Tag Archive | "Environment"

Famatina: The Town that Keeps Beating the Mining Giants

It started with water. The multinational mining company, Barrick Gold, proposed taking 1,000 cubic metres of water per day for its mining exploits in the Andean region of La Rioja. The problem was, however, only 750 cubic metres of water flowed through the small town of Famatina daily.

The people of Famatina were worried that Barrick’s mining scheme jeopardised their livelihood and those in the surrounding region. Not only that, it threatened untold environmental risks to the region’s fertile and prosperous land.

So what did they do? They protested, and won.

Hands off Famatina! (Photo: Jorge Santander)

Hands off Famatina! (Photo: Jorge Santander)

Since their first victory against Barrick Gold back in 2007, the town of Famatina has successfully thwarted mining proposals from three other well-known multinational corporations: Osisko Mining Corporation, Shandong Gold, and, just last month, Midais S.H.

A town of 2,466 people [according to the 2010 census] has done what much larger and better-represented communities have failed to do time and time again. They took on big industry with grassroots level organisation and resistance, and came out on top.

In the process, Famatina exposed some of the darker realities of large-scale mining in Argentina. They highlighted the exploitative practices used against small communities and indigenous peoples, underscored the devastating effects of mining on the environment, and became an inspiration to stand up and fight. Today, Famatina’s popular slogans “Famatina no se toca” (Hands off Famatina) and “El agua vale mas que el oro” (Water is worth more than gold) have become rallying cries against open-pit mining throughout Argentina.

The Argentina Independent talked with Carolina Suffich, a leading activist and organiser for the Asemblea de Famatina [Famatina Assembly], about her experiences and activism in the near decade-long fight to protect Famatina from large-scale mining.

To begin, can you talk a little about yourself and your labours against large scale-mining corporations in Famatina?

I am part of the Asamblea de Famatina, and I have been working in this area [protesting large-scale mining] for a little more then nine years. I am a teacher, and the mother of two children.

When we started this we didn’t have any notion of what large-scale mining was. So we started learning and informing ourselves, and we looked for people who could teach us things — we went to places that were affected by large-scale mining and where resistance was happening. We talked with the people who lived in towns near mining sites, and from there we started learning the consequences that this type of mining [open-pit] could have.

And from there more mining companies using these methods started arriving and we agreed that we needed to expel them in one way or another. We started using roadblocks, manifestations, and other types of protest.

Alto Carrizal roadblock in Famatina in 2012 (Photo: Marc Rodgers)

Alto Carrizal roadblock in Famatina in 2012 (Photo: Marc Rodgers)

How has the nature of the protests and movement in general changed over the years?

In the beginning there was a lot that we needed to learn—a lot of information, developing relationships with people, learning about people’s suffering and meeting with specialists that could help us. And after that, starting in 2010, we started expelling mining companies with roadblocks, protests, and soliciting laws against the large mining enterprises. This was the change, in the beginning we were learning and after that we started using direct action.

It is very different in the global sense, because of course this is the fourth mining project we have expelled. But we continue working, now we are working towards provincial laws against this type of mining and national laws that have the people in mind—we are looking for a type of development that the communities want and not one that is imposed on them by large companies because for us, this is not development. We want development that is sustainable so that future generations can enjoy the things that we enjoy now. So of course, we are going to keep going.

There have been numerous examples of the government and security forces turning to violence to stop protests in Famatina, what are your views on this?

Here, the government’s way of making us shut our mouths in manifestations or when we speak out against mining projects is to suppress us. They suppress us with rubber bullets and they use the legal system; they denounce us so that we cannot go out in the street and protest. This is the model, we protest the mining projects and the government tries to stop us, to shut us up, to suppress us.

Police shot rubber bullets at the anti-mining protesters in Famatina (photo: UCR Press)

Police shot rubber bullets at the anti-mining protesters in Famatina (photo: UCR Press)

What are your goals moving forward from here?

We are going to continue forming a consensus throughout the community because we do not feel represented by the government, neither on a local or national level. I do not think that there is a national policy with regards to the environment, so we have to continue strengthening ties in the community to keep fighting and resisting in support of national laws against large-scale mining.

Do you think things will improve or change with the new government under Macri?

Hmm. I have my doubts, I have my doubts. At the very least, Macri knows who we are in Famatina.


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Brazil: Mining Waste Reaches Coast After Dam Collapse

Rio Doce river mouth (photo: Fred Loureiro/Secom ES via Agencia Brasil)

Rio Doce river mouth (photo: Fred Loureiro/Secom ES via Agencia Brasil)

Contaminated mudflow from a catastrophic dam collapse in the south-eastern state of Minas Gerais is spreading along the Brazilian coast, with Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira warning of “the worst environmental disaster Brazil has ever faced”.

The mud has travelled 650 kilometres down the Rio Doce river from the Fundão iron mine where a tailing dam, designed to hold waste from iron mining, burst on 5th November. Sixty-two million cubic metres of mud were released, destroying the nearby town of Bento Rodrigues and leaving at least 12 people dead and a further 11 missing.

The mine is operated by Samarco, a joint venture between Brazilian company Vale and Anglo-Australian mining giants BHP Billiton.

Images showing a massive area of reddish-brown mud off the coast of Espírito Santo state went viral yesterday on social media as local authorities cut off access to the Regência and Povoação beaches.

A 10km stretch of the Brazilian coast is currently affected, but it is predicted that this will grow to 40km as the mud moves up the coast. Biologists warn that it could take 30 years to clean up the river basin.

Over 280,00 people remain dependent on bottled water, after the national water agency banned the use of water from the Rio Doce following contamination fears from mud, which contains toxic levels of mercury, arsenic, and chromium.

The mud could also severely reduce oxygen levels and alter the water’s pH, threatening aquatic life including fish, turtles, whales, and dolphins. Fears have been raised over the risks to the Comboios nature reserve, which for 35 years has been a protected-nesting ground for the endangered leather-back turtle and which lies in the path of the mudflow.

“I don’t know what to say,” Joca Thome, coordinator of the turtle protection agency TAMAR, told local media yesterday after flying over the mudflow in a helicopter. “It’s terrible. It’s a calamity. It looks like brown gelatine spreading into the sea”

Minister Texeira highlighted the risks to local economies, saying, “We have to attend to the workers whose livelihoods are based on the river, like the fishermen. They need help and we are giving it to them.”

Dead fish began washing up on the coast on Sunday, and the State Institute for the Environment (Iema) has warned that the few fish who have survived are too weakened by pollution to repopulate the river.

Samarco has erected 9km of floating barriers to protect the river bank and is contracting local fishermen to bury dead fish and diggers to widen the mouth of the river, allowing the mud to disperse into the sea as quickly as possible.

The company has been fined US$66m by Brazil’s Federal environmental agency and will contribute US$250m in cleanup costs.

Fears have been raised that the rain season, which lasts until March, may aggravate the situation as more mud which remains lodged near the site of the collapse and could be washed into the river by rain.

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Disco Sopa: A Recipe for Tackling Food Waste

World Food Day is upon us and as awareness about food loss and waste spreads around the world, Buenos Aires, is getting a taste of what their discarded scraps could be.

In a shady Palermo courtyard at cultural hub Pim Pam Pum last month, locals were treated to a free lunch of fresh, hot green soup, an avocado salad and a fruit salad. There was live music, sunshine, the gentle buzz of conversation and of course the smell of a delicious meal being prepared.

The catch? All the ingredients – from bright yellow lemons to gently bruised potatoes and apples – were on their way to the rubbish bin. Members of Disco Sopa Argentina salvaged them from local fruit and vegetable vendors.

Hands work carefully to make the most of damaged produce (Photo by Reilly Ryan)

Hands work carefully to make the most of damaged produce (Photo by Reilly Ryan)

Disco Soup is an international anti-waste movement that began in Germany in 2012. Its goal is to fill bellies – not garbage bins. Organisers of the regular events collect food destined for the bin from local businesses and then cook and prepare it for free to serve to the public. They combine their activist message with live music to create a fun atmosphere centred on community and conservation.

“It’s important because most people are not aware of all the waste in the food industry,” said event organiser Agathe Facomprez, 24. “It’s important to tell people little by little. If you teach one person they can teach all their friends.”

Visitors gather around to peel and chop for the soup (Photo by Reilly Ryan)

Visitors gather around to peel and chop for the soup (Photo by Reilly Ryan)

In a country built by immigrants who often came with very little, food waste was never a concern in the past, said Silvina Ferreyra, a spokesperson for the Argentine branch of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.

But times have changed. Globally, the FAO estimates one third of food produced for humans is lost or wasted. This amounts to about 1.3bn tonnes per year. “We must begin the cycle: recycle, reduce and reuse,” said Ferreyra. “That is the big message.”

Food is cut off from reaching dinner tables in two main stages of the production process. In the first stage it is lost, either during the production, harvest, post-harvest and processing phases. The second stage is food waste, which is when perfectly edible food is thrown away because of imperfections like bruises.

Disco Sopa's waste diagram (Photo by Reilly Ryan)

Disco Sopa’s waste diagram (Photo by Reilly Ryan)

Though it’s impossible to find exact statistics on food waste in Argentina, the National Institute for Agricultural Technology estimates that in some chains over 50% of fruit and vegetables are lost. Dairy and meat products suffer losses of 20% and cereals and fish lose almost a third.

And this loss doesn’t just mean less food for hungry mouths – it means valuable finite resources like land, energy, and water are wasted too.

Back in Palermo, Natalia Basso prepared soup in the kitchen as Disco Sopa participants trickled in and out.

“We can all contribute to reducing food waste,” she said.

Disco Sopa Argentina is hosting its fifth event on 1st November 2015 at the cultural centre Ambigú and all are welcome to attend.


What: Disco Sopa Argentina: free food and live music
Where: Ambigú, Tte Gral Juan Domingo Perón 1829, Buenos Aires, Argentina
When: November 1st 2015 from 11am to 4pm
Why: To spread awareness of food waste
Cost: Free!
Website: https://www.facebook.com/events/956149667756523/

Posted in Environment, Food & Drink, VideoComments (0)

Argentina’s UN Emissions Plan Fails to Convince

Argentina has pledged its conditional commitment towards combating climate change, communicated through the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) submitted last week. The document details the country’s action plan to combat climate change ahead of the COP21 conference in Paris this coming December.

The ten-page report stipulates certain broad parameters and goals in order to combat climate change, namely:

    – Reducing emissions by 15% by 2030.
    – Reducing emissions by 30% by 2030 if financial aid is received.
    – Making a move towards renewables by investing more in nuclear and hydroelectric energy.

Environmental groups, though, are not convinced by the plan. As Hernán Giardini from Greenpeace Argentina told The Argentina Independent: “there’s what the document says, and what it leaves unsaid.”

UN General Assembly (Photo courtesy of Agencia Brasil through Wikimedia Commons)

The UN Climate Summit will be in Paris in December (Photo courtesy of Agencia Brasil through Wikimedia Commons)

‘A Lie From the Get-Go’

Argentina is among the top 25 greenhouse gas emitting countries in the world.

According to The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s report last year, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, rising temperatures will affect Argentina’s agricultural productivity. The country will likely face changing rain patterns, with increased rainfall – and potential flooding – in the pampas and east (including Buenos Aires), and droughts in the west, as glacier retreat and lower rainfall lead to decreased run-off in the rivers.

The effects of some of these changes made headlines just one month ago as freak rainfall led to floods that forced hundreds of people to evacuate and left some 160,000 hectares of farmland underwater. Three people died during these floods, but one that swept through the city of La Plata in 2013 ago took with it 89 lives.

Yet the country has been largely inactive when it comes to tackling climate change. Environmental policy did not even feature as a subject as a topic for discussion in the country’s first presidential debate last week.

The INDC proposal was found wanting by Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina (FVSA), which points out that the it does not “demostrate a commitment nor its will to confront the problem of climate change head on, nor does it take advantage of the country’s potential to mitigate its effects.”

Eduardo Abascal, a spokesperson for the Environmental and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN), said the estimates were “conservative and lacking” when taking into account that Argentina’s CO2 emissions have steadily risen along the years. He says the proposed target of 15% would contribute to tapering off the intensity of emissions, but not to lowering the emissions themselves. The current plan would only manage to lower emissions if the secondary 30% target were reached.

But the latter, as Argentina’s INDC report clearly points out, would be dependent on external financial support from developed countries. While FVSA and other groups support this approach in theory, it remains a prickly issue in international negotiations over climate change.

Hernán Giardini says that for Greenpeace, the country’s main problems lie with its energy matrix proposal and a lack of effort in combating deforestation. “The document simply states that Argentina will comply with the Ley de Bosques [which combats deforestation]. That is an obligation, not a goal.” He explains that the first instance of non-compliance by the Argentine government is approaching fast. The national budget for 2016 was recently approved, and the amount devoted to the is 23 times small that the quota stipulated by the Forest Law. “The INDC document is a lie from the get-go,” he adds.

As a sign of the importance of this issue, the IPCC’s 2014 report highlighted that 4.3% of global deforestation now occurs in Argentina.

Images of deforestation in the Chaco (Photo: Greenpeace)

Images of deforestation in the Chaco (Photo: Greenpeace)

The Renewable Potential

On Wednesday the U.S. Amabasador to Argentina, Noah B. Mamet, offered a talk on climate change at AreaTres in Buenos Aires. Ambassador Mamet reminded that 1% of electricity in Argentina comes from renewable energies, such as solar or wind. “I hope that the delegation that goes to Paris from here thinks big, there’s a lot to do here,” he extolled. “I think Argentina can be a real leader. Other countries would come along and join them if Argentina we a real leader.”

Vida Silvestre, on the other hand, reminds that Argentina’s goal was to raise this number to 20% by 2025, which is why it passed the Law for the Promotion of Renewable Energies. Yet it warns that those good intentions will not materialise without a serious boost in financial investment in that sector.

FVSA published a report that offers several alternatives for more significant action in terms of emissions-reduction. The document outlines all the potential that Argentina has for deriving energy from eco-friendly sources and offers pointers on how it could reduce emissions by investing in renewable energies or implementing energy-efficiency policies.

Abascal, from FARN, agrees and adds that investment in the renewable energy sector would contribute both social and economic benefits. This new sector would not just help protect the environment, but create jobs and generate savings by cutting down on fuel imports.

Greenpeace, on the other hand, would like to see a push towards cleaner renewable energy alternatives, such as wind and solar energy, rather than the current focus on nuclear and hydro-election power. “Nuclear leaves toxic waste which is impossible to get rid off and poses a danger to humans and the environment,” says Giardini. “Meanwhile, the mega-hydroelectric projects they propose are also damaging to the surrounding flora and fauna.”

Argentina may be taking small steps in the right direction with the report, but environmental groups remain concerned that it is too little, too late.


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Chile: Bachelet Announces Giant New Marine Parks to Protect Ocean Life

The marine parks will protect large area's of Chile's territorial waters (Photo via Wikipedia).

The marine parks will protect large area’s of Chile’s territorial waters (Photo via Wikipedia).

The Chilean government has announced the creation of protected marine parks covering over one million square kilometres of its territorial waters.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet made the announcement at the inauguration of the ‘Our Ocean’ International Conference in Valparaiso, Chile.

In her speech earlier this week, Bachelet declared the formation of a 297,000 km2 Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park surrounding the islands of San Ambrosio and San Félix, as well as a network of marine parks in the Juan Fernández Archipelago comprising over 13,000 km2. In addition, she promised to extend the protected marine area surrounding Easter Island so that it covers over 720,000 km2.

Commercial fishing will be prohibited in marine parks in an effort to protect the rich and diverse ocean habitats in the region.

According to a marine biologist at National Geographic, Enric Sala, about 72% of the species in the waters around the Desventuradas Islands are endemic, meaning that they are found no where else in the world. This makes the region one of the most diverse and pristine ocean environments on Earth.

“We must think of optimising our resources,” said mayor of Easter Island’s Rapa Nui community, Pedro Edmunds Paoa. “Our resource is the sea and the future of Rapa Nui is the sea.”

Vice President of Oceana in Chile, Alex Muñoz, described that years of unregulated fishing practices drastically threatened these endemic species and harmed the natural ecosystem.

“For many years, Chile has been one of the most important fishing countries in the world,” Muñoz said. “Unfortunately, that led to depletion of our marine resources. With the creation of this marine park around Desventuradas, we’re becoming a leader in marine conservation.”

While these new marine parks are definitely a step in the right direction, countries around the world still have a long way to go to meet the UN’s stated goal of protecting 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020. This goal was set at a UN biodiversity summit in Nagoya, Japan in 2010 and was agreed upon by more than 190 countries.

“These dangers and threats [to the world’s oceans] transcend borders and demand effective international collective actions,” President Bachelet said in her speech at the conference. “It is essential that we act now for the future of all countries, particularly for small island states and coastal communities that are especially vulnerable and depend directly on the sea.”

The conference, which concluded yesterday, announced over 80 new initiatives on marine conservation and protection valued at more than US$2.1 billon.

In addition, the 56 countries in attendance made new commitments to protect more than 1.9 million square-kilometres of the ocean.

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Córdoba: High Court Ratifies Ban on Open-Pit Mining

The High Court of Córdoba (TSJ) today ruled that a provincial ban on open-pit mining was constitutional, thereby rejecting an appeal by mining and nuclear energy companies.

Approved in 2008, provincial law 9526 prohibits open-pit metal mining throughout Córdoba. It also bans all mining for uranium or thorium – both used to create nuclear energy – and prevents the use of toxic chemicals in any mining projects that are permitted.

La Alumbrera in Catamarca is the largest open-pit mines in Argentina (Photo: Alejandro Olivera)

La Alumbrera in Catamarca is the largest open-pit mines in Argentina (Photo: Alejandro Olivera)

The Chamber of Mining Companies in Córdoba (Cemincor) and The Association of Professional from the National Commission for Atomic Energy and Nuclear Activity (APCNEAN) appealed against the law, calling it an ‘arbitrary’ ban on certain activities and substances that contradicted the national mining code and constitution.

However, the TSJ determined that in Argentina’s federal system each province was able to create laws to best suit the interests of the local population. It also ruled that the environment is a “supreme collective good” and as such, it was reasonable to be protect it by law.

“The magnitude of environmental consequences with respect to water and the large amounts of environmental waste generated by open-pit mining, combined with past experiences in the province, creates grounds for the restrictions included in Law 9526,” reads the ruling. “The law complies with a constitutional duty described by the National Supreme Court as guaranteeing ‘that future generations may enjoy the environment’.”

The TSJ added that the restrictions on open pit mining and the use of certain chemicals did not imply a blanket ban on mining activity in the province.

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Out Now: Castores, La invasión del fin del mundo

The introduction of beavers in Tierra del Fuego in the 1940s might seem like an interesting, yet trivial fact. But ‘Castores: la invasión del fin del mundo’ (‘Beavers: The Invasion at the End of the World’) by Pablo Chehebar and Nicolas Iacouzzi might persuade you otherwise. The documentary addressed the problem of overpopulation and the ecological catastrophe that the introduction of these rodents has caused in the southern extremes of the continent.

A tree eaten by a beaver in Tierra del Fuego (Photo courtesy of Metiche Films)

A tree eaten by a beaver in Tierra del Fuego (Photo courtesy of Metiche Films)

The idea for the documentary emerged after the directors were told the story of how 20 beavers, brought over from Canada in 1940 to develop a fur industry in Argentina, had gone out of control.

“When we saw a picture of a beaver dam in the forest it impressed us greatly: it looked like a bomb had fallen in the forest,” explained Iacouzzi. “The situation was so serious that people dedicated to the conservation of species and nature said ‘the only thing left is to kill them all…’ And the third and bizarre leg of this conflict was that the beaver currently in Ushuaia was used as a tourist attraction, so there was a character disguised as beaver walking in the city streets handing out leaflets. That’s when we said: ‘Here’s an interesting story to tell’.”

With no natural predators on the island, the original 20 beavers have multiplied to number around 150,000, making their population larger than that of the 134,000 or so humans living in the area. Adult beavers, weighing between 23 and 25kg, engineer their environment by cutting down trees to make dams in order to create a suitable location for edible plants to grow. In the process they destroy the ecosystem because their constructions flood river banks and widen the streams and rivers, resulting in soil erosion and reduced water quality. Simultaneously – unlike trees in the beavers’ native Canada – the trees in Tierra del Fuego die when cut, and do not survive immersion under water. To make matters worse, the cycle of renovation for the forest is much longer than in the north.

Beaver dams are re-routing rivers in the area, affecting the local ecosystem (Photo courtesy of Metiche Films)

Beaver dams are re-routing rivers in the area, affecting the local ecosystem (Photo courtesy of Metiche Films)

The directors tell this story well, avoiding the style of a traditional nature documentary. “We decided to make a more sociological documentary, where we show different views of people about the issue,” Iacouzzi explains. The visual interplay between interviews and nature scenes on the one hand, and animation on the other, is a stunning backdrop to a wide cross-section of views from artists, fur sellers, designers, hunters, wildlife conservationists, and those benefitting from beaver tourism, among others. The film also presents the somewhat desperate attempts to control the population and the adaption needed to coexist with the beavers.

At times funny, and at times sad, the documentary captivates and educates throughout, leaving the viewer well-informed about the detrimental consequence of the introduction of the little rodents to an ecosystem that they are exogenous to. Iacouzzi explains that the greatest challenge for the two young filmmakers was to tell the story in an entertaining way: “A lot of hard data can be interesting, but our goal was to bring this documentary to as many people as possible. So from the beginning we knew we did not want to make a documentary with only a scientific tone. We wanted to tell a story that seemed amazing to us through a story, and a problem that can be a mirror of many others.”

Indeed, threatening the very existence of some of the most pristine forests in the world, the problem of the beavers can be seen as a problem of modernity, where man’s attempts to control the environment for economic gain has resulted in unintended and often detrimental consequences. Perhaps the most notable example is the virtual disappearance since 1960 of one of the largest lakes in the world, the Aral Sea, due to the Soviet Union channelling the lake’s water for irrigation purposes. Times might be changing, however. In the cinema, the audience laughs when an interviewee proposes solving the problem in Tierra del Fuego by introducing bigger predators to the area in order to control the population of the beavers.

The beavers were originally introduced for their fur. (Photo courtesy of Metiche Films)

The beavers were originally introduced for their fur. (Photo courtesy of Metiche Films)

Conversely, the documentary does not offer easy solutions to the problem. For the directors, the subject matter is part of a wider issue of a “biological drama”, of not knowing the nature that surrounds us. The objective of the film is then to allow the viewer to form his own opinion about the conflict and avoid reproducing the problem with other species. “How many people, upon visiting the square nearest to their homes, can identify the trees or birds that inhabit it?” says Iacouzzi.

Yet, beyond awareness of the problem, something has to be done. During the film, a visual representation of the beavers’ rapid spread leaves one with a grave sense of urgency. As biologist Christopher Anderson told Clarín: “It is expected that the invasion will reach Bariloche. It is proven in Tierra del Fuego that [the beavers] can inhabit treeless environments, i.e. the steppe. So there is no reason not to predict that the invasion will come to Bariloche or beyond.”

Unfortunately the eradication of beavers in Tierra del Fuego and the part of the Chilean Patagonia they have reached would require extensive cooperation between the governments of both countries, and an estimated US$37m.

Whether we like beavers or not, we may soon be able to spot them without travelling all the way to the south.

‘Castores: La invasion del fin del mundo’ is showing at the Gaumont for until 18th June. Tickets $8, students and concessions $6. See the programme for screening times. For more information about the documentary, visit the filmmakers’ website.

Posted in Environment, Film, Social Issues, The ArtsComments (0)

Ecuador: Ship Runs Aground in Galápagos Islands

There are fears the wreck could contaminate the islands' pristine waters (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

There are fears the wreck could contaminate the islands’ pristine waters (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Ecuadorian authorities have declared a state of emergency in the Galápagos Islands after the freighter ‘Floreana’ ran aground just off San Cristóbal Island, in the aptly named ‘Wreck Bay’.

The incident, which took place on 28th January, is the third in under a year, after Galapaface I hit the rocks last May, and a ship en route to the islands carrying 1,200 tonnes of cargo sunk close to Santa Elena Peninsula in November.

The Floreana was transporting 1,925 tonnes of cargo, including food, supplies, construction materials, and some hazardous substances, such as 37,000 litres of fuel, 11 tonnes of pinion oil, 103 gas cylinders, 48 tonnes of asphalt emulsion, and other materials, according to a bulletin issued by the Provincial Government of Galápagos.

In a press release, the Directorate of the Galápagos National Park and the Environmental Ministry reported that they have placed containment barriers and absorbent material around the Floreana to prevent possible discharge of pollutants into the bay. However, Ecuadorian navy personnel have reported the presence of contaminating material, a mixture of diesel and hydraulic oil, due to the flooding of the engine room, and the fuel leakage is said to be increasing.

Until there is evidence that the contamination has been contained, the park has closed three surfing spots near the incident area, and extra barges have been sent from the Ecuadorian mainland to accelerate unloading operations. Once the unloading is completed and the vessel is stabilised, it will be scuttled in an area outside the marine reserve.

The incident has reminded locals of the 2001 incident in which Jessica, an oil tanker, ran aground in Wreck Bay, spilling over 650,000 litres of diesel and fuel oil. It was ranked as one of the worst environmental disasters in Galápagos history.

The Galapagos Islands are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for the vast number of species and pristine environment, and are located some 900km off Ecuador’s Pacific coast.


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Nicaragua: Construction to Begin on Controversial Canal

The chosen Nicaragua canal route (photo: laprensa.com.ni)

The Nicaragua canal route (photo: laprensa.com.ni)

Construction is due to begin on Nicaragua’s Great Inter-oceanic Canal today. When finished, the 278km canal will link the Pacific Ocean with the Caribbean Sea, crossing Lake Nicaragua, Central America’s largest drinking water reservoir.

Chinese-based HKND Group will construct the canal and also retain the rights to operate the project, which will also includes a rail line, an oil pipeline, and a deep water shipping terminal at either end, for the next 100 years. The project is due to be completed in 2020.

When operational, an estimated 5,100 of the world’s largest cargo ships will be able to pass through the canal each year, representing approximate 5% of global cargo transport. Complementary projects will include a new international airport, a free trade zone, and new tourist complexes.

Proponents of the plan claim that the US$50bn project could create 250,000 jobs – 50,000 directly and a further 200,000 indirectly – and provide an economic boost to the country, which is the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti.

But opponents say the canal will cause an environmental and social disaster, with hundreds of communities set to be displaced, as the planned route cuts through towns, farmland, and protected indigenous territory. The canal will also make its way through about 400 hectares of wetlands and rain forests, including the northern sector of the Cerro Silva natural reserve. Environmentalists also warn that the canal could lead to saltwater seepage into Lake Nicaragua, as well as the introduction of invasive species carried in by international cargo carriers.

Additionally, according to Law 840, which governs the canal deal, HKND can expropriate land anywhere in Nicaragua and must pay landowners the tax-assessed value of the property, which is usually much lower than the land’s actual value.

In most of the towns slated for relocation, there is little or no information. Activists say that most residents don’t seem to know when they are expected to leave, where they will go, or if they will be paid.

To address these issues, HKND hired London-based Environmental Resources Management (ERM) to conduct environmental and social impact assessments. Though ERM presented their preliminary results in November, the studies have not been made public, and there is no requirement for the assessments to be made available to the Nicaraguan public.

“The fact that they first approved the concession instead of first having all the studies, and only then — knowing the data and knowing that it is feasible  — approving the project, makes us think that they are going about it from the wrong direction,” Jorge Huete, president of Nicaragua’s National Academy of Sciences, said in a recent interview.

Earlier this year, a group of 12 environmental NGOs published their own independent study on the effects of the canal, concluding the social and environmental impacts made the canal neither viable nor sustainable.

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Salta Governor closes Deforestation Loophole

Illegal deforestation in Salta (Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Argentina)

Illegal deforestation in Salta (Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Argentina)

To the delight of environmentalists, deforestation will no longer be allowed in protected areas of Salta.

Provincial governor, Juan Manuel Urtubey, has closed a loophole that had allowed landowners to recategorise their land, thus giving a green light to deforestation in areas that should have been preserved under the national Forest Law.

“We celebrate that Governor Urtubey has removed the decrees that authorised landowners to deforest areas that were not allowed under the Forest Law. It is a victory for all Argentines and organisations that want a country with forests and as such fight for the laws that will protect them – something we will continue to do until the law is followed,” said Hernán Giardini, coordinator of the forest campaign for Greenpeace.

The environmental organisation has been at the frontline of a two-year fight against Urtubey’s decrees, spearheading a campaign that highlighted illegal deforestation in Salta, and organising a petition to stop deforestation in the province that was signed by more than 350,000 people.

All wooded areas will now be guaranteed the protections afforded by the Law, which was passed in 2007, which categorised forests and wooded areas in a traffic-light system, protecting areas classified as ‘red’, allowing for selected logging in areas categorised as ‘yellow’, and permitting the clearing of areas denominated ‘green’.

However, under a provincial amendment, in Salta landowners were allowed to recategorise their land, and many areas previously considered ‘red’ were changed to ‘yellow’ or even ‘green’. It is estimated that 130,000 hectares of forest that should have been conserved were cleared as a result of this landowner recategorisation.

Greenpeace is now lobbying the government of Salta to revoke the deforestation permissions that were granted under the loophole, thus ensuring no more areas are cleared as a result of the recategorisation.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups ArgentinaComments (0)

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