Water Quality in the Yucatan Peninsula


Melissa Lenczewski 
Associate Professor 
Department of Geology 




Tomoyuki Shibata

Tomoyuki Shibata 
Assistant Professor 
Nursing & Health Studies 


Michael Gonzales 
Director, Center for Latino 
and Latin American Studies & 
Presidential Research Professor  




Rosa Maria Leal-Bautista 
Associated Researcher 
Scientific Research Center,Yucatan Peninsula


Project Description

Mexican Travel Dates: June 30-July 15, Passport Required

Tourism is the world’s largest industry and generator of jobs, generating more than $944 billion to international economies in 2008 alone. Tourism represents one of the most important sources of revenue and foreign investments in Mexico. In the last 10 years, the Riviera Maya, a 120 km strip along the east coast of the Yucatan has been the fastest-growing region in Latin America with 20-25% annual population growth and visited by more than1.7 million tourists per year.  Such massive population growth has resulted in a potential for serious depletion and/or degradation of groundwater supplies. The Yucatan is considered a groundwater dependent ecosystem (GDE), completely reliant on aquifers for supplies of freshwater. It is widely recognized that the groundwaters of the Yucatan Peninsula are contaminated.  The current extent of groundwater pollution in the Yucatan Peninsula is unknown, but the extreme population growth has undoubtedly contributed to current levels of contamination and furthermore, has increased the potential for future large-scale pollution to occur.

CenoteUnderlying the Yucatán Peninsula is a highly permeable fractured karst limestone aquifer characterized by rapid transport of microbial and chemical contaminants both from the surface to below ground aquifers. The research projects will be:


1) Testing groundwater, swimming sinkholes (cenotes), and marine water for biological and chemical sources of contamination

2) Determining groundwater flow patterns by measuring groundwater elevations throughout Puerto Morelos (city south of Cancun)

3) Assessing potential human health risks of recreational water illnesses from exposures to cenotes and marine water based on Quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA). 


History and Culture of the Yucatán Peninsula

A unique aspect of this REU is that it introduces participants to the history and culture of Mexico and the Yucatán peninsula.  Previous research experiences with undergraduate students have demonstrated the value of explaining the relationship between science and the environment, history, and culture of the people and their region.  Professor Michael Gonzales, the Director of the Center for Latino and Latin American Sciences, will discuss important aspects of the culture and history of the Yucatán Peninsula. Lectures and tours will focus on Spanish military conquest, colonization, and religious conversion; the Maya revolts (“Caste Wars”) of the nineteenth century; plantation agriculture (c. 1840-1910); the Mexican Revolution (1910-40); and the impact of tourism in recent decades.  At NIU, Professor Kowalski from the Department of Art History will familiarize participants with Maya civilization, society, culture, religion, art and architecture to provide a sense of the relationship between local populations, the environment, and indigenous cultural beliefs and practices during the pre-conquest period.