The Dark Side of Tulum (Documentary)

An independent documentary exploring both the beauty and betrayal of Tulum, Mexico – and what can be done to change it.

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Businesses, organizations, and people seen or mentioned in the film:

Red Tulum Sostenible

Woolis Green Industries

Farm to Table Tulum

No Mas Plastik

Tulum Recycles


Radio Tulum

Oceanic Global

Habitas Tulum

Alejandro Duran

has quickly become one of the destinations in the world [Applause] Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula here in this tropical climate the elevation is low and the land is flat there are no surface rivers or streams however just below the ground lies a vast system of the world's largest underground river a combination of geological events led to the development of this unique ecosystem over 65 million years ago the Yucatan Peninsula was a giant reef covered by several feet of ocean during the last major ice age sea levels dropped and exposed the ancient reef the coral and it's dependent Maureen life would not survive jungle eventually grew over the limestone platform that was left behind after centuries of erosion a massive cave system was born slightly acidic rainfall dissolved the alkaline limestone and made its way through the ground carving a vast network of caverns and tunnels inside the caves otherworldly formations can be found millions of stalactites stalagmites and columns decorate these mysterious places some the size of a pencil and others larger than trees growing at a rate of just a few centimeters per year as the ice age came to an end glaciers melted sea levels rose and the caves flooded the volume of water in these rivers is so great that it cannot exist above the surface it filters its way through the soft porous limestone and settles underground it is the only source of freshwater throughout the entire Yucatan Peninsula and like almost all rivers on earth it eventually flows to the sea history has been found here carbon dating of artifacts and skeletons preserved perfectly by the crystal-clear water reveal that humans have been visiting these caves for over thirteen thousand years many of these caverns eventually collapsed creating what we know today cenotes the subterranean rivers and their natural sinkholes which serve as an entrance to this spectacular world the mayans referred to these sacred sinkholes as the notes which they believed was an entrance to the underworld were their gods and spirits reside the ancient Mayans were king astronomers measuring time and interpreting cycles of the stars many of their most important buildings were aligned to correspond with them the Mayans were philosophers mathematicians artists architects and warriors it was they who first understood the concept of zero and they who first cultivated cacao papaya and corn they developed complex and accurate calendars and perfect pyramids of immense size all while much of Western Europe remained in the dark ages the Mayans have always known that Tulum is special but it is magical in fact Tulum is the largest of just three coastal Mayan cities where high priests were once trained and for reasons unknown this great civilization left this sacred land some say it was warfare others believe that the Mayans may have exhausted the environment around we'll tulum meet a similar fate as it seems we may not have learned from our past we can all remember a time when we were pushed just beyond our comfort zone a time when we experience the thrill of something new something exhilarating a moments when the complete unknown when from scary to wonderful creating a sudden shift that forever divided our lives into the floor and after this is exactly what happens for many of us when first discovering Tulum it's as if a wave of clarity washes over you and you ask yourself why have I not been living here my entire life in recent years Tulum has become a diverse community of artists chefs musicians healers entrepreneurs and explorers thousands of people from all over the world now call this place home and who could blame them Tulum truly provides everything that you could ever need here you will find clear turquoise water compliments of the Caribbean Sea the world's largest underground river for cave divers and thrill-seekers the second largest Barrier Reef system for marine lovers and coral experts throughout the area there are 92 known Mayan ruins and even more waiting to be unearthed and just south of the city the incredible seeing calm biosphere a protected unesco world heritage site extending for nearly 600,000 Hector's each year there are more than 300 days of clear skies for those who worship the Sun there are thousands of mammals birds and reptiles and endless jungle for the Wild Ones in tulum the food is fresh the music is alive and the atmosphere is captivating what more Cantera dice possibly have to offer every day you're seeing new areas of the jungle being torn down it's really devastating a lot of these projects kind of have like an eco eco name about them but when you really dig deep and you look at everything that's going on there's absolutely nothing ecological about them Heather Froemming has been living in this area since 1998 back then it was home to less than 4,000 people now just twenty years later there are nearly 40,000 people living here plus an astonishing 2 million tourists per year you're seeing things grow really fast and unfortunately there is no master plan there is no infrastructure in place to deal with that kind of growth the city itself is only designed to support roughly 10,000 people two looms population has grown far faster than development of urban facilities could keep up and despite claims of environmental support by most business owners – looms natural environment is that serious risk I think that there needs to be a lot more community involvement on the part of business owners who are coming here and really not giving back to the community into the environment and in fact destroying it for profit really that needs to stop especially if you're gonna be selling it as this natural paradise well you have to protect natural paradise you have to keep the mangroves you can't be filling them in to make another parking lot or to make more rooms the mangrove is so unbelievably important to the natural environment here and every single day more mangrove is getting filled in this is illegal and it needs to stop immediately the mangrove is our filtration system it's our septic system or natural way of cleaning the water and all the water that goes through the mangrove systems and out into the ocean is filtered and clean so that you have a nice clear Caribbean ocean so that you can have coral reefs without the mangroves you do not have those conditions so the entire reason that people come here for the beautiful you know turquoise water and the white sand beaches and the coral reefs is due to the mangroves and the saddest thing ever is to watch people coming here making money and making a lot of money off of the resources off of the beauty of this place and filling in the mangroves that's a tragedy it's it's ridiculous and that's something that has to stop now and it is no surprise that two looms reef is already feeling the effects sadly this coral has died it is very important to understand that all of Earth's ecosystems are connected if one is vulnerable the whole is compromised tulum needs all of its individual ecosystems to function properly in order for the collective to thrive and much like the human body one malfunctioning organ will disrupt the entire system as we know the reefs are in danger the reefs are are really disappearing there is no secret about that the reefs are under constant threat so we cannot just ignore that everything is connected and we are adding problems to the width we have problems in the reef because of the global warming acidity of the water acidity of the atmosphere and we are adding more so we shouldn't be surprised that everything is dying and everything is getting deteriorated we are being part of the problem and we need definitely to be part and to be responsible to lumes environment is especially delicate and complex due to the enormous underground river that flows beneath our feet think of this system as the veins of the earth and when they become damaged the entire area is affected unfortunately these freshwater veins are being heavily polluted from a multitude of there is a massive landfill right in the middle of the jungle just a few kilometers from town it has not been categorized or measured which is standard practice for waste management and hazardous pollutants are currently leaking into the supply of freshwater fecal matter is constantly being poured directly into the aquifer as a result of faulty sewage systems and irresponsible development throughout the urban area in Toulon like 20% it's sending their wastewater to the treatment plant so it means that is 80% the city that we don't know where the wastewater goes or well we do know it's going into the underground this video was taken in 2006 directly beneath the streets of Tulum and yes this is human fecal matter it's difficult to watch and even more difficult to imagine what it would look like today while many places do have individual on-site wastewater treatment facilities most are poorly maintained and often leak or worse the systems are inadequate intended for just 5 to 10 people while serving an establishment of over 100 I think it's it's it's amazing that we are in the 21st century and we know better the surface of the Moon than there are underground systems and we are in the largest and biggest underground rivers of the world and we need to tell the world it's comparable to the Amazon and to the average but because it's hidden underground is not so obvious and maybe we flush the toilet and it's coming straight into the underground water system so my advice to people that want to come and buy land and and do development it's like oh you cannot do development on the cost of the beauty of this place and for those who deny that to lumes environment is at risk let's take a look at Playa del Carmen a city just 60 kilometers north of Tulum also facing environmental devastation in 1998 Playa had roughly 20,000 inhabitants today the population is well over 200,000 and is expected to reach 2 million by year 2025 what once was a pristine coastline and jungle has been replaced by concrete I really think that we're not prepared for the amount of growth that's happening now and that's going to happen because if you compare it directly to what happened in Playa there's so many correlations and basically the situation is almost identical and this exponential growth does not have the infrastructure in place in order to take this into consideration to make the bad news worse beaches at popular travel destinations around the world have already started to close due to contamination and if we're not careful this can happen in Tulum in a place where the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio spends his holiday and Yogi's from around the world come for holistic retreats how have things become so bad well for one part real estate developers have not been very helpful heavily advocating for new projects and pushing sales another reason is serious corruption and negligence from the government and business owners some establishments have even been shut down by profepa Mexico's Environmental Protection Agency but somehow they remain open for business we have been experiencing not very convenient development and it has to do a lot with some corruption and some things that shouldn't be authorized and without arise in the past and even in the present but we just cannot put a finger and blame the authorities and blame the politicians because in corruption we have two sides we have the side that gets the money and we have the side that keeps the money as well so why punishing just one side just by putting your finger on one side we have two sides as well there are countries like Rwanda in Africa where law gives punishment to both sides and then corruption vanishes and there is certainly no shortage of money in tulum as the world's elite continued to arrive this is evident from the area's extremely high prices and also evident from the amount of money spent on just fuel alone a majority of the beach hotels for an entirely undies all generators they collectively spend over eight point five million dollars a year to power their so called ecological establishments consuming roughly nine million litres of fuel which is enough to drive around the earth nearly six thousand times as prices in the area have skyrocketed wages have not some people making as little as $4 per day when the classified is so obvious the poor community often has no choice but to pollute and sometimes they even resort to stealing crime is also on the rise and intensely this is a big problem that if you don't get a hold of it early on can get really out of control I think and so as a smaller community I think those are some of the things that we have to look at before we can keep growing – looms ecosystem has been perfectly engineered to create an environment unlike anything else on earth will we destroy the land that has already given us so much or will our community pull together and finally change things tulum is just a small representation of a much larger issue happening across the globe the collapse of our natural world it is time now to collectively move away from that narrative towards a more honest and sustainable society the sepal claims of environmental practice are happening everywhere and now more than ever we must be aware of the dangers of this false information for instance while plastic pollution is a major issue recycling is not the answer nor is bioplastic these are merely band-aids only 9% of all paths that can actually be recycled and as we've seen in tulum most of our plastic is not separated and sits in landfills no plant-based plastic will ever biodegrade in these conditions does that mean you shouldn't continue to recycle of course not any effort is better than no effort and tulum recycles is trying their best to create a cleaner community please do what you can to support them another example of falsification is that solar panels are the answer for clean energy sure power from the Sun is great in theory but what many people don't know is the high cost at which it comes it may seem like an appealing alternative yet solar panels often contain harmful materials such as lead and cadmium these rare earth metals which are highly toxic when mined and processed take a heavy environmental toll on soil and water and those who work and live near the mines tend to suffer so what happens to these panels after they no longer work well just as plastic they are not so easy to recycle and are considered hazardous when no longer in use and don't forget similar metals are found in our smartphones and computers so when it comes to environmental devastation we are truly all to blame now let's be clear the intentions of these alternative solutions are inspiring but why not direct that momentum towards something that is sustainable on all counts one technology that actually imitates Earth's natural geological process is creating clean sustainable renewable fuels from waste this means that no new carbon is being released into the atmosphere which is the leading cause of ocean acidification and global warming and the reason that fossil fuels have such a bad reputation this innovative process uses water heat and pressure just as the earth does to turn our waste into energy it has even received high validation from the US Environmental Protection Agency supplying clean renewable fuels from trash while using existing infrastructure means we can address two problems quickly waste and energy it is not just a compelling alternative to fossil fuels but one that goes against the current trend it makes plastic waste highly valuable technology such as this are promising and will soon be available but there are many things we can do right now to create change in tulum money must be used for development of necessary infrastructure such as connecting more urban areas to the wastewater treatment plant and creating better practices for waste management there are density laws and building regulations that must be followed this means you should not be building multiple units on a piece of land that is permitted for just one nature is our most valuable commodity so please don't risk the environment simply for a cheap condo and a so-called better return on investment thank you to those of you who are doing things right and for leading by example and to the ones who are doing things wrong we are tired of your mess please invest in proper infrastructure and stop taking shortcuts otherwise as the land of Tulum begins to crumble so will your profits remember the reason you make so much money is because of this businesses must without exception have adequate wastewater treatment facilities if you are not already aware sargasso's seaweed is not a result of ocean plastic it is caused from excess nutrients in the water more commonly known as fecal matter so by pumping your sewage into the ground you are directly contributing to the mass production of the same algae that is driving your clients away also please be aware of your energy consumption water conservation and waste management don't yield a lot of economic benefit but energy conservation does if you decrease your energy consumption your savings can then be used for protecting and restoring the damaged environment as we see here for the average hotel in tulum a shocking 60 percent of energy is consumed from just air-conditioning alone although you may be new to this place please be aware of your surroundings so if the Wi-Fi is out or the shower pressure is low or the a/c is broken understand that you are in the jungle and such luxuries should not be expected nor demanded please do not use sunscreen as it is killing our coral but if you must make certain that it is reef safe and verify every single ingredient to avoid false advertising please do not visit this place and then leave your waste behind bring a refillable water bottle stay at hotels that want more than just profit and eat at places where the food is locally sourced and most importantly ask questions as a paying customer you have a right to know what they do with your waste thank you to those of you who have been doing your part the locals are the heart of this place you know the ins and outs of Tulum you know who is doing things right and who is doing things wrong join red Tulum so Sandy Bay an organization that is already empowering the community and pushing for proper legal framework get involved support honest businesses and don't give your money to those who are not this will create pressure forcing them to finally do things differently the Mayans believed that obsidian was the reflective mirror of truth that it was the consciousness of duality between right and wrong between light and dark acknowledging that one cannot exist without the other and that's what the dark side of Tulum is a mirror for all of us to reflect upon and decide whether we want to remain part of the problem or be part of the solution it's your choice which one will you choose you you I took on this project for quite a few reasons but I think the main reason that I took it on is because I really do love to loom and it makes me really really heartbroken that it is being destroyed and then it's not being taken care of we just keep taking and taking and taking and we're not giving it the respect that it deserves tulum has given me so much to be thankful for and I want to give back to Tulum and the best way that I can and this project is that way for me I really had no idea what I was getting myself into there's been days where I've wanted to give up but there's also been days that I've been really inspired and really hopeful and I want to be able to look back and say to whom was amazing but look how amazing it is now you know I don't want to look back in 10 years and say wasn't it great when we used to go to Tulum I want to still be going there and at the rate that it's going now I don't know if that will be true but if we see the change that most of us are hoping for and if we keep pushing and we all keep playing our part we will see change and we're gonna look back and say you know we did it we did it you you you