This is a guest post by one of our community members. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of inMotion Kitesurfing.
With the increase in water pollution around the world it’s hard not to think about where you next want to kiteboard…
Everyday countless articles are posted about the Fukushima disaster, plastic killing marine life and the devastation of coral reefs which are easy to read, feel angry about and then to move on from. If you don’t play and/or work in the ocean it’s easy to forget, but for some of us it hits deep. What can we do? The problems are too big to solve, but yet our livelihoods are slowly being destroyed.
My own experience with water pollution might come as a surprise, but I guarantee I’m not the only person who has had to deal with these situations. All over the world it is happening daily and by the time you are finished reading this article you might think twice about your next kiteboarding holiday destination.
Let’s start back in 2009 when I moved to Nicaragua. I went to set up a kite school based out of San Juan Del Sur with the Surf Ranch boys. They had this big idea to set up an action sports resort where you could rock climb, skateboard, paintball, kitesurf & surf. I loved the concept right from the start and was excited to be part of the team. When I arrived in Nicaragua and met the boys I was shocked to find out the ranch was not built yet and there was nothing more than paint-balling set up!
I’m not sure what felt worse…. my foolishness for jumping on a plane so quick or the fact I was now stuck somewhere new and dangerous with no job, very little money and only survival in mind. I was stressed to say the least!
After some time and a lot of socializing I found a guy named David who owned a surf shop in town. He said he had some old kite gear in storage that he wasn’t using and I was welcome to work with him in the shop. Dave literally saved my ass because by this point I was completely out of money. Within about a month I had a couple of lessons booked and ended up finding the perfect location on Lake Nicaragua to teach from. The Barrios family owned a large piece of land right next to the Costa Rica border where they also had a wind farm. Their private beach on the lake was large and clear, making for a beautiful spot to kite from. I developed a wonderful relationship with the family and to this day we stay in touch. Everything was coming along nicely with my kite school until I started getting eye infections every time I went in the water. I’ve never been prone to this sort of thing, so I began to look into why it was happening.
What I discovered is not as shocking as it is disturbing. None of the cities or villages in Nicaragua have sewage treatment plants. They pump the sewage directly into the lake, and for a population of nearly 6 million people, this is just downright gross! Upon finding this out, I sent emails to different government officials addressing this issue. The only reply I received was from one of the officials who wanted to learn to kiteboard and he was asking about lessons. We got talking via LinkedIn about the lake pollution and he told me there were no plans in place to treat sewage in the near future. After hearing this I decided it was not worth risking my health, so I packed up and looked for a new place to set up.
2010, and the Yucatan, Mexico, was my new home. Miles and miles of untouched beaches and year round wind… a kiteboarding paradise. I had never heard of Merida before I moved there and when my cousin offered me a place to stay I was excited about the new adventure. Shortly after I got there I researched the local kitesurfing community and discovered there was a competition being held the following week. I messaged each one of the people attending the event explaining I was a kiteboarder new to the area. I was welcomed to the competition and I ended up making really good friends with some of the local riders who supported me in setting up the first official kite school in the area. It was a bit of a slow start but soon I was so busy teaching locals from Merida I could hardly keep up. Eventually I began receiving more and more clients from abroad and realized there was a distinct lack of places for them to stay and be comfortable in while traveling. My next step… rent a luxury villa on the beach from which to run my school and accommodation for traveling kiters. Between the local clients and my all-inclusive packages my school was doing well. Then people started getting sick.
At first I thought it was just a serious flu going around but in time I began to see the correlation between the amount of time people spent in the water and when they got sick. Clients who booked rooms in my villa were leaving early, my students were too sick to finish their lessons and I was losing too much money to continue. Finally after seeing an Angelfish dead on the beach with bulging eyes, my partner Nick began researching the water quality in the area and stumbled upon some unbelievable reports right on our kite spot via Google Earth.
The report was longer than many others we found describing the hypoxic and eutrophic conditions. Eventually we found multiple articles talking about two things, one the sewage being dumped directly in the sea from many local businesses and two, the oil leak Pemex had not fixed on the pier. Apparently the local gas company had a small leak on a pipe leading out along the four mile long pier in the centre of Progreso. The amount of money they were losing from the leaking oil was not as much as the cost to repair the leak properly, so after a couple of years the water became toxic. In fact Pemex’s checkered history with oil spills started as far back as 1979 with the Ixtoc I oil spill. An area which used to be rich in sea grass feeding populations of manatees was dead. The pods of dolphins no longer passed by in the mornings and tropical fish were washing up with eyeballs popping out of their heads. Time to leave…. Again!
Closing down two schools I put my heart and soul into setting up was difficult to swallow. The thing that makes me upset more than anything is the reason it happened. I am still constantly being asked by people about traveling to Nicaragua or the Yucatan for kiteboarding and although both places are great for their own reasons I would use caution when riding there, especially in Nicaragua. My reasons for closing down my schools may come as a surprise to you, but with the clean water situation becoming such a big problem, I feel it’s my duty to tell the truth.
The reality is, picking up garbage here and there is great, but the bigger problems seem beyond our control. It’s sad…
When looking for the best spot to learn or improve your kiting, I recommend taking a look at the area on Google Earth. Zoom in and you will see if they have any toxic reports wherever you see a fish bones on the map.
Currently Nick and I are based on Barbados, available privately. It’s where we believe the water will stay clean and blue for the longest.
If you’ve had any similar experiences with water pollution at the spots you kiteboard at, please let us know in the comments below. We need to expose these issues and create awareness. We’d also love to hear your ideas on what we as kiteboarders can do to make a difference.
PS: If you are as worried about our kite spots as we are, please help us spread the word by liking and sharing this article.