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Kids Derail $900 Million Development Project in Cancún

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Kids Derail $900 Million Development Project in Cancún

Young environmentalists in Mexico have permanently suspended the development of a 69-hectare project in Cancún that would have cleared a large chunk of a mangrove forest, Quartz reports.

In September, 113 kid activists filed a lawsuit to halt construction of the $900 million project that would have paved over a mangrove-covered area for homes, shops and a promenade.

“If we cut everything down then we’re going to die,” Ana, a four-year-old plaintiff, told Quartz. “Trees help us breathe.”

On Nov. 4, a judge ruled in favor of the group of children, but said they should pay a bond of 21 million pesos (about $1.2 million) to offset the developers’ losses. The group's attorneys have argued that the bond should not apply to minors.

Mangroves—which provide food and shelter for marine life, reptiles and birds—have been devastated over the decades by the tourism industry in the popular vacation spot.

Cancún is Mexico's number one tourism destination, drawing 4.8 million visitors last year and pumping billions of dollars into the economy. For developers, it seems, tourism dollars are just more economical than saving mangroves.

Alfredo Arellano of the Commission for Protected Areas told Reuters that Mexico loses nearly 25,000 acres or 1 percent of its mangroves annually.

Not only are mangroves important for ecosystems, scientists say that mangrove forests can help slow climate change as they "suck an uncommon amount of industrial carbon out of the atmosphere and bury it deep within their underground network of roots," Reuters reported.

Residents and environmental activists have been fighting Cancún hotel and resort development ever since it became a hotspot in the 1970s.

Significantly, this is the first lawsuit filed in Mexico advocating for the collective rights of kids over corporate interests in order to protect the environment, Carla Gil, the group’s lawyer, told Quartz.

Antonella Vazquez, the mother of a 5-year-old plaintiff, told Quartz it’s important for children to raise their voices as hotels and beach resorts spread around Cancún. If her daughter doesn’t speak up, Vazquez says, “there’s going to be nothing left for her."

Children, teens and young adults around the world are doing more than their fair share for the environment.

On International Youth Day this past August, 21 kid activists from across the U.S. filed a landmark constitutional climate change lawsuit against the federal government, asserting that the government has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, property and has failed to protect essential public trust resources in causing climate change.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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