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Mexicans fear climate change threat to massive reef

Japanese fishermen celebrate rare court victory
Tokyo (AFP) Dec 6, 2010 - In a rare defeat for the Japanese government in its own courts, fishermen Monday won an order keeping the gates of a sea dyke open, despite authorities saying it was a defence against flooding. Japanese governments have for decades invested heavily in public works projects, concreting hillsides, riverbanks and coastlines, in projects that have often been criticised as environmentally damaging pork-barrel exercises. Among them is the dyke at Isahaya Bay in Nagasaki Prefecture.

Japan's central government first planned the seven-kilometre (4.3-mile) sea dyke in the 1950s to reclaim a coastal wetland for rice cultivation, and later argued that it also served as a protective barrier against floods. But environmentalists say that enclosing the wetland, a key habitat for migratory birds, damages it. Similarly, commercial fishermen who trawl the bay outside the wetland argue that it provides important nutrients for ocean marine life such as seaweed as its mud is flushed into the sea with the daily ebb and flow of the tide. Over the years fishermen staged sit-ins to try to prevent the dyke's construction, and in a 2008 district court ruling the government was ordered to keep open two of the dyke's drainage gates for five years.

On Monday the Fukuoka High Court upheld the decision, in the latest stage of the long-running battle. Presiding Judge Hiroshi Koga said: "It is illegal for the state to infringe upon the fishing rights by keeping the gates shut," Japanese media reported. "While the plaintiffs' fishing rights are greatly violated, the effect of the sea dyke against disasters is limited." Outside the court supporters rejoiced, punched the air with their fists and shouted "banzai" (hurrah!), holding up banners reading "Victory in court" and "The agriculture and fisheries ministry condemned again". The centre-left Democratic Party government that took power over a year ago has decried the public works habit that has also seen hundreds of dams and so-called bridges to nowhere built, pledging instead to put "people before concrete".
by Staff Writers
Sian Ka'An, Mexico (AFP) Dec 6, 2010
A vast coral reef off southeastern Mexico attracts a rich array of fauna but some locals say they release the fish they catch to try to counter the effects of climate change.

Numerous fish species, such sea bass, live in the salty water, said 28-year-old Elias Dzul, from a village near the Mayan ruins of Tulum, one of a growing number of people concerned about the reef's future.

"Commercial fishing is not viable, because it damages the ecosystem," said Dzul, who works in a sports fishing camp where tourists catch fish for fun and throw them back in the sea.

The Mesoamerican Reef, the world's second longest after Australia's Great Barrier Reef, stretches down from the top of the Yucatan peninsula some 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) in waters off Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.

It is a clear and delicate example of how global warming appears to be affecting marine habitats.

Dzul works on the Sian Ka'an reserve that spreads around the reef, some 150 kilometers (100 miles) south of Cancun, where international negotiators this week hope to advance on agreements to limit climate change worldwide.

"If the negotiators limit themselves to a stabilization agreement to try to keep global temperature rises to two degrees Celsius, it will be the end of the coral reef," said Roberto Iglesias, a researcher from the National Autonomous University of Mexico's marine institute in Puerto Morelos, near Cancun.

"When the temperature rises, the coral loses its main source of energy, which comes from a symbiosis with the algae, which are losing their photosynthetic function," Iglesias said, underlining that 2010 has seen the highest recorded sea temperatures for a second consecutive year.

The reef plays an important role in protecting the coast, forming a natural barrier that breaks the force of the waves and tones down erosion of the beaches, particularly in the face of regular tropical storms and hurricanes.

But commercial fishing and marine pollution from tourist areas have weakened the ecosystem, which is struggling to adapt to the effects of climate change.

Scientists from the Puerto Morelos laboratory collect samples from the sea on a daily basis to measure the threats to the reef and how it is changing, including the effects of the acidification of the ocean.

"Thirty percent of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean and that changes the chemical make-up of the ecosystems," Iglesias said.

Known as the Maya Riviera, the Mexican coast south of Cancun is a fast-developing tourist area, where the population is also expanding rapidly.

Some hotel owners, like Paul Sanchez, aim to show that it is possible to keep developing, but in a sustainable way.

Sanchez manages a complex of hotels that have around 12 rooms, in a former coconut plantation in the Bay of Akumal, on a beach of white sand formed from coral skeletons.

A garden of banana trees and mangroves lies near a restaurant terrace, but it is not only part of the scenery.

"The plants grow on a swamp of residual water from the hotel. The trees filter and purify the dirty water before it enters the sea," Sanchez said.

"The proof that it works is that it doesn't even smell," he said, underlining that if the water is acid it prevents the coral from reproducing.

Guatemalan biologist Marie-Claire Paiz, from The Nature Conservancy non-governmental group, said it was important to show hotel developers that preserving the reef made good business sense.

"For example in Cancun, where construction has broken the natural dynamics of the sand dunes, hotels spend 20 million dollars every two or three years to return sand to the beaches," Paiz said.

"They could save money if they managed them in an ecological manner."




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WATER WORLD
Japanese fishermen celebrate rare court victory
Tokyo (AFP) Dec 6, 2010
In a rare defeat for the Japanese government in its own courts, fishermen Monday won an order keeping the gates of a sea dyke open, despite authorities saying it was a defence against flooding. Japanese governments have for decades invested heavily in public works projects, concreting hillsides, riverbanks and coastlines, in projects that have often been criticised as environmentally damagin ... read more

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