Cheryl provided a Trip Report and agreed to share excerpts from her diary:
Continental provides special training for pilots landing in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. As expected, the landing was thrilling. Lori and I emerged, and were greeted with hugs from ELAW partner Clarisa Vega, a passionate, articulate Honduran attorney.
Our meetings with ministers and agency heads have been fascinating. The contrast is stunning. Nothing demonstrates it better than their offices and private bathrooms. The Minister of Tourism has a lovely office. Her bathroom has running water and toilet paper. The minister of the agency that reviews permits for development is housed in a crumbling building. Her bathroom is falling apart.
Patricio Martin runs the Cancun office of Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA).
We would learn some discouraging facts. Roatan, a sleepy island just two years ago, is under tremendous pressure from developers. This is Honduras's closest point to the Mesoamerican Reef. The government is under-staffed and environmental assessments of proposed projects are not checked carefully. During our meeting with the permitting agency we learned that there are only five government employees who review development permits for all of Honduras.
Rondine Twist and Candy Gonzalez (Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy), Lori Maddox (ELAW), Jeanette de Noack (Guatemala’s Center for Environmental, Legal & Social Action), Cheryl Coon and Clarisa Vega (Environmental Law Institute of Honduras).
When Lori and I traveled to Roatan my fears were confirmed. Everywhere you look, land is for sale. The construction practices are haphazard, with fill being dumped in the ocean near the Reef. Reefs that are accessible from shore, such as in Roatan, are no longer pristine. We saw evidence of damage, from bleaching to broken corals. There are signs warning tourists not to damage the coral, but hordes of cruise ship visitors (and plans for increased cruise ship traffic) means the Reef is under severe pressure.
Cheryl Coon has served as Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Conservation, U.S. Virgin Islands; Chief Counsel and Staff Director of the House Investigations Subcommittee of the Committee on Science, Technology and Space; Legal Counsel to the Ocean Policy Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee; and Senior Assistant Attorney General in the Natural Resources Section, Oregon. She holds a J.D. from Boston University School of Law and an L.L.M. in Marine Law from the University of Washington School of Law. She is now collaborating on efforts to establish marine reserves in Oregon.
Alejandra Sobenes Garcia, IDEADS
Alejandra Sobenes Garcia, founder of the Environmental Law and Sustainable Development Institute (IDEADS) of Guatemala and long-time ELAW partner, has been named Vice Minister for Natural Resources in Guatemala. Alejandra pioneered public interest environmental law in Guatemala in the early 1990s and built a coalition of advocates throughout Central America. She has been a professor of environmental law and is a strong advocate for Guatemala's spectacular natural resources. We wish her the very best in her new position!
ELAW Associate Director Lori Maddox traveled with environmental attorney and longtime ELAW supporter Cheryl Coon to Honduras in February to help ELAW partners in the region protect the Mesoamerican Reef. The Mesoamerican Reef extends more than 400 miles from the tip of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula to Belize, Guatemala, and the Bay Islands off Honduras. The governments of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras have agreed to protect the Reef and its tremendous biodiversity.