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CEMDA logoCongratulations to ELAW advocate Alejandra Serrano and her team at the Mexican Environmental Law Center for their work defending communities and Mexico’s Riviera Maya!

ABC News reports:

“Mexican environmental authorities have levied a $555,000 fine against a project to build a massive trade center south of Cancun to showcase Chinese products. The Attorney General for Environmental Protection said late Thursday the fine was for building roads through wetlands and affecting coastal ecosystems without authorization.”

“The communities are saying enough is enough with out-sized development on the coast,” says Alejandra.  “This fine is a good first step. Our case is pending and we hope the Ministry of Environment will apply the new law of environmental responsibility and follow up on the criminal acts exposed in this case.”

Last year, ELAW Staff Scientist Meche Lu reviewed the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and revealed that the EIA lacked information about the scope and size of the project, the location of coastal wetlands within the project area, the impact of paving on the water quality of coastal wetlands, and more.

For more information, see:

We will keep you informed of our progress protecting the Yucatán Peninsula. Thanks for your interest!

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director


Our new ELAW Fellow arrived Saturday night!

Minerva Rosette is an environmental engineer with the Southeast office of Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA, Mexican Center for Environmental Law).  We are collaborating with Minerva to protect communities and coastlines on the Yucatán Peninsula.

During her Fellowship, Minerva will meet with ELAW Staff Scientists to learn about the dangers that herbicides pose to waterways, model protocols for protecting marine fisheries, and protecting fragile soils in Quintana Roo.

Waste management in Mexico is an enormous problem.  Minerva will learn lessons from Eugene’s waste management system on tours of NextStep Recycling, the Glenwood Transfer Station, and Short Mountain Landfill.

Before joining CEMDA, Minerva worked with local communities to conserve the biodiversity of the Sierra Tarahuamara.

We look forward to collaborating with Minerva and connecting her with the global ELAW network!

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

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

This week I attended the 97th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) in Portland, Oregon. In 2004, the ESA, a group of several thousand U.S. and international ecologists, met in Portland, OR. The theme of the conference was “Lessons of Lewis & Clark: Ecological Exploration of Inhabited Landscapes.” Eight years later, we are back in Portland and the theme is “Life on Earth: Preserving, Utilizing, and Sustaining our Ecosystem.” One does not need to be a Ph.D.-ecologist to notice the difference in tone.

The bad news is that we are in trouble. We are no longer studying habitats as a kind of curiosity or academic exercise. That was a luxurious time and it is over. Instead, we are focused on life itself: how to preserve and sustain it so that we can survive in the world we have created. The good news is that ecologists know this shift has occurred and, in increasing numbers, are heeding the call to make our research relevant beyond academic circles. This year’s meeting was full of that message.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco, a world-renown marine ecologist (who studied snails for her PhD, just as I did!), is currently the head of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. During the keynote address, she gave a call to arms, telling audience members that ecologists should not only make their science relevant, but also become politicians, lawyers, teachers, and activists. It was wonderful to hear those words of enthusiastic advice, since Jane has long been a mentor of mine. By coming to work for ELAW I am following her wisdom.

While at the conference, I attended a session entitled, “Linking Ecological Science & Public Policy: Case Studies in Latin America.” The first speaker, Dr. Exequiel Ezcurra, a Mexican ecologist at the University of California, Riverside, told the story behind the recent conservation victory in Cabo Pulmo, Mexico. A Spanish company received a permit to construct a massive development with 34,000 new rooms in a spectacular marine park. All the other development in the region only totaled 10,000 rooms. This one new permit would have destroyed the marine park, and the fisheries, corals, and incredible biodiversity found within.

Scientific studies have shown that protection of the park since the mid-1990s has enabled fisheries to rebound to levels higher than anyone envisioned. The Park itself has become a kind of diving and tourist shrine and sustainable ecotourism has provided the surrounding community with economic stability. In short, protecting the marine park, which has the only living coral in the Sea of Cortéz, was a brilliant success story about to be lost with a single building permit.

But Dr. Ezcurra and many, many others—among them ELAW partner organizations Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA) and Defensa Ambiental del Noroeste (DAN)—kept the issue in the media, and kept the fight constant, and in June 2012, the permit was revoked. It was a day to rejoice.

Dr. Ezcurra reminded us that, as scientists, we have an opportunity and an obligation to go beyond publishing cool papers about snails eating algae. Though current academic and social systems may not reward us for protecting wild lands rather than publishing important papers, we can and must pay attention to what is happening around us.

That sense of responsibility—and excitement about our new role in society—was palpable at this year’s meeting. It would be a mistake for ecologists to give up, and this meeting left me with hope and certainty that we never will.

Heidi Weiskel
ELAW Staff Scientist

The Mexican Center for Philanthropy (CEMEFI) recently honored ELAW partner organization Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA) for its “contributions to the defense of the environment, natural resources and people’s health by strengthening, implementation, consolidation and enforcement of the existing legal system.”  CEMDA received The Recognition of Commitment to Others Award- the highest distinction CEMEFI bestows,  reserved for the most successful NGOs and individuals in the Mexican social sector.

Gustavo Alanis Ortega

In CEMDA’s most recent biennial report, director Gustavo Alanis Ortega credits CEMDA’s recent success to the implementation of recommendations from a 2009 strategic planning exercise and the performance of the organization’s Quintana Roo and La Paz offices under the new leadership of Alejandra Serrano Pavón and Agustín Bravo respectively.

These offices, as well as the  CEMDA-DF office in Mexico City, have been strengthening their work related to the care, protection and conservation of protected natural areas and also endemic, threatened or endangered flora and fauna.

In the last few years, CEMDA has shifted its focus toward human rights and fostering transparency, public participation and, access to information within environmental decision making processes. CEMDA also participated in the 2010 COP 16 climate change meetings held in Cancun.

ELAW has collaborated with CEMDA for more than 15 years.

Congratulations CEMDA!

Glenn Gillis
Information Technology Manager

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