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Goat Islands

Photo: Jeremy Francis

A tragedy is unfolding in Jamaica.

The Goat Islands and two fish sanctuaries in the Portland Bight Protected Area may be destroyed to make way for a mega trans-shipment port, proposed by the international contractor China Harbour Engineering Company.

“There has been no official announcement of the plan, still no details, no consultation with anyone, not even with the NGO currently managing the protected area,” says ELAW partner Diana McCaulay at the Jamaica Environment Trust.

ELAW is working with Diana to get the word out before it’s too late, and sharing the expertise of grassroots leaders from around the world who are working to save protected areas from development schemes.  Learn more about what’s unfolding in Jamaica in an interview with Diana on All Angles, Television Jamaica.

Thank you for your interest!

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

ELAW Partner Raquel Gutierrez-Nájera has dedicated her life to protecting Mexico’s ecosystems and the communities that depend on them. She and her team at the Instituto de Derecho Ambiental (IDEA, the the Institute for Environmental Law) recently celebrated a victory for a natural protected area in Zapopan, Jalisco.

Barranca del Rio Santiago

Barranca del Rio Santiago

Zapopan is part of the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area and home to approximately one million people. Its government website highlights ecotourism as one of the city’s appealing features. The Barranca del Río Santiago, a 3.5 km wide, 700 meter deep canyon through which the Santiago River flows, is one of Zapopan’s natural attractions.

Recently, the municipality was considering a change in land use designation that would have allowed sludge from the Agua Prieta Residual Water Treatment Plant to be stored within the natural protected area in which the Santiago River is located. According to the project proponent, the Agua Prieta Plant is to be completed in 2013 and will generate an estimated 178 tons of sludge daily.

Raquel Gutierrez Nájera and reporter

Raquel Gutierrez Nájera speaks with a reporter in the Tempizques

IDEA consulted with public service officials who were concerned that the sludge could pose a threat to water quality and biodiversity within the protected area. To accommodate the sludge storage area, buildings within the Tempizques community of Zapopan were leveled and 30 families were displaced.  On August 30th, Mexico’s Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources issued a resolution denying the land use change, stating that it would be inconsistent with the municipal decree that created the protected area and would not be in accordance with the management plan.

Raquel hopes that this victory will set a precedent for protecting the natural environment in Mexico.

Congratulations to the IDEA team!

Melanie Giangreco
Latin America Program Assistant

ELAW colleagues at the Environmental Law Workshop

I was fortunate to travel last month to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, for the first annual Festival of the Sea, held in conjunction with a Trinational Fisheries Forum and Workshops on Environmental Law and the Human Right to Water.  The Fisheries Forum was poignant, with roughly 20 fishers from Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras doing the difficult work of discussing limits on their fishing grounds, in order to restore the fishery.  Our Guatemalan partners are working with Guatemalan fishing communities in the Gulf and the Ministry of Natural Resources to help create  “recuperation zones” that would be managed jointly by the agency and the fishers in Guatemala’s waters.

The Gulf of Honduras is a complicated web of Guatemalan, Belizean, Honduran, Garifuna, and Maya culture.  Negotiations among fishers WITHIN countries is complex, and when we are trying to reach across the many layers of jurisdictions and ethnic culture present in the Gulf, the complexities are far greater.

Alongside the work, we celebrated the food, culture, and livelihood of fishing communities in the region at the Festival of the Sea on the waterfront.   Fisheries are vital to sustaining coastal communities worldwide, and the roughly 500km of coastline in the Gulf of Honduras is home to nearly one million people.  This relatively small area holds tremendous biodiversity, but both species and local economies are in decline.

Lori Maddox
Associate Director

I recently traveled to Belize to help a local lawyer who is working to develop a set of recommendations to strengthen the country’s petroleum laws.  During the 20-minute ride into Belize City, the taxi driver told me all about Belize’s morning talk shows on Love TV and Krem TV, two of Belize’s cable stations.  He urged me to watch the next morning, saying that viewers phone in to air their opinions on all kinds of issues.  “Interesting,” I thought, but I didn’t really plan to watch.  In my mind, I imagined a Belizean version of Regis and Kelly presenting cute news stories and bantering back and forth.  Little did I know how wrong I was!

Oil development has been controversial in Belize and several years ago, the government opened virtually the entire country, including offshore areas and protected areas, to oil exploration.  Long-term exploration and development contracts were forged with oil companies behind closed doors.  The Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage, which formed in 2010, has been very effective in educating the public about the petroleum industry and advocating for a ban on oil development in offshore and protected areas, such as national parks.  Earlier this year, the Coalition gathered enough signatures to allow the public to vote on a referendum about the future of oil development in Belize.

While I was in Belize City, fresh controversy erupted over oil exploration activities in Sarstoon-Temash National Park in the southern part of the country.  Word emerged that USCapital Energy was conducting seismic testing activities in the park.  Seismic testing is a process used to map underground rock formations to predict where oil may be found.  To create the map, explosive charges are set off along transect lines to create underground seismic waves that are recorded and analyzed.  The transect lines are cut into the forest, creating a scar many miles long – in this case stretching all the way across the park.  Seismic testing fragments habitat and is very disruptive to nearby Maya and Garifuna communities.  Poachers and illegal loggers use abandoned transect lines to enter remote areas to kill wildlife and remove valuable tree species.  SATIIM, the local indigenous environmental organization, sent a team out to monitor the exploration activities and posted a report describing the environmental damage and evidence of illegal logging that the team found.  

I was working one afternoon when ELAW partner Candy Gonzalez called and said, “Quick, turn on the television to Channel 51!”   It was Love TV’s rebroadcast of that morning’s talk show and the guests were Chief Forest Officer, Wilber Sabido, and Geology and Petroleum Department Director, Andre Cho.  They were there to answer questions about why they had granted permission for the seismic testing to occur in a national park and without prior evaluation of the potential environmental impacts.  The talk show hosts asked many pointed questions and frequently referred to calls that they had received from the public expressing concern about the exploration activities.  Sabido and Cho defended their decision and the hosts were rather gentle in their follow-up questioning, but it was nevertheless engaging and interesting to watch the interview.  I gained a new appreciation for this form of “talk show democracy” and will be sure to tune in the next time I visit Belize.

Liz Mitchell
ELAW Staff Attorney

Our partners at the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) achieved an important victory for Jamaicans and the environment.  JET challenged the government’s construction of a new road on the Palisadoes tombolo, a narrow spit fringed with mangroves, sand dunes, and rare, native plant species.  It is also a sea turtle nesting beach.  Palisadoes connects Kingston and the mainland to the Norman Manley International Airport and the historic town of Port Royal. The strip forms part of the Palisadoes-Port Royal Protected Area and has been declared a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention.

A section of the Palisadoes strip that was cleared by bulldozers in September 2010 to make way for the new highway.

JET argued that the government had not provided sufficient information about the project and had not adequately consulted the public.  JET explains that “[t]he court ruled that [the government] breached the legal standard for consultation and breached the legitimate expectation that all environmental information relative to the development of Palisadoes would be disclosed to the public and the applicant before approval was granted.”

Unfortunately, despite ruling that the government’s actions did not meet the legal standard for public participation, the damage was already done and the court allowed the permits to stand. Therefore, construction of the roadway, boardwalk and seawalls will continue.

Although the impacts to the environment in this particular project will not be stopped, this is a very important legal victory – and should help stop future ill-conceived projects from going forward.  Improving public participation in decisions that impact the environment is critical for achieving sustainable development.

Congratulations JET!

Jen Gleason
Staff Attorney

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