There is a great diversity of native trees along the new train tracks, as well as marshes and streams, and at a glance one can appreciate the different species of birds and reptiles who enjoy the region’s tropical climate.
However, the inhabitants of the communities near the railroad tracks are concerned because it will pass through one of the six high-importance conservation areas in the state of Oaxaca, the Zoque Jungle belt. This jungle covers an area of more than one million hectares, including the communities of Chimalapas in Oaxaca, El Ocote in Chiapas, and Uxpanapa in Veracruz.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Zoque jungle “is the second largest area of protected jungle and forest in Mesoamerica, after the Maya Jungle,” and “contains high rates of biological diversity and an important number of endemic species as a result of factors such as terrain, climate, soil type, geology, evolutionary aspects, and exceptional microclimate conditions.”
Unfortunately, the railroad will also affect the biological diversity of the region, and the situation will not be solved “with paths (that have yet to be built) for the crossing of fauna, since these, along with altering the animals’ routes, could create confrontations between species,” states The Isthmus of Tehuantepec at Risk.
The report states that “a high-velocity train causes several impacts that alter the environmental dynamic. The vibration and noise cause changes in the routes and behavior of species, who react by moving away from the site or being attracted to it. When the latter occurs, they run the risk of being run over by the train.”
For the biologist Mora, one of the main risks of the reconfiguration of the Isthmus as a whole is that it will exacerbate climate change in the area and this will lead to the displacement of species, which will change the environment, as this jungle is a unique reservoir containing a great concentration of diverse life. In the Chimalapas Jungle, on just one hectare of virgin land up to 900 plant species and 200 animal species have been identified, adds Mora.
Researcher Silvia Salas Morales, from the Society for the Study of Biotic Resources in Oaxaca, has recorded seven species of cycads (plants) in the Chimalapas, species that diversified in the Jurassic period (210 to 140 million years ago). These species have only been found in South Africa, Australia, and Mexico.
Upon modifying the ecosystems, “a process of desertification will begin, which will make the Zoque jungle, and especially the Chimalapas, vulnerable. The marine areas where ships with thousands of containers will arrive and cross daily will also be affected. These scenarios will worsen the impacts of climate change,” warns Mora.
Mora adds that, in the past, “much damage was already recorded with the breakwaters and dredging in the ports of Salina Cruz and Coatzacoalcos. This greatly impacted the coastal flora and fauna for some time. The damage will be unimaginably high and this isn’t taken into consideration in the environmental impact studies.”
Ceceña warns the risk to the environment is on a grand scale, “because what is left of the jungle in Mexico is very minimal.” The portion of Mexican territory made up by jungle has been decreased from 9.2% to 4.7% (91,566 km²), according to the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity.
Of the 594,000 hectares that make up the Chimalapas, 78.3% is well preserved, with 48% covered by high evergreen jungle, followed by 14.4% of medium sub-evergreen jungle, and 13.5% of mountain mesophilic forest. “The Isthmus has a small, very important patch of jungle. Especially at this time when the planet is in a very critical situation in terms of the sixth extinction and the accelerating increase in temperature,” adds Ceceña.
The Federal Superior Auditing Office has documented that the environmental impact assessments for the modernization of the train “did not include specific indicators for each subject by state or municipality, nor quantitative and qualitative data on sustainable environmental management: treatment of wastewater, loss of tree-covered areas, volume of solid waste generated, proper disposal of solid waste, ‘clean industry’ certificates issued, reforestation, socially responsible companies, agricultural productivity based on water use, intensity of water use, air pollution, and environmental risk.”
Juan Carlos Sánchez Antonio, a teacher from San Pedro Comitancillo, notes that “the environmental imbalance has already been felt with the installation of the wind farms,” for which the necessary consultations were not carried out. “Although we don’t perceive it directly, it has generated changes in the reproduction chains of living beings. It is raining less, it is getting hotter, the rains are unpredictable. What is coming in the next 30 years is a regional environmental collapse.”
A study led by Robert Vautard, a specialist in climate simulations at the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences (LSCE), states that “near wind farms there is a significant increase in temperatures, especially at night. This is one of the impacts on the Isthmus, where there are currently more than 5,000 wind turbines.
Sánchez, who is also Zapoteco, asserts that in 20 years, “even if we have the most modern trains and highways, it will be at the cost of irreversible ecological disaster” and predicts that “if we don’t pay attention to addressing the effects of neoliberal policies, we will find ourselves in a world that has collapsed in environmental terms and this will unleash a global crisis regarding food, water…a dismantling of Mother Earth.”