Sargassum Podcast Ep39: Tourism, Sargassum, and Water Quality in the Cenotes of Quintana Roo Mexico

Sargassum Podcast Ep39: Tourism, Sargassum, and Water Quality in the Cenotes of Quintana Roo Mexico

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Welcome to the sargassum podcast. I'm  Robby Thigpen, I'm Franziska Elmer   and I am Mar Fernandez and  we are your hosts for today.   We are going to share with you the  latest ideas and concepts about sargassum   and sargassum beaching events which  have become an international challenge.

Welcome everybody to the sargassum podcast.  Hi mar and hi robby how are you doing today?   hi guys, nice to see you! i'm doing pretty good.  I'm happy to see my long-lost friend again and it   seem like it's been ages , and has been ! Summer  holiday was in between. I know it's gonna be nice.   I wish I knew what that fellt like. How was your  holiday robby? I heard you were visiting fran.   Well I got to visit her for a little bit  but I wouldn't say that that was a holiday,   I was working. The only time I wasn't  working, is when I was with them,  

and all the rest of the time I worked  every day. We met with the university,   we met teachers we you know had  to get in and meet with some   marine megafauna biologists in Chetumal tomorrow  and the university of Quintana Roo and we met with   the secretary of educationwith the department  of education and we got some research agreements   signed. We're working on a couple more  and you know. I was busy busy busy but yeah when I was with Franziska and joseph, they  had lots of rum. I didn't accomplish anything  

while I was there and it was awesome.  But we did go to a meeting together,   so i think you did accomplish something. So  when Robby was here beginning of july right,   here in playa playa del carmen in mexico, we  already had I don't know how many weeks of brown   water and I haven't been in the ocean for a very  long time. So of course we wanted to do something   fun with Robby after showing him the beach and  how brown the water was and how the sargassum   was piling up. One of the people living where  i'm living told us in Puerto Morelos the beach   is clear and the water is clear and the beach is  clean. So I said we gotta go because I wanna get  

in that water. So on the saturday that Robby was  here we went to Puerto Morelos and we got to enjoy   the the beach and we got to enjoy snorkeling  and being in the ocean. Robby saw a barracuda   hunting. Right, i mean I've seen him lots and lots  of times, thiswas the first time i ever saw one go   sssip and then there was just a shower of  scales coming down from his mouth.   Then on sunday, we had a bit of a late start  but we wanted to go to cenote so me and Robby   in the heat of quintana roo, as it it's very hot.  We went into colectivo, we drove about a half an  

hour out of playa to go to the place where there's  three different cenotes you can visit. we went to   the first one we wanted to go to and they said oh  we're full we have reached capacity for today. So   we went to the other two, to see if we could go  to any of those and it was the same thing. So   we had to go back home and ended up swimming  in the tiny tiny cenote next to the beach in   playa esmeralda. where there's just a lot of  locals with their kids bathing every day.I   was just gonna say that it's it's  actually amazing how it has changed,   because I remember like six years ago, it was  one of the first trips I did with my husband and   we went diving in one of the cenotes and there  was almost no one there and it was beautiful.  

It's amazing to see how quickly these things  change, right? That people suddenly are going   in masses to the cenotes. So I'm very excited  about the interview we're having today because   as you just said Fran this is exactly the  topic we're going to talk about today.   Yes I'm really excited as well because I've  been living here all summer and it would be   I'm really excited to hear the professional  opinion or the scientific opinion behind this.   I was going to say that cenotes are not  impacted by sargassum but actually they are,   right? and we will hear today why there's a  connection between them and the sargassum. Yes   i would posit the idea that possibly the reason  that there were so many people there, was a direct   connection to the sargassum .they people couldn't  go to the beach. well we'll hear about that.  

they're certainly being affected there.  so let me introduce our guests, before we   blurt out all the things that they  actually found in our pre-interview talk.   Today we're going to talk with Courtney Gallaher  which is a jointly appointed associate professor   in the department of geographic and  atmospheric science and also the center for   for the study of women gender and sexuality  at the Northern Illinois University.   Her fields of study include women in science,  sustainable agriculture and food systems   and environmental management and sustainability.  Our second guest is Emely Hernandez, a master's   student at the geographic and atmospheric science  department at Northern Illinois University and she   researches how tourism impacts water quality in  Quintana Roo in Mexico. She also does some work   in the fields of environmental sustainability and  is an advocate for advancing minorities in STEM.  

Welcome to the podcast Courtney and Emely.  I'm really pleased to be here today, just to   be invited to this group because somehow I feel  like an outlier for some reason. I don't know why   or maybe they just needed me here  for the diversity you know. Anyways,   we always start out with wanting to know a very  specific thing. We're not really looking for a  

sciency answer here but maybe that's what you'll  give us and that'll be fine too. bBut we'd like   to know, and we're gonna start with emely,  I'd like to know what sargassum means to you? So that's a very interesting question.  When you ask me what sargassum means to me,   what i think you're asking me why it's  important and why we're talking about it.   Which I would say, it's as if you read the paper,  sargassum has been getting worse and worse as   time progresses. So there's been a couple  years where it was like extremely bad and   then the year of 2019, it was one of the worst  they've ever had. So i think it's important   to talk about Sargassum, specifically in the  Caribbean, because so many places in the caribbean   depend on tourism. Sargassum is detrimental  to tourism, as we have seen in many places.  

So to me sargassum is something that  we need to address and talk about,   specifically as climate change gets worse,  because it will continue to get worse. I'm just picking up on where Emely was. As   you know sargassum is interesting to me,  because we have a colleague that's japanese   that does research in the Quintana Roo area  with us, and he he's constantly confronted   by this idea of sargassum, because in his  culture as in many cultures around the world   seaweed is a very beneficial thing, right? like  it's farmed for food. it's used for medicine  

and so forth. And yet here it has become this  environmental problem, which has rippling   social and economic implications too and so  it's this interesting example to me of how situational environmental problems can b, and also  how the sargassum problem in the Caribbean, it's   sort of this indicator species, or this indicator  of these changing global environmental problems.   Probably somewhat related to climate change,  global social and economic patterns that are   shifting, likely related to changes in industrial  agriculture and urbanization in various parts of   the Caribbean, leading to nutrient runoff and so  it's, you don't want to say it's a cool problem,   because it's causing all sorts of detrimental  effects. but it's an interesting problem   in that pulling it apart and teasing apart why  it's there and the implications are complex. Very nice thank you so much. Robby and I in the pre-talk already talked a bit  about how we think that tourism reacts in quintana   roo to sargassum. but you actually studied  this and did some surveys and figured it out  

and really got better data than what we have.  So can you tell us how do tourists in quintana   roo react when there's sargassum on the beach ? I  guess. I can start first, if that's okay Courtney.   So obviously, i'm not sure if you all read the  article but in the article, obviously we were   working down there, and we said that during the  specific season of 2019 people were canceling the   reservations, if they weren't in the region  yet. If they hadn't traveled to mexico yet,   they were canceling their reservations. Posting,  sharing photos on social media about the seaweed,   that's Sargassum. like telling people don't  go here, you're just going to like encounter  

bad smells and a beach full of seaweed right  now. Those that were already in mexico and   they were already in the region and they found  themselves with a beach full of seaweed sargassum,   they were deciding to spend less time  at the beach. So from the article,   if you read it again, we found that 59% of local  residents were spending less time at the beach   and 47% of tourists were spending less time at the  beach because of the seaweed problem. So then we   saw, well they're not spending time at the beach,  where are they gonna go since they're already   there. Like what else are they doing ? That's when  we asked the question where are you guys going   instead of the beach? where are you spending your  time instead of the beach and obviously cenotes   was the number one option for both locals and  tourists.I have some of the statistics here,   56% of tourists were choosing to go to cenotes  instead of the beach because of the sea weed.  

Interesting and and can I ask you for  for our listeners that maybe don't know   uh what cenotes are. can you explain to us  what cenotes are and how they're formed and   why are they so attractive for for tourists? of  course! Courtney knows a little more about it.   Sure, the entire yucatan peninsula is built on  what's called karst geology, so it's carbonate   limestone and carbonate is affected by carbonic  acid which forms when rainwater interacts with   co2 in the atmosphere. It forms carbonic acid,  it can dissolve the limestone and it creates all   these really cool features like cave systems which  are found throughout the entire yucatan peninsula.   A collapse of a cave system it will open up  the ceiling and create these open holes which   create these tourist cenotes. The water that is  found inside these cenotes, that look like giant  

swimming pools, is really the groundwater that  people are swimming in. So it is the same water   system that people are pulling their drinking  water out of that is being pumped and well filled   and sent to you know the major cities in the  yucatan peninsula. But because they do provide   these freshwater resources, they are used not  just for domestic uses but for tourism. Cenotes   are kind of unique to this region. You do find  them anywhere there's carbonate limestone,   but there's a huge collection of cenotes in this  region, partially just because of the geology,   and partially because of this massive impact  crater from, um oh shoot maybe you guys can   help me with the name of the meteor that hit the  yucatan, and is sort of tied to the extinction of   the dinosaurs, all those millions of years ago. If  you map out the cenotes in the yucatan you can see   that it forms this ring and that's because it  caused such friction and fractures and the karst   rock, the geology there, that over time that is  preferentially kind of where erosion happened and   why we have all of these cool cenotes in the area.  Cenotes have now become a pretty massive part of  

the tourism industry. Wow, I didn't know that but  I remember from diving in the cenote, and correct   me if i'm wrong, that you also have a layer of  salt water below them, coming from the ocean. It's   a very strong line in between the fresh water and  the salt water. Exactly so the closer you are to   the coast, the more sort of salt water intrusion  you get. so that you'll have a lens of salt water   sitting underneath the lens of fresh water. As  you move inward that goes deeper and deeper and so  

depending on where you're swimming you  can hit that sort of saltwater incline. The research project that Emely was referring  to in the paper, we conducted in 2019 with this   fabulous group of undergraduate research students  that we recruited from around the united states,   to go down and do research on the impact of  tourism on water quality specifically. So this   sort of tourism cenote connection was a really  obvious choice for us to study, and we did surveys   and interviews and we're looking at policies as  well as trying to understand the impact of tourism   on water quality. and it was very interesting how  this project came to be, because we were thinking   about what are we gonna do because we had to come  up with the research project. I didn’t know what   I'm gonna do but once we got there, we saw how bad  this problem. We kind of turn our heads towards   the seaweed problem, because once you're there,  once you're by the beach, you just notice it so   quickly: The smell, you can see it in the water.  So it kind of just like came out of nowhere,  

because we saw it and then we kind of  started digging more and more into it.   What we're interested in, at this point, that  some of these the cenotes are being more heavily   impacted than they ever have been before, as  a result of sargassum and all this increased   anthropogenic interaction with the cenotes. That  was kind of things that we're learning from this.   So anytime people go into an environment,  there are obviously anthropogenic impacts,   but some of the concerns that we  have about cenotes specifically,   have to do with the fact that when people are  swimming in cenotes they are literally swimming   in people's groundwater, which then becomes  their drinking water supply and so forth.  

We have colleagues who are water geochemists,  who have done water testing in the cenotes in   the region and have been able to identify  all sorts of anthropogenic identifiers:   presence of sunscreen compounds, antibiotics,  illegal and legal drugs, fertilizer runoff,   all of that has been identified in these cenotes  at different quantities in different locations.   How do they get ther? Well things like antibiotics  and drugs, it's often people urinating in cenotes.   While they're swimming, sunscreen is run off  from people's body. Most cenotes do in fact   request that the clients don't wear sunscreen or  shower off before they get into it. Of course if  

they're showering that water is just going into  the groundwater right, so it's all the same   system. But we also observed during our research  period tourists talking about how they just put   sunscreen on the bus so that the tour operators  would not notice that they were wearing sunscreen.   So the point being that these chemicals make their  way into the cenotes, and they change the ecology   of the cenotes. So there's concerns about  contamination from a human perspective, if the  

people are consuming the groundwater for drinking  water or using it for bathing and so forth.   But there's also implications for the ecology,  these were previously fairly pristine ecosystems   and anytime you introduce a change in terms of  nutrient composition or presence of chemicals,   it has the potential to change these ecosystems  really long term. The sunscreen in particular,   is an issue not just in ocean ecosystems where  we're concerned about degradation of the coral   reef systems. The whole point of sunscreen is  to block the light, so all of those particles  

when they get into the water block the light. If  you're looking at an open cenote ecosystem where   there's a certain amount of light that comes in  and feeds algae or plant life or other aquatic   biota and now you've got something that  blocks the light in there, it changes   what can live and what can grow and you will  often get the presence of more harmful things. Let me follow up a little bit on that. Sound like  you have a problem with emerging contaminants   to me. Which is, I think, we run into just  about everywhere these days. I know you're   focused on cenotes but they're you know  certainly septic systems in the area or   have you been testing any wells in the area to  see what you're finding in wells closse by or   you're just just looking at cenotes ? We have not,  but our colleagues, who are part of this broader   research experience for undergraduate program  that Emely started out as an undergraduate student   with me on, and is now a master's student. It's  funded through the national science foundation.   We have some colleagues and their research  assistants that have been testing well water   and they certainly have found some of these  chemicals in the drinking water systems as well.  

And there's a paper out that talks about that  if you're interested. We can send you the link,   please do! Yes, I have seen a documentary that  shows how not treating the domestic wastewater   well having chess pits here is also impacting the  groundwater. The same groundwater that the cenotes   are connected to, and seeing videos of what  those underwater rivers look like below playa   del carmen and tulum, it is disgusting full of  plastic, brown color. yeah it's it's really bad. We have some colleagues this  year, that are starting to look at   microplastics in the groundwater and then  separately looking at the leachate from the   sargassum landfills for lack of a better word.  So you know along the beach they now have these   systems for collecting the sargassum. Sometimes  they have booms out in the ocean, sometimes they   just scoop it up off the beach, but when they  take it somewhere often times that is not a   formal landfill, it's just a field that they have  designated to be a landfill. As that decomposes  

there's all this leachate coming off. a lot of it  is biomatter but as i'm sure you know Sargassum   is particularly good at accumulation other  types of toxic chemicals and so there's some   concerns too. How that might impact groundwater  systems? I've heard that some places where they   have those landfills, that they have a liner  below so that there can't be any or less leakage   but I'm sure some of them don't have that, so if  any of our listeners are in charge of one of these   dumping grounds of sargassum on land, make  sure you put a liner below it because it   really makes a difference for safeguarding your  soils and your groundwater and all that stuff.   It's really important and hopefully at least in  quintana roo there's more and more companies who   are using sargassum to make products, so hopefully  at one point in the future we won't actually have   a lot of it going into those landfill or dump  sites and actually will be used as a resource. so we already talked a bit about why it's  important to protect the water quality   of the cenotes. Do you think it's that it  has a really big impact on the groundwater   if more people go to the cenote or  is it is it probably a bit minor?   I can talk a little bit about this one,  so since this podcast is about sargassum   um I feel like there is indirect impacts from  sargassum to the cenotes. Obviously they're not  

like directly linked but they're indirectly linked  if that makes sense, Sargassum was pushing people   towards the cenotes, and now more people are  swimming in the cenotes. So now the question is:   are there any environmental regulations or  any policy that can mitigate those changes   that are coming because they are already  happening so how can it be mitigated? let's see, so in the paper we studied  the three different states, Yucatan,   Quintana roo and Campeche, and we compared  the regulations that are already in place.   We found that there is little to no regulations at  all. Indeed, Yucatan was the one that had the most   regulations, but they weren't as rigorous as they  should be. But courtney can talk more about that,   because I know she analyzed it a little more  than me. First just to the question of whether   having tourists in cenotes impacts groundwater  quality, ground water flow not totally lateral,   like it's going to stay concentrated a little bit.  So part of it is the question of whether people  

living in and around the cenotes. wether they're  drawing drinking water and so forth are going to   be impacted by tourism, maybe is the data that  our colleagues are finding. But I think bigger   picture there's also this issue this is a really  fragile groundwater dependent ecosystem. If we're   interested in environmental conservation, then we  need to think about these issues of regulation and   tourist carrying capacities and so forth. These  regulations are lacking at this point in time.   The regulations do vary by state and municipality,  but very few put tourist carrying capacities from   an ecological standpoint. So I was interested  in your story, where you said that you went,  

I think I know which cenote you went to, and tried  to enter and it was full. I assume that actually   has more to do with staffing issues than just sort  of management of the cenote, and less to do with   ecological concerns, would be my guess. If it is  ecological concerns, then it was the initiative of   the owner. It probably wasn't ecological concerns,  but because we have the COVID-19 crisis still and   we are in the orange phase, so most tourist places  are only allowed 30 or 50 capacity loads that they   can have. So each place, whether it's a shop  or cenote, has a certain amount of people that  

can go there, because of COVID-19, so maybe that  is actually helping the cenotes and giving some   regulations on there that aren't due to protecting  the environment but will still help to do so. One of the things, we're waiting for our colleague  to analyze this data, but when everything sort   of shut down at the start of the pandemic,  our colleague started going out to the field   once a month and collecting water from all  the different cenotes that are on their   list and some of the well fields. We have  data points every month since the start   of the pandemic to kind of see what happened  with groundwater contamination falling. We're  

excited we're waiting for all those results and  I'm excited to see kind of how that pans out.   So I want to ask a question related to that,  because we've been talking about the indirect   effects of sargassum, so the tourist going more  to the cenotes and the people contaminating the   the cenotes themselves. but also we have  the direct impact of sargassum through this   groundwater leakage of these brown waters and  the contamination from the landfills and so,   which one is most important, because of course  if we start restrictin people from going to the   cenotes or like now with COVID-19 have a limited  number, that's of course gonna do us a favor.   But is this the relevant part or should we be  actually tackling the sargassum part, because   that's the one that is worse than the humans  being there or are they equal ? I don't know   the answer to that question, to be honest,  but my educated guess is that it depends   on the geography of a cenote so if you're very  close to one of these areas where you're getting   significant groundwater contamination  say from leakage from a landfill site,   then that might be a significant contributing  factor, but that if you're further inland, my best   guesses the tourism , people directly swimming in  the cenote, that is being that part of the tourism   industry is contributing to it more directly.  So I don't know that answer. It is to say,   we shouldn't say not to have tours of cenotes.  It's a really important part of the local economy,   but it is a thing that needs to be considered  thoughtfully. Thoughtfully means that we have  

specific management strategies in place. Right  now it is more of a free-for-all. Things like   stablishing ecologically based carrying capacities  where we know if we have x number of tourists   in, that it can sort of bounce back. you know  it's like diluting the pollution that goes into   the groundwater. Just better, I don't want to say  education, but better enforcement of concern of   you know sunscreen application, that sort of stuff  going into the cenotes would be helpful. Yeah,  

I like that you make that differenc,e like you  were gonna say education and then you were like   no enforcement actually. I'm very hesitant  to say that environmental education will   solve any of our present problems. People need to  understand a problem, but I think that this past   year and a half has taught us globally that  people don't always make informed decisions. Exactly, I fully agree with you and so my question  is now moving towards the more positive side of   things, so which solutions do you think we should  implement besides the management. Are there any  

other ideas out there on how to solve this issue?  Do you have anything that you'd like to share?   I guess you can go first. I hate to harp  on this idea of regulation and management,   but this is the way that we have seen with  many environmental problems globally successful   intervention. When there's a problem right,  as soon as you choose to measure and regulate,   it's showing your priority towards maintaining  an environmental resource. You know in the united   states when we put certain legal protections  around things ,then you have recourse for action,   when that is not followed. Having some sort  of legal frameworks that's the priority and   the goal of maintaining the ecological  integrity of these pilots and so again  tourism is vital to this region, so the answer is  not no tourists in cenotes. it's how do we do this   in a way that chooses to maintain some level of  ecological integrity while still allows people to   enjoy the cenotes and right now that just really  hasn't been happening. The other concern that I  

would say has to do with sort of just regional  management strategies, is that a lot of these   cenotes are being developed  in a way that is causing   not a land rush, but people are buying up land  to access cenotes because you can't purchase   water, but you can purchase the land that the  water is on. So it's it it is causing some   tensions in the region around indigenous land  holdership and sort of who gets access to land.   Cenote owners are deeply protective of their  properties and knowledge about how many tourists   are coming in their business operations.  Understandably, like it's a competitive   economic environment, but that does make it  challenging to make good regulatory decisions   without the the municipality or the  state saying this is a priority for us.   I'm gonna get a little bit sidetracked here,  but I just want to mention that the first time   I went to mexico the owner of the airbnb where I  was staying was a cenote hunter and his task was   actually to send some locals out in the jungle  to find cenotes that hadn't been found before   and then buy that land for a very cheap price to  then sell it to foreign people so that they would   own a piece of pristine water and this is exactly  what you're talking about right now. Like this is  

actually happening and this is terrifying  to be honest. yeah and you know I think that   much like you see in all areas of the world,  this creates this intense tension between the   tourist economy and local indigenous rights and  local indigenous economies. Unplanned development   often leads to exacerbation of social inequalities  and so there needs to be more thoughtful planning. very nice. I was very pleased to read in your  bio that you're both interested in minority STEM   education and women being in STEM education. I'm  working with every seafaring linguistic group from  

the western caribbean from campeche  to puerto limon in costa rica.   We've been developing methods to seamlessly  combine indigenous ecological knowledge systems   with western science to create this next level  biocultural STEM curriculum in local languages,   to be used in these schools. So I'm really  pleased about that, but what i'd like to hear for   our audience but for this question,  your answer specifically to me as well.   What are your recommendations for getting more  women and minorities into universities and into   the science field ? because that's one of the  goals that we hope will be a spin off of what   we're doing. I think these indigenous peoples  being the resource managers is an awesome idea.  

Do you have any suggestions for me personally and  for our audience about how to encourage that kind   of stuff? I'm going to let Emely go first, because  I could talk about this for like four hours. Actually when I saw the question  on the document, i was like,   wait this is one of the hardest questions  out of the whole document. Just because   when I think about that, I always think of my  story, you know as a woman of color in STEM   and just how I became interested in STEM growing  up. I was always interested in like the sciences   and like math. Itjust got my attention so much it,  I don't know it just came naturally to me right.   When i went to college, I knew I wanted to  do either science or math just because I've   always been attracted to it and then being  in college, I found out that minorities   aren't represented as much in STEM, so i think  that was, I know it sounds weird to say it, but   it was more like a push to go even further if that  makes sense, knowing that there aren't that many   minorities in STEM. When I did the REU program,  the research experience for undergraduates,   I feel like it opened up a whole new door for me.  It opened up research experience, it opened up  

conference, I went to conferences, like a research  conference, you know it opened up contacts,   networking and then graduate school. Graduate  school had always been in the back of my mind   but I never thought I was going to go just because  I never knew much about it. But when I did this   program, it like opened my eyes to how accessible  graduate school can be, especially being low   income and being a first gen, like there's a  lot of people who will help you out. I was lucky   enough to work with Courtney in the summer of  2019 and I really really enjoyed working with her   and Ientioned to her that this would actually  be like really cool to follow and research,   like jokingly right joking.Ii was like this  would be really cool work to do as like a   master thesis or something and then she said  if you come here , we can keep working like   down in mexico and this could be your thesis.  Then I said: wait what? so then the mentors   informed me how graduate school is accessible,  because they can pay for your studies and they   can also give you like assistantships and all of  that. So definitely, programs like the one I did  

were super helpful for me, and I can speak also  for my colleagues who I was doing the program   with, there were six of us and three of us are now  in graduate school and then all of all six of us   were not thinking of graduate school. We didn't  think it was an option, but now 50% of us are   now in graduate school. I think programs like that  really changed my life and as well as the mentors   who I was lucky enough to know and work with  my mentor. I have experience with her, so I   know that I could work with her in a master's. So  definitely people that do not understand you but   want to see you succeed and they want to be there  to help you to like lift you. You know this is   a hard question as well, because as minorities  women of color, the system is kind of against you.  

Specifically fields like geography, it's very  white male dominated so it can be really hard,   it can be really easy to get lost and just feel  like you don't belong there. But just know that   you do belong there that you're there for a reason  and there are people that will help you and lift   you up, whenever you need to like Courtney. I'm  really grateful that she's my mentor. But, yes,   I can talk about this all day. Well, I think Emily  is one of these success stories in my mind because   the mentor mentee relationship is one of the  things that we know from research it gets   women and minorities into STEM and keeps women  and minorities in STEM. But as Emely alluded to   one of the really big challenges is this feeling  of not belonging, and this feeling that you as   an individual need to just sort of power through  and prove something. Some former colleagues and I   did a research study looking at these push pull  factors and what factors are getting students into   undergraduate STEM fields. What we found was  that a lot of people were conceptualizing this  

as individual problem and so they were being  told: you know there's STEM Barbie, like you   know scientists barbie dolls, and there's like all  these STEM camps for girls. it's giving people the   idea that if they just emulate this behavior and  they do this thing and they work really really   hard and power through it they'll be successful  in stuff, and that's true to a certain degree   until they hit these institutional roadblocks.  So this ultimately is a structural problem where   we need better training for people who are in  STEM already and better formalized opportunities   for women and minorities to be successful in  STEM. So I think that the research experience  

for undergraduates program through the  national science foundation that Emely   was part of is a really good example of these  more formalized programs, where students are given   a paid opportunity to spend the summer working  with research mentors and to really be exposed   to it. Tje first time i mentioned graduate school,  Emely, she said I could never do gradudate school,   people like me don't do graduate school. You know,  this is the thing, I hear a lot from students   and and it's easy to see why students feel that  way, if they don't see themselves represented   in STEM. So this is a problem that goes all the  way from the bottom to the top of the field,  

at academic universities, at private industry  and changing it will require more than just   willpower on the part of women and people of  color. It requires creating structural changes,   that create welcoming environments and create  opportunities for advancement that are fair. One of the challenges that we, or one  of the things that we identified in this   project that we did before, that we  called feminism for women and stem,   was that when girls, when women were going off  to college and saying I want to be an engineer, I   want to be a biologist or whatever and then doing  everything that they felt was right, and still   hitting these barriers, that were sometimes quite  unfair and based on their gender, they felt like   they personally had failed. So you can't just  muscle your way through it, if your professor,   for example, is treating you differently than  your male colleagues or if the the review process   is biased against you. So yeah we need change  from the top to the bottom and the bottom to the  

to the top, but the mentorship I think does play a  really key role in providing not just mentorship,   but really hands-on opportunities to engage  women and young girls and some at young ages,   that they can say this is a thing that girls  do, or this is a thing that people of color do,   and can do quite well so yeah definitely I  fully feel you. As a young scientist still,   with a small kid, I can tell you that the  invisible ceiling, the glass ceiling, is   reached before you think about it, and then you  realize: hey but they promised me that things   were changing and then we're not really changing  as fast as they should. I fully agree that having   role models in science that they can look up to  and say okay we can also do it because there are   people already up there doing it, that would  definitely have helped things. I don't know if  

you've heard the analogy of the leaky pipeline  that gets used a lot in STEM but it's the idea   that we often get a lot of young girls that are  interested in STEM fields and as you go through   you sort of leak them out of the pipeline and so  you lose a certain percentage going off to college   and another percentage after the bachelors,  by the time you get to the phd there's like   very few women graduating and same for people of  color. Then you see that same process at least at   academic institutions between incoming assistant  professorship and full professorship and that is   certainly not because women or people of color are  less good at science, it has to do with all these   institutional barriers that they encounter,  that glass ceiling that you run up against.   Exactly! Thank you both of you for this really  amazing interview, I learned a lot I guess our   listeners also learned a lot. I hope that in the  future when we continue doing research in mexico   and these areas we see an improvement thanks to  your work that there are more regulations put in   place and that cenotes are protected, and they  keep on being the treasure they are. Good luck  

with all your all your projects, and Emely go for  it! you can do it! i'm to assistant professor.   Thank you so much, thank you so much for having us  today this is really wonderful to be part of this.   Thank you so much for being here. Bye  guys, thank you so much. Thank you,   bye. That was a pretty good interview  today. Those are some really nice people,  

we got representatives from guatemala and  here in the states and I just thoroughly   enjoyed myself as always. But so Franziska  what was your take home message today? My big take-home message, which made me really  happy is that they said that they are working   on a study that looks at the impacts of when  the tourism and also locals going to cenotes   was very low or non-existing due to  COVID-19 and then as people are coming back   with regulations being lifted what is happening  to the cenotes. Because together with other   colleagues I'm working on a study, not personally,  but other colleagues are doing the field work,   to do this for coral reefs and COVID- 19. It  is really an experiment that we have around the  

world, where we can really find out the carrying  capacity of tourism and the impacts of tourism   and i'm really happy that they're using this  opportunity as well. It will hopefully help them   get those policies in place that they want to put  in place. The other thing, I was thinking during   the interview, we talked about the sargassum  being stored in places, in those landfills,   maybe there should be regulations on how far  away those can be from cenotes. Those landfills   shouldn't be really close to cenotes or in places  where the groundwater flows towards the cenote   because as they said, in the cenote itself it's  a really really cool ecosystem, I always bring my   mask and snorkel because there's all these algae  and plants and fish and everything in there. One   of them apparently even has an alligator in  it. I didn't see it but apparently it's there.   So yeah you want to protect those  species as well and the ecosystem,   to have the beauty of the cenote that the  tourists go for and the locals as well.

yeah I thought it was actually super interesting  how this COVID-19 pandemic will actually enable   them to answer that question that they couldn't  answer today, which is what is worse the the   tourists or the sargassum because during COVID-19  you still had sargassum but you had almost no   tourists so they would actually be able to see  that difference. I fully agree with you that   putting in place stricter regulations  not only for the tourism which i guess   it's relatively easy to do, you know to put  some quotas to access the cenotes and so on.   But to then claim okay the sargassum is really  so bad when it leaks to the ground water,   that we really need to solve that part as well and  then we put pressure also on this landfill issue   to either remove them or make them safe or you  know just do don't bring the sargassum to the   landfill. It's bad for the climate, it's bad for  the ground water, is bad for everything so it's   just another point of view that we hadn't touched  until now and I thought it was very interesting. Well, the thing about that leaking, you know  we're mostly talking about the yucatan today   but you know all this water in the yucatan sits  on that lens. It's a lens of fresh water on top  

of salt water and it's the same on islands.  So this research is going to have a lot of   applications for the island nations of the  caribbean that have been affected by this   parking of Sargassum and stuff percolating through  so that's it's really important stuff they're   doing. well it was it was very nice to see that  a young woman that thought that she could never   ever do research, has found a cool mentor and  it's actually doing really cool work so that was   very inspiring to me. Yes, that was inspiring  for me too and I have sent so many letters for   my past students who want to apply to those  RUI projects and to internships and they need   letters of recommendation. So hearing that these  programs really can change somebody's course and  

that 50% of the students in the project  actually went to graduate school afterwards,   makes me really motivated to write those letters.  To take the time to do that and help them out.   Actually yeah this has been a really good day  and on so many levels, both academically and   and it's been good for my heart as well make  me feel real good. It's always good to be   inspired by young people but that being  said we're going to call it a day here.   You could have been anywhere on the planet with  us today, but you chose to be here with us,   we really appreciate it. This particular episode  is being brought to you by seafields and they're  

doing some really good work out there and i hope  you'll check them out and see what's going on   and with that have you a good time  and we'll see you here next week. See you next week. bye everyone. thank you for tuning in today and learning with  us from our guest. if you want more information   about what our guests talked about today,  then please check our show notes for links   and information in our archives, and don't forget  to like and share our podcast with your friends.   if you enjoyed our podcast, please consider  supporting us financially by becoming a patron   for as little as one dollar per month. You  can support us and get exclusive benefit of   submitting questions for our interviewees before  the interview. The sargassum podcast is produced  

by marine conservation without borders and is made  possible with financial support from seafields and   the kimberley green latin american and caribbean  center u.s department of education title V grant.   It is produced by Marcel van de Kamp, Lauren  Blankenship, Clio Maridakis, Franziska Elmer,   and Eloise Lopez and hosted by Robby Thigpen,  Franziska Elmer, Mar Fernandez, Florence Menez,   Cio Maridakis and Paula Diaz. We will be back  next week with another exciting guest. The music   of this podcast is from the song demma pray by  drizzle the road ranna an artist from roatan.  

follow him on spotify or youtube for more  music but for now here is the full song demma   prey.

2021-11-05 15:37

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