Florida Climate Institute

​University of Florida

​Department of Geography

Ph.D. Candidate

Land Use and Environmental Change Institute (LUECI)

The Mayan Stories Will Never End

“La Zona Maya no es un museo etnographico, es un pueblo en marcha.”

  ---from Felipe Carrillo Puerto Museum

One of my favorite things about the Spring Break course to Mexico, especially as a non-Spanish speaker, was having more chances to observe and feel the fact that the Maya are still, and will always be there.

Two years ago, I had a similar experience while visiting the Yucatan Province, which is an area where native Mayan people live.  On the way from Cancun to Merida, I saw for the first time houses made of vertical poles with thatched roofs, and it was explained to me that Mayan families have been living in these types of dwellings for thousands of years.  I thought of a close friend of mine whose family are of traditional Mayan heritage; however, none of his generation speaks Mayan or maintains the Maya traditions.  The sight of the Mayan ruins in Merida amazed me, and at the same time, the thought of lost traditions and languages worried me about the future of this miracle land and its people. 

The story continues.  I returned to the Yucatan Peninsula in March of this year for a tropical forestry management course.  The field course took me to another Mayan province – Quintana Roo, which is to the south of the Yucatan Province.  It was there that I felt a difference in the presence of the Mayans.  In Quintana Roo, many people consider themselves Mayan first and Mexican second.  Many of the local people also speak the native Mayan language as their first or only language.  My experience left me with the overall impression that the Mayan people are welcoming and receptive, and more than willing to share their culture and Mayan, which is a soft and beautiful language.

As a student in Geography, I have my own lens in perceiving the Quintana Roo adventure.  I not only noticed the human and cultural differences found in the Yucatan and Quintana Provinces, but I also realized that there is a marked difference in the overall land cover and land use of these regions.  The majority of the area that I visited in Quintana Roo is heavily forested, whereas in the Yucatan it is predominately cropland.  But my assessment lacks sufficient proof, so I prefer to rely on remote sensing images to determine the reality.  This has led me to develop the following research questions:

What are the dominant land covers throughout the Yucatan Peninsula? Is there a major difference between land cover/land use in the Quintana Roo and Yucatan Provinces? If yes, what are the potential drivers that cause those differences?
What are the spatial patterns of forest in Quintana Roo and what is the extent of forest fragmentation?
How can forest pattern distributions based on different ownership (land tenures) be evaluated?