Jessica Winkler

Owner, Kite Beach Yucatan

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Water pollution. How big a problem is it?

Over the past 5 years i've had to close down two of my kiteboarding schools due to water pollution. I would like to open up a discussion on how water pollution has effected people and if you feel it is a serious problem or not. In my experience spending over 3 hours a day in the ocean, water pollution is a major issue that so few people in the sports industry are addressing. That being said surfers against pollution is a wonderful organisation and they are doing a great job but its a small percentage of people. I wrote this article below and after publishing it got a fair amount of grief from people living in the affected areas saying I was being unfair and harsh. What do you think?

  • Feb 23 2014: Water pollution. How big a problem is it? It is a BIG problem. I know because I followed the link and read your article.
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      Feb 27 2014: Thank you very much for taking the time to read my article :)
  • Mar 11 2014: Hi Jessica. I've swam and kitesurfed in lake Nicaragua more times than I can count and drank plenty of water in the process and never got sick. Your article makes it seem like 6 million people pump their sewage into lake Nicaragua which is simply untrue. Lake Managua is a true sewage destination for the capital, Lake Nicaragua is not. They have already started to clean up lake Managua but that is another story/lake anyways. Water pollution is definitely a worldwide issue, but Nicaragua in particular has pretty clean water considering you can drink it straight from the tap with no issues. Many places even in the US are not that clean.

    Some people do direct their sewage to rivers that leads to lake Nicaragua but that is not something everyone does. There are a few neighborhoods near the lake that are unorganized enough to do that. The government is trying to install sewer systems to avoid this since the population in areas near the lake has been increasing and there is one river in particular that is problematic, shown in the link below.

    As a personal example, when sewage was not available at 2 of the houses I lived in in the countryside of Nicaragua, we had septic tanks. Septic tanks are pretty common throughout Nicaragua, that's why most places tell you not to throw toilet paper in the toilet.

    I thought you had closed the school in Nicaragua due to lack of interest in kiteboarding there since the spot you taught at was far off the beaten path in some private land. Harder to get people to sign up for it that way aside from it being a new sport to Nicaragua and way too expensive for most locals.
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      Mar 11 2014: Thank you for taking the time to post something. I'm very happy to hear there is so much improvement in Nicaragua as far as pollution. I have not been there since 2010 so I didn't know what was going on.
      You are right about Managua dumping into Lake Managua and not Lake Nicaragua. I made an error on that.

      Listen i'm not saying every single person who goes in the water in Nica or Mexico is going to or has gotten sick. I had a problem with getting eye infections in Lake Nicaragua and so did a few of my clients but not all of them.

      I did not have a problem with getting students in Nicaragua because I was based in SJDS, working out of surf shop. Even to this day some 4 years later I still get emails from people looking to book kite lessons with me there.....
      • Mar 11 2014: When writing an article it's good to investigate first. Misinformation of that nature is bad for the country's tourism.
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          Mar 12 2014: The only mistake I made was saying which lake the sewage is dumped into. The rest of what I said was personal experience and true at the time of it happening. Like I said i'm happy there has been improvements but in 2010 the information I had on the sewage being dumped into the lake was accurate.
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          Mar 12 2014: Here is an article which outlines the problems with pollution in Nica. For example: Leptospirosis Confirmed Throughout Nicaragua - Cases of the water-borne parasite leptospirosis have been confirmed in every department in Nicaragua and one of the country's two Caribbean autonomous regions, experts said."

          It's a long document but if read through it you will see support of my claims.
      • Mar 13 2014: The link didnt post correctly, can you repost it? Here are the points in your article that are incorrect:

        "None of the cities or villages in Nicaragua have sewage treatment plants." - In 2009 the biggest water treatment plant of Central America was innagurated in Managua to treat the city's 120,000 cubic meters of water a day, the entire wastewater for the city. A third of the country's population (more than 2 million) lives in Managua. None of this ever went to Lake Nicaragua. Overall in Nicaragua, 42% of wastewater is collected and treated. Then we have all the people that use septic tanks: in a study done by the World Bank in 100 rural Nicaraguan communities in 2008, 82.5% of the population had access to sanitary facilities (septic tanks) but only 50% were without any flaw (has breather tube and door to the letrine).

        "They pump the sewage directly into the lake, and for a population of nearly 6 million people, this is just downright gross!" - This statement assumes everyone is connected to the sewage and the sewage is directed to lake Nicaragua. Almost no one outside the capital and main cities has access to a sewer system. Most of the population lives nowhere near lake Nicaragua. Cities like Granada and Rivas have wastewater treatment facilities that are quite inadequate but exist nonetheless. People that aren't connected to them generally have septic tanks either connected to house plumbing (middle class) or as a letrine (lower class) unless they are extremely poor in which case the poop goes into streams behind the house that can end up in the closest lake. People without any sanitation facilities are 17.5% of the rural population (not total population), most of which don't live anywhere near lake Nicaragua.

        In Summary: Sure some poop goes in that lake, but it's minimal relatively speaking.
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    Feb 27 2014: R. F. Kennedy Jr., the leading Environmental Attorney, has come to us and brought to our unique project presentation, attendants and media shocking facts about the water polution problems which our country (the USA) is facing today. Our project is about designing and building a first sustainable, environmentally sound futuristic community/town.

    I think if we could produce more powerful leaders like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (which seems almost impossible) and follow them our problems would be easier to solve.

    But the majority of us is scared to stand against gigantic brainless comporate monsters without any leader, and we are badly disorganized. I'm sorry that we just talk about problems but do so little...

    Well, the encouraging thought is that these industrial monsters absolutely DEPEND on us -- us, as stupid consumers!! as we are today. No consumers - no industrial monstrosity.

    We, as consumers, keep supporting/feeding these industries, therefore WE have all the power to stop doing it. Ironically and sadly we still cannot comprehend our own power.

    This can be changed rather quickly but people are not much changing, scared to replace their bad habits (just like alcoholics).

    P.S. not just articles or just talks but our very actions within our community, our special gatherings, our organized manifistations reaching public at-large may make some quick changes.
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      Feb 28 2014: I could not agree with you more!! Thank you for saying this.
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        Feb 28 2014: Jessica, Thank YOU for bringing up the subject, and letting people say what they think :)
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          Mar 3 2014: I find it very interesting to hear experiences that other people have had with water pollution and to hear what people who are not near water think about what is going on.
  • Feb 25 2014: It is a major problem. It has been building up for years and only recently have we started to even test for it. If you go back to 1960, a civil engineering text still called the oceans an infinite renewable resource - i.e. dump anything into it and it will recover.
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      Feb 27 2014: and then you get Lake Erie......
      • Mar 3 2014: yup or the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland catching fire.
  • Feb 24 2014: Jessica I know exactly what you are talking about and yes it is a major problem and is not getting any better. I spent twenty years in Hawaii on practically every beach on every Island. The worst sewage pollution in Hawaii is in the worst possible places like Waikiki beach and any of the harbors on any Island where the Carnival and other big ships come and go not to mention the Navy and Marines. They have had to close down the beaches many times because they are exceeding the federal pollution limits and you know those are extreme limits. The harbors and beaches close to them have a thick layer of grey muck on the bottom which you can use your imagination of what that muck is. The ships stay several nights so all their waste is left on the bottom and military ships stay for months at a time.
    Before going to Hawaii I spent several years fishing and diving in the Puget sound with the same problem, muck all over the bottom and so much pollution in the water that you could only see about ten feet at the top and ten feet from the bottom, the rest was so murky you could not see your own hand. Some lakes are even worst with algae blooms so thick it kills everything because the algae eats all the oxygen then everything dies. The corporations do most of it and then when they are caught they either pay off the local politicians or just move to another location. Corporations are a virus that is killing the planet and they are out of control.
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      Feb 27 2014: Thank you for telling us your experiences. I've often wondered what Hawaii was like on the pollution front. I had a feeling it was a lot worse then anyone would dare to admit. Are you still living there now? What do you think about the effects Fukushima is having on Hawaii?
      • Feb 27 2014: I lived there from 73-93 and now I live in Las Vegas, NV.. big change. Hawaiian beaches are already getting the huge chunks of material on the beaches and since the radiation effects are just starting on the West coast, Hawaii can expect the same in a year or two. I loved beachcombing in Hawaii for shells and Japanese Fishing Glass balls but I would not advise that anymore as they may be contaminated now. Stuff from Japan floating on the currents takes a route right through the Islands it is just a matter of time. Nuclear radiation lasts up to 10,000 years so it will be floating around for a long time. The scary part is every nuclear plant is built next to a waterway for cooling purposes, how stupid is that? Expect more and more of these accidents. Enjoy it while you can, hopefully the next generation will figure it out, my generation blew it big time.
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    Mar 14 2014: We humans are the biggest threat to our own survival. Water pollution is just a symptom of a much bigger problem: human nature - apathy, arrogance, greed, selfishness, ...!


    Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
    Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
    Where have all the flowers gone?
    Young girls pick them, every one
    When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?

    Where have all the young girls gone, long time passing?
    Where have all the young girls gone, long time ago?
    Where have all the young girls gone?
    Gone to young men, every one
    When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?

    Where have all the young men gone, long time passing?
    Where have all the young men gone, long time ago?
    Where have all the young men gone?
    Gone for soldiers, every one
    When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?

    And where have all the soldiers gone, long time passing?
    Where have all the soldiers gone, a long long time ago?
    Where have all the soldiers gone?
    Gone to graveyards, every one
    When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?

    Where have all the graveyards gone, long time passing?
    Where have all the graveyards gone, long time ago?
    Where have all the graveyards gone?
    Gone to flowers, every one
    When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?

    Peete Seeger, Songwriter

  • Mar 14 2014: water pollution is a big problem, because it kills fish, and many people eat fish. also, we drink water. many people in africa dont know that the water they drink is polluted so pthey get sick because it is full of many diseases.
  • Timo X

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    Mar 8 2014: Pollution is one of the most daunting challenges humanity faces, and I think you've come unto the major cause here:
    "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."
    The company would have to pay for fixing a leak, but it does NOT have to pay for pollution! Of course it will pollute! It makes complete financial sense to pollute if you don't have to pay for it! We, the public, have to take action to stop pollution by imposing taxes or fines, because this problem will not fix itself.

    In fact, it will only get worse. Companies that would want to do the right thing and spend money to stop the pollution would be at a competitive disadvantage compared to those who are prepared to pollute. This means the non-polluters are more likely to go bankrupt, leaving only the polluters to survive in equilibrium. In other words, the fact that pollution costs are not internalised drives companies toward being polluters! No amount of protesting, no amount consumer 'awareness' will fix this problem, because awareness does not shape the market forces; money does. That's why the problem won't solve itself, and why governments must take action to internalise pollution costs through taxation and fines.
  • Mar 4 2014: Hi Dear Jessica,I like water very much,everytime when I see water from a little stream,river,or ocean,my heart always feels the most soothing.It seems I am born with the tie of water.I am the most prefer water's flexible,tolerant....characters...because of Chinese culture use water to present those virtues.

    So everytime everytime when I saw water been polluted,rotten smell spreading .I can feel howraging sadness from waging water,the sadness from water tearing how much we can feel?

    So whenever I go,transparent and clean water is always the first sign of goodness from there to present without any word,do you think so?I deem so.
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    • Mar 13 2014: Here is an interesting video / fundraiser for a feasibility study to clean the ocean using static platform filters.
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        Mar 13 2014: Glen, who will pay for the clean-up? The reason why the Pacific and the Atlantic are littered with billions of tons of garbage is because no one owns them and no one wants to be responsible. EVERYONE, ALL OF US should be responsible. Is there any country sticking its neck out to do the clean-up?

        Have you noticed, there are only a few of us participating in this discussion?
        • Mar 14 2014: It will need to be a grassroots effort led by a conservation group with funding through donations. There are plenty of wealthy philanthropists out there too, it's just a matter of having a well organized / professional effort that people would be willing to donate money towards. They are currently in the discovery phase of the project doing a feasibility study. It will be interesting to see if it can be done, how much it would cost, and the funding model for it.
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    Feb 27 2014: Here are 2 recent stories I found to contribute to the topic

    1) Lake Erie -

    2) Potential disaster in Nicaragua -
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    Feb 26 2014: WATER POLUTION is Bigger than we may measure it.

    It is a human Dumpster.

    (We need to understand that the oceans are the largest producers of natural oxygen on this planet.)
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    Feb 23 2014: Water pollution is going to a big problem in this world. because 2/3 of this world is water. Remaining places where we are living. So there is lots of chance to pollute the water. It will be very easy because the industrialisation and urbanisation is growing day today. all the disposal and wastages and flowing in the water. Oil refining, necular experimentation etc.. theses other reseason to pollute the water
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    Feb 22 2014: oh, sorry, jessica, I should have clarified that i live inland from the ocean and never visit it, either. In other words, I don't get any direct impression on whether water pollution exists, so can I contribute to your conversation?

    How are the fish coping, there are still millions and billions of fish surviving in the world's waters, aren't there?

    I wonder why some people are drawn to the water and others aren't. You obviously are drawn to it, do you know why?
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      Feb 27 2014: Hello Greg,

      Yes of course you can contribute as the pollution problem is caused by everyone from how many products we purchase with plastic wrappers to supporting companies that dump into the lakes and ocean. If people such as yourself who do not visit the ocean were aware of what they are doing to contribute to the pollution of water then maybe we could make a bigger difference.

      The world is actually running out of fish. Between over fishing and pollution we will have a massive hunger shortage. I'm not an expert on the subject and I only know what i've watched or read. I'm sure there are many people who would be able to comment on this topic.

      I'm not sure what draws me to the water but I do know that the people in my inner social circle could not live with out going in the water everyday! I think we are a small group of people who need to let people such as yourself know what is going on in the world of water..

      My hope is that telling my personal story it will make people stop and think about what is happening and how they contribute no matter where they are.
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        Feb 27 2014: well, are you American, Jessica? Aren't the waters in America pretty good and getting better? Aren't our controls good and getting better on sewage and trash, like I think we've banned those plastic six-pack yokes that used to get around seals' necks and choke them? Why don't you move to the States and enjoy the oceans and lakes here?

        I have not heard that the world is running out of fish, what is your source on that?

        Well, I'm glad you found something you like. I think I would enjoy living near the ocean and playing there, but my family has always been inland and I value more living near my family rather than moving closer to the ocean. Swimming in the ocean seems like it would be both good exercise and actually pleasant, which you can't say of all exercise. In my opinion dancing is another thing that is both good exercise and actually pleasant?

        It's not entirely relevant, but my second cousin is really good in the water. Her name is Amy Van Dyken, she went to two Olympics and won six golds in women's swimming.
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          Feb 28 2014: I'm actually Canadian but have been living in Central and South America for the past 7 years. I can't comment on the status of the waters in America but hopefully someone on here can. I can only explain the experiences i've had in Mexico and Nicaragua. The only real experience I had in America was in Texas and the water there made me really sick as well.

          Wow your cousin sounds awesome.
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        Mar 1 2014: well, since I don't go to the water very much, Jessica, it's hard for me to say. But when you went to Texas, or Mexico, or Nicaragua, were other people swimming? Are they getting sick? Maybe it's something unique to you? Here my closest ocean site is Santa Monica Beach. As far as I know, people swim in the Pacific there and don't get sick. I tend to think that if people were regularly getting sick at Santa Monica I would hear about it on the news or read about it in the newspaper? I'm not saying you are, but is it possible you're obsessing somehow?

        With these places you got sick, did you do any research as to whether any scientist has measured the water pollution there, and what they have found? But you're finding in your current locale you can swim and you don't get sick at all?

        Yeah, unfortunately I don't know Amy too well, since she grew up in Colorado, and I have always lived in Southern California. One thing I want to ask her the next time I see her is whether swimming continued to be fun for her, earlier I was saying to you that swimming is one kind of exercise that is fun, but I don't know if it's fun when you do it in a super-competitive way. I also want to ask her what is more meaningful, to have a world record, or to do super-well at the Olympics. A world record is awesome because you're the best on the planet, but the Olympics are cool because they're the most visible, high-profile.
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          Mar 3 2014: I actually never got sick very often when in the water. Texas was really the only time. The biggest problem was all of my clients where getting sick with similar symptoms. We researched what was going on with the water in each of the locations and found our suspicions were correct. If you look at google earth there is a check box on the right hand side which will show you all the polluted areas in the ocean and gives a full analysis on what is in the water.
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        Mar 1 2014: just to be clear, jessica, when I said I would ask Amy which is better, to set a world record or succeed at the Olympics but not set a record, what I meant is which is better: is it better to set a world record at a swim meet that's not super-high-profile like the Olympics, since there are meets going on all the time that aren't as prominent as the Olympics; or is it better to win a bunch of medals at the Olympics and become kind of famous but not set a world record?
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        Mar 9 2014: well, I started taking tutorials on how to use google earth, since I don't know how. I still haven't gotten to the page you're talking about, Jessica, if you're willing, provide me a link.

        Does it seem like anyone concerned about water pollution where they live would have to get involved with the government where they live? First I would think they would have to learn what the standards are that the government has for water cleanliness for the ocean around the country. Then they would have to learn how close they are coming to fulfilling the goals, and, if they are failing, why. Then they would have to start pushing the government to do a better job of meeting their cleanliness goals.
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    Feb 22 2014: do you think someone like me, who lives inland from the ocean and never goes to a lake or river, could have anything to contribute to your discussion?
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    Mar 10 2014: You are 100% right and THIS is the point to it all. Thank you so much for pointing it out and bringing it to the forefront. I can not understand how countries let companies dump sewage, garbage or gas leaks into the land / water and turn a blind eye. It is outrageously stupid!