ELAW Advocate: Autumn 2000

Protecting Biodiversity Through Law

Nairobi National Park
The Nairobi skyline as seen from Nairobi National Park (Photo: John Bonine)

No one has reported seeing a Miss Waldron`s red colobus monkey (Procolobus bandius waldroni) in more than 20 years. In September, scientists declared this brightly colored native of Ghana and Cote d`Ivoire extinct. The red colobus is the first primate to be declared extinct in over a century.
According to the United Nations, one quarter of all mammal species are at risk of extinction. In the face of these threats to biodiversity, E-LAW advocates around the world are going to court to win cases in defense of ecosystems and species. They are challenging companies and individuals who want to exploit resources for short term financial gain.
The following are recent victories by E-LAW advocates working to preserve the critical ecosystems that support life on the planet.
Vembanad Estuary, India
E-LAW advocate P.B. Sahasranaman filed suit in 1997 against Taj Hotels, citing threats to mangroves in Vembanad Estuary, the site of a major bird sanctuary. Tourist hotel development and new road construction had threatened the area`s unique biodiversity. In March, 2000, P.B. won a high court order protecting mangroves throughout Kerala State.
E-LAW U.S. provided P.B. with previous judgments and court orders protecting mangroves in India and Peru. These legal judgments, together with documentation of the important role that mangroves play in ecosystems, gave P.B. the support he needed to win the case.
San Ignacio Lagoon, Mexico
In March, 2000, the Government of Mexico canceled plans to build the world`s largest salt plant on the shores of Baja`s San Ignacio Lagoon, the last pristine breeding ground of the gray whale and a United Nations designated World Heritage Site. The legal team at Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA) worked closely with E-LAW U.S. to mount the legal challenge against the Mitsubishi Corporation and the Government of Mexico, partners in the salt plant venture.
E-LAW U.S. provided CEMDA with information showing the dangerous effects of increased salinity on marine animals and U.S. standards for salt production plants. E-LAW U.S. also helped CEMDA tap research around the world showing the negative impacts of solar salt facilities.
Eppawala, Sri Lanka
On June 2, 2000, E-LAW advocates at Sri Lanka`s Environmental Foundation, Ltd. (EFL) celebrated a Supreme Court landmark decision halting development of the proposed Eppawala phosphate mine. The project would have destroyed a fragile jungle ecosystem that supports rare medicinal plants and wild elephants, and forced the relocation of residents in Sri Lanka`s North Central Province.

Shrimp farms
Industrial shrimp farms threaten the coast of Belize (Photo: Jennifer Gleason)

EFL called on E-LAW to help develop legal strategies to oppose the mine and to track the corporate interests seeking the mining rights. E-LAW U.S. provided EFL with information on the U.S.-based corporations intent on developing the proposed mine and information on the public trust doctrine under U.S. law. E-LAW U.S. also provided information on mining corporations, the environmental impacts of phosphate mining and the U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act.
These victories offer a glimpse of the type of assistance that E-LAW provides to advocates around the world in hundreds of cases every year. Over the last three years, local advocates have called on E-LAW U.S. for help with roughly 1,000 efforts to protect the environment through law. In many of these cases, advocates are working directly to protect biological diversity, while in others advocates are challenging urban environmental degradation. In every effort, E-LAW U.S. helps empower local advocates and strengthens environmental laws.