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Cancun is a poster child for coastal development gone awry, but nearby ecosystems can still be saved.

ELAW Staff Scientist Heidi Weiskel was in Quintana Roo last week, collaborating with ELAW partners at the Southeast office of Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (Mexican Environmental Law Center). CEMDA is working hard to protect marine and coastal ecosystems from short-sighted development schemes.

Heidi and Minerva
L to R:  Minerva Rosette, Heidi Weiskel

Heidi teamed up with CEMDA’s new Staff Scientist, Minerva Rosette, to review plans for a major housing development near a protected mangrove forest, and an enormous tourism complex proposed for Holbox Island.  The tourism complex would cut channels through pristine mangroves to increase waterfront acreage and build hotels, villas, condominiums, offices, shopping plazas, and roads, to service thousands of visitors.  The project would devastate Holbox’s rich fisheries and stunning landscape, and likely harm the whale shark population.

Heidi and Minerva evaluated different strategies for measuring the carrying capacity of Holbox, and the most effective way to communicate the true impacts of the proposed tourism complex to the Holbox community.

Minerva is an engineer by training and spent the past three years using GIS and other tools to help communities protect the Urique-Batopilas biological corridor.  “Minerva is a wonderful addition to the CEMDA team and ELAW community,” says Heidi.  “I look forward to working with her to protect the extraordinary beauty and rich biodiversity of the Yucatán.”

While in Cancun, Heidi also worked with CEMDA Staff Attorneys Raquel Campo and Ximena Ramos. Ximena is a former ELAW volunteer and recently received an LLM in environmental law from the University of Oregon School of Law.

The key to ELAW’s work is identifying strong local partners, because they know best how to protect local communities and the environment. We provide our partners with the tools and resources they need.

We celebrate Alejandra Serrano, the director of the Southeast office of CEMDA, and her whole team for their hard work protecting the Yucatán.

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

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ELAW partners in Honduras have obtained a good preliminary decision from an important international body in their fight to protect critical coastal zones.

In 2006, the Honduran government issued a license to build the Infinity Bay Spa and Beach Resort even though the proposed development had not undergone a full environmental impact review, which is required under Honduran law. Concerned about the potential impacts of the project on the fragile marine environment and the Mesoamerican Reef, Clarisa Vega and Emilio d’Cuire of the Honduran Environmental Law Institute (IDAMHO for its initials in Spanish) sought enforcement of the law.  After years of working with the government to address the violation of law, the government did not stop the construction on the resort.

In 2011, fearing that more hotels would be built in the critical coastal zone without proper evaluation, IDAMHO worked with staff at ELAW to file a complaint with the Secretariat for Environmental Matters of the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR).

The Secretariat found that the petition from IDAMHO merited a response from the Honduran government.  Last month, after analyzing the response from the government, the Secretariat recommended the preparation of a factual record related to the resort development.

Congratulations to IDAMHO for successfully engaging the Secretariat! ELAW hopes the factual record will highlight the importance of adequately studying the likely impacts of proposed developments, particularly in coastal zones and other fragile ecosystems.

Jen Gleason
Staff Attorney

Nuestros socios de ELAW en Honduras han obtenido una buena decisión preliminar de un organismo internacional importante en su lucha para proteger zonas costeras de importancia crítica.

En el 2006 el Gobierno de Honduras emitió una licencia para construir el desarrollo turístico Infinity Bay Spa and Beach Resort, aún cuando las autoridades no habían realizado una evaluación de impactos ambientales completa, tal y como lo requieren las leyes Hondureñas.  Preocupados por los impactos potenciales del proyecto en este frágil ambiente marino y en el Arrecife Mesoamericano, Clarisa Vega y Emilio d’Cuire del Instituto de Derecho Ambiental de Honduras (IDAMHO) buscaron que se hiciera cumplir la ley. Después de trabajar durante años con el gobierno para que atendiera y resolviera estas violaciones a la ley, el gobierno no detuvo la construcción del hotel.

En el 2011, temiendo la construcción de más hoteles en dicha zona costera crítica sin una evaluación apropiada, IDAMHO trabajó con personal de ELAW para presentar una petición con la Secretaría para Asuntos Ambientales del Tratado de Libre Comercio entre la República Dominicana- Centroamérica- y los Estados Unidos (CAFTA-DR).

El Secretariado resolvió que la petición de IDAMHO ameritaba una respuesta del gobierno Hondureño. El mes pasado, después de analizar la respuesta del gobierno, el Secretariado recomendó la preparación de un expediente de hechos relacionado con este desarrollo turístico.

¡Felicitaciones para IDAMHO por involucrar exitosamente al Secretariado! ELAW espera que el expediente de hechos destaque la importancia de realizar un estudio adecuado de los probables impactos de cualquier desarrollo que sea propuesto, y específicamente en el caso de proyectos en zonas costeras y otros ecosistemas frágiles.

Jen Gleason
Staff Attorney

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

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