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Mangroves play a critical role buffering coastal communities against flooding and storms and provide habitat for thousands of species of birds and marine animals.  Recent evidence suggests that mangroves sequester carbon very effectively and healthy mangroves could help protect our climate.

Unfortunately, humans are destroying huge areas of mangroves and if we do not take action they may be functionally extinct by the turn of the century.

 

I am pleased to report on a new resource for protecting mangroves:

ELAW Mangrove Science Database.

Dr.  Heidi Weiskel, ELAW Staff Scientist, worked closely with David Pugh, ELAW Web Designer, to ensure that key research on mangroves, published by more than 75 scientists, is included in this comprehensive resource for citizens worldwide.

We have summarized each scientific study in our Mangrove Science Database in English and Spanish.  We have plotted research on specific mangrove forests on a world map.  As new studies are completed, we will add them to the database.  Our user-friendly tool will help communities and grassroots advocates around the world make the case to protect mangroves.  I encourage you to visit the ELAW Mangrove Science Database and share it with your colleagues.

Thank you!

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

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Photo: Jeremy Francis

ELAW is working with partners in Jamaica to protect key marine ecosystems.

The Goat Islands, adjoining mangroves, and at least one fish sanctuary 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.

Diana McCaulay, CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust, writes:

“ELAW is helping us with legal research to build the arguments for our Access to Information case, to get critical information on the benefits of this proposal to Jamaica.  This is like having a large legal department to rely on.  ELAW’s help really extends and improves what we are able to do.”

The Supreme Court will hear the case in October.

In an opinion piece last week for CNN, Wendy Townsend interviewed Diana.  Here’s an excerpt:

“McCaulay says developing Goat Islands extends the global crisis of unsustainable exploitation of natural resources.  ‘Jamaica is a small island,’ she says, ‘but this is happening all over the world, relentless pressure for high impact development that doesn’t benefit local populations, particularly those who use the resources.  Although global climate change is a clear danger to island nations, we are still building on the coast and taking out natural protections like mangroves.  Our regulatory agencies simply cannot cope, especially with players like China who have huge financial resources and care little about the environment.'”

We will keep you informed of our progress protecting the Goat Islands in the Portland Bight Protected Area.

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

I’m hoping the answer to the question above is ‘yes’!

Earlier this month, we received an urgent message from Ron Gutierrez, our partner in the Philippines with the organization Upholding Life and Nature (ULAN).  Ron informed us about a municipality near Manila, called Obando, which had approved construction of a waste landfill in a low-lying coastal area that is extensively covered with mangroves. This  is a particularly poor choice of  location for a landfill; the month before, the entire area was inundated with flood waters.  The waste from Metro Manila would arrive to Obando on barges.

You can find out more about the proposed project and community efforts to stop it in this article from Dateline Philippines.

Ordinarily, Philippine law requires an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), with full opportunity for public comment, before the government approves a landfill.  However, the proponent of the Obando landfill, a company called EcoShield Development Corporation, only submitted an Initial Environmental Examination Report (IEE).  Nonetheless, the regional office of the Environmental Management Bureau approved the project, issuing an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) for the project.   I urged Ron to send me the documents so that I could see whether they examined the loss of mangroves and the risk of flooding.

Amazingly, the documents Ron sent me made no mention of mangroves, and presented an incredulous plan to build embankments around the landfill to prevent future flooding.  Wanting to help Ron document the existence of mangroves, I took a close look at the location using Google Earth.

What I found was evidence of an extensive canopy of mangroves that would be cleared if the landfill were constructed:

Google Earth Image of the Proposed Obando Landfill Site

The yellow line indicates the boundaries for the proposed landfill. You can see a wide belt of mangroves adjoining Manila Bay on the bottom of the image.  The town of Obando is on the left, above the proposed landfill.

There is hope these mangroves will be protected!  Last year, the Supreme Court of the Philippines adopted new rules (Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases) that put environmental cases on a fast-track and, in urgent situations, allow citizens to bring a special kind of petition (called a Writ of Kalikasan) directly to the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

This is exactly what our partner in the Philippines did this past Monday (October 24th), filing a Writ of Kalikasan in the Supreme Court.

Along with his petition, Ron submitted a detailed statement I prepared showing why the proposed landfill violates numerous provisions of the Philippines Ecological Solid Waste Management Act. He also included the Google Earth image showing the mangroves that would be lost if the project goes forward.

Under the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases, the Supreme Court can quickly grant a Temporary Environmental Protection Order halting activities that can harm the environment.  Ron has requested this relief, and we will soon know whether the bulldozers will be sent away while the Supreme Court hears the case and, hopefully, agrees that this is no place to dispose of Manila’s garbage.

Mark Chernaik
Staff Scientist

If you haven’t already, make sure you check out my previous post from Belmopan, Belize to get you up to speed.

View of the Belize coast line from the prop plane

So, after spending three days in Belmopan, where brush fires and forest fires were spreading like…well…wildfire, I was making plans to take me to my next destination. The smoke in Belmopan was heavy, and it was clear that the lack of rain and the extreme heat were contributing factors. Even the pilot at the Belmopan airport was expected to arrive late due to the poor visibility early that morning. However, boarding the 12-passenger plane didn’t take long, and I was back on schedule in no time – although “schedule ” is kind of a loose term in Belize.

The other half a dozen passengers and myself made our way southeast across the Maya Mountains, where large patches of burned forest were visible from the air.  The prop plan flew through the clouds, but not above them, which made for a bumpy ride and an incredible view of the countryside. After about 45 minutes, I spotted the coastline and the sparkling blue water off of Belize’s shores!

Many of these condos are still for sale. Other lots have been divided and sold, and now wait for investors.

Stop 2: I landed in Placencia and was met by another Candy, who sits on the board of the Placencia Citizens for Sustainable Development (PCSD). Placencia is at the southern tip of a long, narrow peninsula that runs down the mainland. This forms a beautiful and lively lagoon where people have played and fished for generations. Placencia is a very small community that is growing rapidly. Growth is partly due to an influx of Belizeans and foreigners attracted to the beautiful location and the relaxed pace, and who are often establishing full-time residency on the peninsula. Unfortunately, much more of the growth is in the form of tourism developments and condos for part-time residents and vacationers. This hasty development is particularly worrisome, as many of these developers do not live in Belize year-round and are detached from the local needs: the local community, the local economy, and the local environment. Although the recent economic crisis has slowed investments, Placencia is threatened by short-sighted development.

Adrian Vernon (like Amelita at BELPO) is the only staff member at PCSD. He offered to work on a Saturday by welcoming me to Placencia with a boat tour of the lagoon. Adrian’s family has lived on the peninsula for generations. His knowledge of the area and its ecosystems, particularly the valuable mangrove forests, has made him a well-known and highly-respected man in the community. Joining us on the tour was a member of the Placencia Town Council, the local government body responsible for approving proposed development projects, and students from Belize University studying cumulative impacts of tourism in Placencia.

Adrian (at the wheel) captivates his audience with knowledge about mangrove forests. You can see a mangrove buffer behind him.

Adrian was at home on the water. It was clear that he could talk for hours about the benefits of mangroves and sea grass, proper restoration techniques, the threats from development and dumping that are facing the lagoon, and the solutions he is promoting to help developers understand the value of protecting the local ecosystem. The group buzzed constantly with questions and answers. Before I knew it, we had been on the water for three hours and were on our way back to the dock. With the wind whipping by, I was enjoying the sun and proudly recalling memorable facts of the lagoon, when a sputtering noise signaled that the previous boat guide had forgot to refill the gas tank. We floated for only a couple of minutes until a gentleman, someone Adrian knew and recognized from at least 100 yards away, pulled up and offered us a gallon or two. I learned a new trick for siphoning gas, and only minutes later, Adrian and I were ordering lunch. What a great afternoon!

PCSD Office

Later that day and most of Sunday, Adrian and I managed to confine ourselves to the new PCSD office, where we collaborated on ways to make his work more efficient, since he is now sharing time between the office and the field. Adrian is also leading the campaign to organize community support for PCSD and ensure that the goals of the organization are determined and led by locals, who need a voice on proposed developments – a unified voice that will protect individuals and amplify their demands.

Adrian and I said good-bye on Sunday evening and I headed back to Dianni’s Guest House (which I would highly recommend) and prepared to leave Placencia on an early morning flight to San Pedro. I planned to take the day off and go snorkeling!! No underwater photos, but I have managed to remember many of the names of the gazillion fish I saw, so check back soon.

Also, check out our Facebook page for more photos from the trip.

Lauren Ice
ELAW Office Manager

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