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Cañón del Sumidero National Park
Location Chiapas, Mexico
Nearest city Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas
Area 21,789 hectares (53,840 acres)
Established December 8, 1980
Governing body Comisión Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas and Secretaría de Educación Pública
Official name: Parque Nacional Cañón del Sumidero
Designated: February 2, 2004
Sumidero Canyon (Spanish: Cañón del Sumidero) is a narrow and deep canyon surrounded by a national park located just north of the city of Chiapa de Corzo in the Mexican state of Chiapas. The canyon’s creation began around the same time as the Grand Canyon in the U.S. state of Arizona, by a crack in the area’s crust and erosion by the Grijalva River, which still runs through it. The canyon has vertical walls which reach as high as 1000 meters, with the river turning up to ninety degrees during the thirteen kilometers that the narrow passage runs. At the north end of the canyon is the Chicoasén Dam, one of several on the Grijalva River and important for water storage and the generation of hydroelectricity. Surrounding the canyon is the Sumidero Canyon National Park, which extends for 21,789 hectares over four municipalities of the state of Chiapas. This park is administered by the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (Conanp). Most of the vegetation of this park is low to medium height deciduous rainforest, with small areas of pine/oak trees and grassland.
The canyon/park is the second most important tourist site in Chiapas, drawing mostly Mexican visitors who see the canyon by boats which leave from Chiapa de Corzo. The park borders Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the state’s largest city, which has caused problems with human encroachment and settlement on park land. More importantly, the urban areas and logging areas upstream from the canyon have caused serious pollution problems, with up to 5000 tons of solid waste extracted from the Grijalva River each year. This waste tend to build up in the canyon because of its narrowness, the convergence of water flows and the presence of the Chicoasén Dam.
Via the Grijalva River, the wastewater of about 552,000 people in seventeen municipalities finds its way through the canyon according to park director Edda González del Castilla, with most coming from Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapa de Corzo, Berriozábal and Chicoasén . Much of the sewerage comes into the Grijalva via the Sabinal River, which carries most of the waste water of the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez. In addition, trash and raw sewerage makes its way into the river from the various tributary streams. Agricultural waste comes from the farms that line the river and its tributaries.
The most obvious pollution is garbage, especially plastic containers, which mostly comes from area homes and businesses tossed onto the ground or in streams, especially from Chiapa de Corzo and Tuxtla Gutiérrez due to the lack of environmental awareness according to Conanp. The quantity of this trash reaches its height during the rainy season, when runoff and swollen streams can carry more of it into the Grijalva. While bottles and other plastic are what the casual visitor generally notices, other indicators include the overgrowth of water lilies (due to high levels of fecal matter) and dead animals. However, this accounts for only about five percent of the total tonnage of waste that comes into the river each year.Somewhere between 80 and 90% of the waste solids found in the river is branches, wood, rocks, sediment and other debris from legal and illegal logging, which cause deforestation . These mostly come into the river during the rainy season, especially from the Villa Flores and Villa Corzo municipalities. Only a small part of the solid waste is visible on the surface of the water, most is hidden underneath.
As the solids flow along the Grijalva, they are constricted by the narrow channel of the canyon and then by the presence of the Chicoasén Dam. This is particularly true at a point called “El Tapón” (The Plug), where two currents of water meet just before the reservoir back up of water from the Dam.
It is estimated that about 5000 tons of trash accumulate each year, and the river is considered to be one of the five most polluted in Mexico. 3700 tons of solids were extracted from the canyon area in 2010 alone. Many fish have died off or have developed abnormally due to contamination by fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals. This threatens the native American crocodiles as the agrochemicals kill off and poison the fish they need to eat. In May 2011, the Fédération Internationale de Natation decided cancel its annual swim marathon in the canyon as they claimed that pollution levels in the river posed a risk to swimmers’ health. The Comisión Nacional del Agua and the government of Chiapas disputed this, presenting their own test results stating that levels were below such levels.
There are year-round and seasonal efforts to clean the river within the canyon and the area just upstream from it. Much of the daily effort is undertaken by workers with the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (Conanp) and the Secretariat of Tourism in Chiapas, which extract twelve tons of garbage from the Grijalva river each day. Most of the season cleanup coincides with the rainy season, especially in September and October, when rains are heaviest. This seasonal effort has included local police, civil protections agencies, social organization, the army and individual volunteers. Efforts can involve up to 600 people at a time using 32 boats from four of the tourist cooperatives. During the annual campaign to clean the canyon in 2005 more than 60,000 tons of trash was removed. Generally, about forty tons of garbage is collected each day during these campaigns.
While the cleanup efforts have improved the situation in the canyon, the garbage reaccumulates especially during the rainy season. Part of the price that tourists pay for boat rides into the canyon pays for cleanup efforts, but the boat operators state that the canyon remains filled with trash. Conanp also states that cleanup efforts are insufficient. Mexico’s federal environmental agency, the Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (Semarnat) states that it cannot get involved in the situation as it is the municipalities that have the responsibility for disposing of trash appropriately. However, many of these local governments do not have landfills or the separation of recyclables.
El director del Parque Nacional Cañón del Sumidero, Adrián Méndez Barrera, dio a conocer que el Cañón del Sumidero se ve afectado directamente por los residuos que llegan al parque originados por 15 municipios, lo que genera una cantidad grande de basura de hasta 90 toneladas anuales.
Méndez Barrera, destacó que la contaminación del Cañón pone en riesgo el ecosistema, la biodiversidad del ecosistema y la economía ya que los prestadores de servicios turísticos también se ven afectados.
“Se calcula que si se cierra el cañón un sólo día, la pérdida es de alrededor de tres millones de pesos, diariamente esa sería la perdida; contabilizando los prestadores de servicios turísticos, sin tomar en cuenta a los restauranteros y hoteleros”.
De igual forma se refirió al problema de contaminación por aguas residuales, las cuales se tienen identificadas 15 mil descargas, mismo que destacó, es un problema severo.