Category Archives: Yucatan Peninsula

Jardin Botanico ~ Dr. Alfredo Barrera Marin- Puerto Moreles, Mexico

Tulum 008One of the very top highlights about being an herbalist is learning about plant medicine and the diverse variation of plant species found in every country. The learning never ends, and since it is a learning which I am passionate about… “double bonus!!” When I travel I welcome the opportunity to visit local botanical gardens. There are ALWAYS more medicinal plants to discover and learn of their traditional application.

This particular journey took me to the lush Mayan jungle where I looked forward to visiting one of the largest botanical gardens in Mexico, Jardin Botanico, named after ethnobotanical researcher Alfredo Barrera Marin, a cultural expert in Mayan and Nahuatl history. Established in 1982 outside of Puerto Morelos, on the coast of Quintana Roo, in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

Tulum 015This 160 acre reserve contains kilometers of meandering trails, intermingled with mayan ruins; the lush jungle and mangroves are home to a vast selection of endangered  plant species and is a conservation project intended to protect regional flora and conserve biodiversity in the Yucatan Peninsula. The plant collection was rumored to contain more than half of the plant species identified in the Yucatan Peninsula, both ornamental and medicinal. I was excited to visit the garden to see orchids, palms, ferns, and a huge selection of cactus and over 60 species of medicinal plants used in traditional Mayan herbal medicine. A herbalists dream! In fact many of the conserved plants, such as palm leaves were used for crafts, preservation of food and the roofs of houses. And many species are now endangered.

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Jardin Botanico is one of  the featured gardens of Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). The BGCI provides recognition for all botanic gardens worldwide and is one of the largest plant conservation network in the world (featuring over 500 botanical gardens in over 100 countries), taking care to preserve and grow some of the world’s endangered plant species.The BGCI  botanical gardens provide a collection of extensive plants from a local region, supplies seed banks and is a knowledge network focusing on aspects of plant conservation including  education. Its mission is “To mobilise botanic gardens and engage partners in securing plant diversity for the well-being of people and the planet”.

plantSo preparing to visit the Gardens early morning- before the heat became the focus of the day. I was awoken early in my tiny stone and clay mayan hut to the sound of a odd bird – clearly pretending to be a rooster (and did I mention that it was early?) – in short order other harmonies of various birds chirped in to welcome the new day and then finally a real rooster. It was still early – way before my alarm. The morning sun was now just starting to peak. Time to get up and begin the adventure.

There was a rumor that the botanical garden also holds a large animal population, including the only coastal troops of curious spider monkeys still left in the region, colorful birds, sunning iguanas and wild boars. As I love monkeys, I was hope-filled to spot some and inquired about their general location on the kilometers of meandering trails.

On the path I discovered a traditional mayan house- an example of traditional architecture and also archaeological Mayan ruins of an alter dating back to 1400 AD. Various sink holes are also  visible, and scattered shells from sea life visible underneath…. and a special collection of Mayan Medicinal Plants. I am not certain if I visited off season- but I was disappointed by the lack of selection of flourishing plants in the medicinal garden.

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Tulum 114As I neared the last third of the walk, my heart began to sink… there were still no monkeys. I was holding back my disappointment and kept my hears open. Rounding a corner I startled a shy wild boar, who ran for the exit … still no monkeys.Tulum 117

 

 

Another turn in the path and I discovered an amazing mushroom and I stopped to take some photos of this impressive fungi.

Once quiet I could hear some rustling in the far off distance… could it be a troop of monkeys? I wait, quiet, not moving…. strangely after a time, I begin to feel like I am being watched and I have a sense to look up above my head into the towering trees.

There is a monkey- quietly sitting in branches directly above my head -observing me.  I bring out my camera and begin taking photographs – thrilled that my wish was granted.

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The last section of the garden consists of the evergreen tropical forest reaching up to  25 meters in height. With a 130-foot suspension bridge (or wooden slat bridge), which climbed up to a scenic tower overlooking a panoramic view of one of the last preserved areas of mangrove in the region. Off in the distance impending construction and development can be seen.

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So when I speak of jungles and mangroves… I need to emphasize, this is one area is of the LAST conserved forest areas between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. And this is also one of the last undisturbed ecosystems and homes to thousands of rare animal species (including black spiny-tailed iguanas, leopard frogs, and swamp crocodiles.

During my entire stay I read and hear of protests from locals over the large amount hectares of jungle which are being destroyed IN A DAY to make room for concrete developments of condos and tourist properties at the cost of the  homes of rare animal ecosystems and plant biodiversity. Protesters make note to mention that no animals were re-located, instead they were simply a part of the bulldozed mix of destruction.

Over the past 40 years, the coastal state of Quintana Roo has lost nearly 55 percent of its mangroves to developers in real estate and tourism. The village of Puerto Morelos had 409 hotel beds in 2003; now it has over10,000. Referenced from Mother Jones. In 2016, Santiago Tello from the Riviera Maya News quotes local biologists and environmentalists observing the growing extent of deforestation in northern Quintana Roo, “We went from 3,429 hectares of mangrove to 1,569 hectares” in 1976 to 2013. Countless acres of mangrove forests on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast have been lost — to make way for tourism chain hotels.

Trauma, Rest and the Role of Nature in Resetting the Nervous System

Having recent opportunity to teach in the certificate program “The Holistic Approach to Trauma,” at Langara College in Vancouver BC. The impact of extreme stress and the chain reaction that stress has on the body is fresh in my mind.

PSTD can be triggered from a traumatic event which creates emotional upheaval, flashbacks and anxiety which is re-lived again and again in both the mind and the body.  Rather than integrating the experience and moving forward – which is our bodies normal way of adapting, the trauma of a stress filled event can overwhelm the body, impacting resiliency and ones ability to cope; creating a looping state where the body re-lives an event which occurred in the past. PSTD and chronic stress can create a domino effect, impacting all endocrine  hormones throughout the body, altering immune system, hormones, thyroid function (the bodies motor for functioning) and adrenal health and can trigger inflammatory conditions leading to chronic dis-ease.

Finding my own self in urgent need of rest after a unique year, I sought out the most possible peace filled environment I could imagine. A small cabana hut, complete with a book and a hammock right on the ocean. Time to reconnect with nature and simply exhale.

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My temporary home, a one room hut with a thatched palm roof and outside my door was nothing but a wide stretch of  pristine white sand beach (noted to be some of the most beautiful in the world) and awe inspiring, magnificent views of  turquoise waters.

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Perhaps the very best therapy for trauma (or simply overload from stress) is the quiet calm, the lush green, serene stillness of NATURE. The simplicity of nature assists in our remembering that we are all connected and mother earth is our playground and a healer on this journey called life.

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Studies have been conducted on immersion in nature and its benefits for individuals suffering from stress and extended trauma. Nature can play a fundamental role in the photo 3restoration of a healthy nervous system, providing an opportunity to re-set a hyper functioning overly sensitive state. Immersion in nature is hugely beneficial for those suffering from PSTD. It matters not where ones makes contact with nature to experience the healing offered through contact with her trees, plants and the earth – gifts of mother natures and her green allies. Contact with nature can occur in ones garden, a local community park, or in the countryside, a meadow or at ocean level; remote wilderness, a jungle or high up in the mountains.  It is the benefit that fresh clean air, stunning beauty, walking barefoot in the soil, hugging a tree and experiencing the soothing sounds of mother nature. There is growing evidence that our green friends – trees, plants, flowers can improve our health and well being and reminds us of the connection we have to inhabitants  on this planet -plants, animals as well as each other. We are a part of a larger community.

photo 1 (2)In my soon to be released book “The Good Living Guide to Natural and Herbal Remedies” I speak of the urgent importance of recognizing mother nature and all she provides as necessary for the health of all life on this planet.  Mother nature provides plants which are our nourishment, our foods and our medicines – plants are our healing allies – we co exist together on this planet. We could not exist on this planet without plants. It is essential that we recognise her essential value in our life and seek to protect her gifts which are disappearing at a rapid rate. 

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IMG_0270The beach road outside of Tulum, Mexico is known for its bohemian new age feel, live music, plenty of yoga, juice bars, plenty of ecologically conscious retreats and small boutique hotels – a far removed sanctuary from sprawling busy resort hotels miles away; this lush beach front is still largely surrounded by palm trees, green jungle plants, mangroves and animals. No pressure to do anything except to enjoy the sparkling Caribbean Sea and stunning shoreline. The first night I took in some late night music therapy – feeling the reverberations of vibration soothe my tired soul.

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Further south of the Riviera Maya,  past the Tulum Playa coastline, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere is a world renowned Ecological Reserve and designated World Heritage Site (UNESCO); extending roughly 120 kilometers of coastline, and over 400,000 hectares of land. Sian Ka’an currently is the largest protected area in the Mexican Carribean. This biosphere reserve contains tropical jungle forests, marshes and wetlands, freshwater lagoons and mangrove forests, palm savannah and intersects  the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (the second largest barrier reef in the world) with its white beaches and sand dunes.  It is the home for an thousands of plant and animal species, a habitat for more than 300 species of birds, (including the great blue heron, jabiru, ocelot, margay and wood stork, American flamingo, toucan, vultures, ) spider black howler monkey, crocodile, black iguana, puma,  jaguar, brown pelican, puma, ocelot, tamandua and tapir, It also is home to a great diversity of marine life: nesting marine turtles, rays, coral fish and numerous fish species.

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Studies confirm that peace filled green environments such as those found in nature have an impact on mental well being, reducing fears, anxiety, anger, tension and depression.  Recognizing the challenges and stressors of daily living in our western industrialized society, nature can provide the needed reset button and perhaps may just influence our own future choices and the direction – if we recognize mother nature as valuable we might be more likely to fight to preserve her own health.

Continued and frequent contact with mother nature may be a necessary contact to sustain IMG_0297balance – sustainable and ecological friendly practices for tourism are desperately needed. New levels of ecological tourism are needed to prevent the destruction of the beauty which tourists flock to enjoy; currently at the cost of the plant life and animal species that call this backdrop home.  Perhaps it is a timely call for mutual healing – for both ourselves – humans suffering the consequences of our industrialized lifestyle – insomnia, hypertension, plagued by anxiety and worry.  And our own active involvement the natural world, ensuring she is flourishing, healthy and well for our mutual growth/ nourishment on this planet.

Yet during my stay I was aware of the urgent need for more environmental conservation practices in the Yucatan Peninsula to sustain this exquisite environment.  This very land which provides such great beauty and deep healing is in desperate need of saving, as large resorts and fast moving developments destroy miles of mangroves creating irreversible destruction to the fragile ecosystem of this land.

What we do to the planet we do to ourselves. It is time that we take responsibility for the state of the environment and make personal and conscious choices for its improvement.

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When I awoke in the morning, and took my first morning ocean swim, I could SEE the truth of the situation! Before the local beach groomers had swept the beach to remove the proof -at night the ocean would deposit ALL that was being held in her waters – plastic, plastic, and more plastic! Bottles, containers, plastic chips, hundreds of colored plastic bits littered the beach. Resembling little colored fish, I could imagine larger fish ingesting these plastic parts thinking they were nourishment. An example of xenoestrogens and a visual example of the impact that tiny bits of plastic can have on marine life and aquatic species.

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Ecotourism and the issues surrounding growing coastal urbanization is a focus as locals seek to preserve the beauty of the environment and retain the biodiversity of plant and animal species in the Yucatan. Environmental groups are committed to protecting the local areas and fragile ecosystem and attempt to slow down or prevent the ecological problems that have already taken hold in Cancun and Playa Del Carmen.

 

Many smaller hotels are conscious of the need for sustainable tourism and take steps to  minimize the environmental impact on this fragile ecosystem, supporting existing conservation projects to help preservation for future generations. Some of the challenges of this area:

  • there are well-documented garbage and sewage problems: septic tanks from larger (and even smaller) hotels may be dumping soap water from their laundries into the mangroves or nearby cenotes polluting the underground river system.
  • chlorophenoxy herbicides from pesticides and chemical fertilisers used in green lawn areas and golf courses are now major threats to the fragile barrier reef
  • due to a lack of proper man made drainage, the hydrological cycle is short, and over time the vegetation in existing mangroves ends up dying
  • contamination of drinking water and ocean life from both untreated sewage and containing byproducts found in human urine (containing traces of pharmaceutical medication (such as xenoestrogen chemicals found in birth control pills, premarin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen and residue from beauty care products containing plastic beads, antiseptics (aka antibiotics such as triclosan) are a major problem
  • traces of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) have also been found in ocean water and has an impact on coral and marine life
  • documented climate change, raising temperatures and water levels, pollution and contamination has damaged local mangroves and reefs

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Taking small steps to be  eco-friendly, many smaller boutique hotels have no electricity past midnight. Toilet paper is not flushed  and it is requested that water and other resources be used sparingly. Many showers are refreshing one tap cold ocean water rinses. Solar panels provide electricity and many hotels take steps to reuse and recycle offering filtered water (refills) rather than selling bottled water containers.  Many environmental agencies make recommendations such as the use of impermeable liners beneath golf courses, improved wastewater treatment infrastructure, prohibition of dumping treated sewage into saltwater and protection of remaining mangrove habitat, which buffer coastal areas from pollution.

Centro Ecológico Akumal is a non-governmental organization that focuses on sustainability-related issues and improving ecosystem management in and around Akumal.

Statistics from the Mexican government state the the mayan riviera is the fastest gowing resort area in the world. Mangroves that once covered all of the coastal area, have now been bulldozed and paved over. A jarring example of how NOT to create a sustainable tourist area. Scientists now believe that mangrove forests can help slow climate change, by purifying the water from human wastes and pollutants, and in doing so, coral reefs are less effected. The roots of mangroves act to trap sediments that would otherwise be washed back out by the waves. Moreover, mangroves provide a habitat for many different species of animals and suck a large amount of industrial carbon out of the atmosphere and bury it deep within the underground network of roots.

Mother natures offers us her gifts – nature is a stunning reprieve from hectic city life. It is essential that we recognize and preserve her qualities and  value her continued existence and seek to protect her gifts which are disappearing at a rapid rate. 

For more information and information reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/dec/09/cancun-mangrove-paradise-megasprawl

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-climate-mangroves-idUSTRE6AN0YH20101125http://voicesmotherearth.blogspot.ca/2016/02/cancun-quintana-roo-commercial-property.html

S.A.V.E (Society of Akumal Vital Ecology) a non profit organisation involved in preventing construction over mangrove swamps in Puerto Morelos, creation of natural reservex in Xcacel-Xcelito and protection of hundreds of marine turtle nests. http://www.cenotes.com/save/