Environmental Earth Sciences

, 77:644 | Cite as

A survey of groundwater quality in Tulum region, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

  • Renaud Saint-LoupEmail author
  • Théo Felix
  • Axaycatl Maqueda
  • Arnulf Schiller
  • Philippe Renard
Original Article


The city of Tulum, in the state of Quintana Roo (Mexico) depends almost exclusively on groundwater for water supply. The groundwater is exploited from a coastal aquifer which contains a karst network that is considered as one of the largest ones on earth. Given the nature of karst aquifers, the whole area is very sensitive to contaminants and bacteria transport, because flow paths, residence time and degradation rates differ significantly from what can be observed in the porous aquifer. The present study focuses on isotopes (18O and 2H), dissolved ions’ concentration and Escherichia coli (E. coli). The result of our survey points out the anthropic impact on groundwater quality. Furthermore, the chloride concentrations illustrate the influence of seawater mixing and geological heterogeneity over the study area. Due to an exponential growth of the tourism industry, the needs in terms of water supply and water treatment increase significantly. Tulum is a coastal city, facing a coral reef and is bordered by the Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve, therefore, an environmental issue is added to the sanitary issue, both being the basis of the local economic development. Our results show that E. coli remains a major issue, as several samples tested were contaminated, in particular those in the city center. Ions’ survey shows an anthropic impact through nitrate, phosphate and fluoride concentrations, but the obtained values are not alarming. Considering the saline intrusion, chloride concentrations indicate that the area below the Tulum city center seems to be less permeable (and maybe less karstified) than the surrounding areas, as groundwater is less subject to seawater mixing than other sampling sites at similar distance to the coast.


Karst Mexico Groundwater quality Contamination Seawater intrusion 



The authors of this paper want to acknowledge the Swiss National Science Foundation for its financial support (contract 200021L_141298), the NGO Amigos De Sian Ka’an for its support in the field, Office Cantonal des Bourses d’Etude, Vincent Gruber for his technical advices when preparing the field campaign and the ion analysis, and Gregory Käser for his assistance when preparing the field work. Renaud Saint Loup acknowledges in addition the Fond des Donations of the University of Neuchâtel who funded his travel and field expenses in Tulum.

Supplementary material

12665_2018_7747_MOESM1_ESM.docx (971 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 971 KB)


  1. Bauer-Gottwein P, Gondwe BRN, Charvet G et al (2011) Review: the Yucatán peninsula karst aquifer, Mexico. Hydrogeol J 19:507–524. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Beddows PA (2004) Groundwater hydrology of a coastal conduit carbonate aquifer. Caribbean Coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, MexicoGoogle Scholar
  3. Beddows PA, Smart PL, Whitaker FF, Smith SL (2007) Decoupled fresh–saline groundwater circulation of a coastal carbonate aquifer: spatial patterns of temperature and specific electrical conductivity. J Hydrol 346:18–32. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Dillon KS, Reide Corbett D, Chanton P et al (2000) Bimodal transport of a waste water plume injected into saline ground water of the Florida Keys. Groundwater 38(4):624–634CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Gondwe BRN, Hong S-H, Wdowinski S, Bauer-Gottwein P (2010a) Hydrologic dynamics of the ground-water-dependent Sian Ka’an Wetlands, Mexico, derived from InSAR and SAR data. Wetlands 30:1–13. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Gondwe BRN, Lerer S, Stisen S et al (2010b) Hydrogeology of the south-eastern Yucatan Peninsula: New insights from water level measurements, geochemistry, geophysics and remote sensing. J Hydrol 389:1–17. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gondwe BRN, Ottowitz D, Supper R et al (2012) Regional-scale airborne electromagnetic surveying of the Yucatan karst aquifer (Mexico): geological and hydrogeological interpretation. Hydrogeol J 20:1407–1425. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hausman H (2009) Responsible Development in Tulum. Considering Water Quality and Subaqueous Cave Locations. Citeseer, MexicoGoogle Scholar
  9. Hernández-Terrones L, Rebolledo-Vieyra M, Merino-Ibarra M et al (2011) Groundwater pollution in a karstic region (NE Yucatan): baseline nutrient content and flux to coastal ecosystems. Water Air Soil Pollut 218:517–528. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Leal-Bautista RM, Lenczewski M, Morgan C et al (2013) Assessing fecal contamination in groundwater from the Tulum Region, Quintana Roo, Mexico. J Environ Prot 04:1272–1279. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Lopez O (2016) Tulum, Mexico: how an eco-chic retreat became a den of corruption. NewsweekGoogle Scholar
  12. Metcalfe CD, Beddows PA, Bouchot GG et al (2011) Contaminants in the coastal karst aquifer system along the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Environ Pollut 159:991–997. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Millero F, Huang F, Zhu X et al (2001) Adsorption and desorption of phosphate on calcite and aragonite in seawater. Aquat Geochem 7:33–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Null KA, Knee KL, Crook ED et al (2014) Composition and fluxes of submarine groundwater along the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Cont Shelf Res 77:38–50. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Perry E, Paytan A, Pedersen B, Velazquez-Oliman G (2009) Groundwater geochemistry of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico: constraints on stratigraphy and hydrogeology. J Hydrol 367:27–40. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Rohling EJ, Fenton M, Jorissen FJ et al (1998) Magnitudes of sea-level lowstands of the past 500,000 years. Nature 394:162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Smart PL, Beddows PA, Coke J et al (2006) Cave development on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Quintana Roo, Mexico. In: Special Paper 404: Perspectives on Karst Geomorphology, Hydrology, and geochemistry—a tribute volume to Derek C. Ford and William B. White. Geological Society of America, pp 105–128Google Scholar
  18. Turner BD, Binning P, Stipp SLS (2005) Fluoride removal by calcite: evidence for fluorite precipitation and surface adsorption. Environ Sci Technol 39:9561–9568. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Vengosh A, Pankratov I (1998) Chloride/bromide and chloride/fluoride ratios of domestic sewage effluents and associated contaminated ground water. Groundwater 36(5):815–824CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Vuilleumier C, Borghi A, Renard P et al (2013) A method for the stochastic modeling of karstic systems accounting for geophysical data: an example of application in the region of Tulum, Yucatan Peninsula (Mexico). Hydrogeol J 21:529–544. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ward WC (2003) Introduction to pleistocene geology of NE Quintana Roo. In: Salt Water Intrusion & Coastal Aquifer Conference (SWICA). Field Trip to the Caribbean Coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. pp 13–22Google Scholar
  22. Ward WC, Keller G, Stinnesbeck W, Adatte T (1995) Yucatán subsurface stratigraphy: Implications and constraints for the Chicxulub impact. Geology 23:873.;2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. World Health Organisation (2003) Nitrate and nitrite in drinking water (background document for development of WHO Guidelines for Drinking water Quality). World Health rganisation. Report No. WHO/SDE/WSH/04.03/56, pp 16Google Scholar
  24. Worthington SRH, Ford DC, Beddows PA (2000) Porosity and permeabilty enhancement in unconfined carbonate aquifers as a result of solution. In: Speleogenesis: evolution of karst aquifers. National Speleological society of America Huntsville, Alabama, pp 220–223Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Hydrogeology and GeothermicsUniversité de NeuchâtelNeuchâtelSwitzerland
  2. 2.Geological Survey of AustriaViennaAustria

Personalised recommendations