ELAW Advocate: Spring 2004

Conserving Caribbean Ecosystems

Caye Caulker, Belize
Caye Caulker, Belize

The Caribbean’s rainbow-hued coral reefs, low montane rainforests, dry scrub woodlands, freshwater swamps, mangrove stands, and cloud forests provide unique habitat that sustains rare species found nowhere else in the world. Pioneering work by local E-LAW advocates is safeguarding the region’s unique biodiversity.

E-LAW U.S. is working with partners in the Caribbean to advance environmental conservation in Jamaica, protect the Mesoamerican Reef, and educate attorneys general in Guatemala and around the world. E-LAW advocate Candis Hamilton in Jamaica contributed to this report with an excerpt from a paper about using the Inter-American system of human rights to protect the environment.


E-LAW U.S. is working closely with Diana McCaulay, the Chief Executive Officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) on several initiatives to protect ecosystems and public health in Jamaica.

Yallahs River

Support from E-LAW U.S. helped JET protect the coast of the parish of St. Thomas from an ill-advised sand mining operation. The project threatened beaches, fishing grounds, and the livelihoods of local residents on Jamaica’s south coast.

Jamaica Pre-Mix Ltd. proposed to dredge two million metric tons of sand every year, for 20 years, from the mouth of the Yallahs River. Diana called on E-LAW U.S. to evaluate the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the proposed project.

E-LAW U.S. Staff Scientist Mark Chernaik found that the EIA’s analysis was flawed. It failed to identify potentially destructive impacts on beach stability and failed to assess how increased loads of sediment would impact marine life.

Advocates at JET presented Mark’s findings to Jamaica’s National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). NEPA notified the project proponents that approval would not be considered if the concerns outlined by Mark were not addressed.

JET has not heard any more from the project proponents.

Fisheries Act

E-LAW U.S. is working with JET to review Jamaica’s draft fisheries law and supporting policy. In June, E-LAW U.S. and JET will hold a workshop to inform local fishermen about the proposed changes in the law and help them participate in the review of the draft law and policy. E-LAW U.S. is providing JET with comments on the draft law and information about fisheries management in other countries. More than 700 species of fish inhabit the waters of Jamaica. Support from the New England Biolabs Foundation is making it possible to protect Jamaica’s valuable marine resources.

Managing Hospital Waste

E-LAW U.S. scientists worked with JET to score a big victory for the environment and public health.

Diana was challenging plans for a proposed medical waste incinerator at the University Hospital of the West Indies. Diana called on E-LAW U.S. for help. E-LAW U.S. Environmental Research Scientist Meche Lu and Staff Scientist Mark Chernaik critiqued plans for the proposed incinerator and gave JET information about alternative medical waste management practices that safeguard public health.

With this support, Diana won a major victory. In May, she wrote to the E-LAW network: "I want to report a victory — probably my first ever major one in 15 years. Thanks to advice and an excellent critique from Mark and Meche on a planned medical waste incinerator for one of our large hospitals, the hospital advised me yesterday that it has now decided to scrap the incinerator and use autoclaving, with a shredder.

I feel very encouraged by this — mostly victories are very hard to find here in Jamaica — and I intend now to see what I can do to get government policy changed, so that all hospitals will begin to change their waste management practices."

We salute Diana and JET for this victory, which
was made possible by support from the Alice C. Tyler Perpetual Trust.

Strengthening Jamaican Lawyers

Akilah Anderson, Jamaica
Akilah Anderson, Jamaica

In an effort to build the corps of Caribbean lawyers working to protect the environment through law, E-LAW U.S. collaborates each summer with the joint environmental law program of the University of Florida and the University of Costa Rica. E-LAW U.S. recruits students from the Caribbean for this program. Five Jamaicans participated in 2002 and 2003, and Akilah Anderson, a Jamaican lawyer hired to lead JET’s new environmental law program, will attend this summer.

The Mesoamerican Reef

The Mesoamerican Reef is the largest coral reef system in the Western Hemisphere, stretching from Isla de Contoy in Mexico to the Bay Islands of Honduras.

The Reef supports nearly 60 species of coral, 350 species of mollusks, and 500 fish species. It is also home to hawksbill sea turtles, crocodiles, lemon sharks, and Central America’s largest population of manatees.

Lori Maddox and Vicky Cajiao in Belize
Lori Maddox (left) E-LAW U.S. Associate Director, and Vicky Cajiao, E-LAW Costa Rica, boarding the international ferry in Punta Gorda, Belize.

With support from the Summit Foundation, E-LAW U.S. and its partners in the region assessed the state of public interest environmental law in each of the Reef countries — Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras — and identified organizations and individuals that will play key roles in building lasting environmental law capacity in the region. E-LAW U.S. is now embarking on a project to build a coalition of public interest environmental advocates across the region; support their efforts to enforce laws and regional agreements protecting the Reef; and educate recreational users of the Reef, small business owners, residents and their advocates, about the ecology and law governing the Reef.

E-LAW U.S. will work closely with the Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA), Mexico’s premier environmental law group, on this project. E-LAW U.S. has worked with CEMDA since 1995. Together, we reached out to educate lawyers across Mexico about using environmental law as a tool for environmental protection.

This work helped launch new environmental law organizations in Chihuahua, Guadalajara, and Tijuana, and led to the opening of CEMDA’s Cancun office. Patricio Martin, the lead CEMDA attorney in Cancun, is effectively using Mexico’s laws to protect marine resources, and will play a pivotal role in this project.