, leading to both desertification and flooding. 

Aerial view of an island inside Sierra Papacal’s wetlands looking like an alien landscape. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

But despite scientists’ warnings, developments in the area continue to spring up and are likely to be visible in the entire region within the short term. 

In Por Esto!, locals decried large-scale development in the area as tantamount to ecocide. 

The region today known as Sierra Papacal was home to several small Maya settlements antiquity, especially during the post-Classic period. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

“Of course, we want to see our community prosper, but this kind of approach is not right for us. The only thing it will accomplish will be to destroy the beauty that attracts people to this area in the first place,” said Martina Ek, a local activist based in Sierra Papacal. 

A couple of Pelicans swim lazily along the water’s surface in Sierra Papacal. 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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