Warrnambool man's eye-opening trip to Mexico and back for environmental crusade

AFTER spending two months working on a film about environmental damage in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, a Warrnambool man has returned to the south-west with renewed enthusiasm.

Django Van Tholen said the trip had demonstrated the degradation that could occur when environmental regulations broke down.

He said untreated waste water from the Yucatan’s Riviera Maya tourism district was pumped straight into the sea.

“You can smell it. It’s unbelievable,” Mr Van Tholen said.

Mr Van Tholen, a waste water consultant for Wannon Water, worked in the area with fellow Deakin University environmental science graduate Stacey Chillcott and film-maker Jesse Lee to gather footage for the film, which they hope will raise concern about the area’s degradation.

Their interest in the Yucatan’s future was sparked after Ms Chillcott worked in the region during a university internship.

The trio raised some of the money for the film through a campaign on the Pozible crowd-funding website but have contributed the bulk of the funds themselves.

Mr Van Tholen said the film, which has the working title of The Future of the Riviera Maya, was in post-production being edited.

He said further fund-raising was likely to be needed to get the film to the stage where it could be released later this year.

The trio hope it will be screened at film festivals and broadcast on television.

Mr Van Tholen said waste water from the Mexican tourist area, a popular “spring break” destination for American youth that includes the city of Cancun, was degrading the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest reef in the world.

The peninsula, composed primarily of limestone, also includes the world’s largest freshwater cave system, but pollution from waste water means the water is no longer safe to drink.

Apart from underwater footage showing both the area’s beauty and the degradation, the film also features interviews with people in Mexico concerned about the damage, including cave divers, representatives of government water authorities, lawyers and eco-tourism operators.

“The government knows there is a problem … but there is a breakdown of implementation of planning legislation,” Mr Van Tholen said.

There was grassroots activism against the pollution but many of the locals were more focused on the day-to-day struggle to live, he said.

Mr Van Tholen said most of the Riviera Maya’s problems could be solved but there was a lack of political will to do so.

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