Mexico Is Letting an Oil Company Destroy Protected Mangroves for an $8 Billion Oil Refinery
Mexico's president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador ordered state-owned oil company, Pemex, to build an $8 billion oil refinery. So, the company has followed orders and razed protected mangrove trees to clear way for the controversial project, according to Quartz. Satellite images posted on Quartz show the cleared land to accommodate the construction.
Mangrove forests, which straddle land and sea, provide enormous environmental benefits. Not only do the sequester carbon, pulling greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere, they reduce flooding and erosion from storms, serve as nurseries for fish and filter pollutants from water. Research shows that, tree-for-tree, mangroves trap three to five times more carbon than rainforests can.
Pemex's Dos Bocas refinery site. Planet Labs / Quartz
Lopez Obrador approved the project in Tabasco, his home state, to revive the state-owned oil giant, which has suffered from dysfunction recently. Shortly after the president approved the project, a third party uprooted large swatches of mangroves, even though they are protected and vital to Mexico's economy, according to Quartz.
The complex ecosystems the trees create provide almost 6 percent of Mexico's GDP, according to the University of California, San Diego, as Quartz reported. While the mangroves are supposed to be protected, the satellite imagery shows that they continue to be felled to make way for roads. Pemex, or a third-party, defied a government order by cutting down the mangroves and is now asking for permission to raze more so it can build a bridge.
The actions have environmental advocates worried about Mexico's commitment to a sustainable future, especially since the government canceled a $700,000 fine for a company accused of destroying thousands of acres of mangroves.
"The administration promotes an oil refinery, and to build it destroys threatened mangroves even though Mexico is part of the Paris accords," Alejandra Rabasa, an environmental lawyer in Mexico City, said to Sierra Club.
Gustavo Alanis-Ortega, president of the Mexican Center for Environmental Law, told Quartz that there should be an investigation into Pemex's role in the deforestation, "If they are indeed breaking the law [at Dos Bocas], this shows that there is no real commitment to legality and the rule of law" in Lopez Obrador's government,
The area where the deforestation has taken place is home to many endangered animals, including a jaguarundi wild cat, and protected species of snakes, iguanas and birds, as Reuters reported. Futhermore, Pemex executives actually proposed that the area be made into a protected nature preserve about a decade ago, according to Reuters.
Now, a little over a year into office, Lopez Obrador seems to be following in the footsteps of the presidents of other large countries in the Americas, mainly President Trump and President Bolsanaro in Brazil, by reversing environmental progress. He has put the kibosh on renewable energy projects, tried to cut subsidies to renewable energy companies, and usurped a government plan to bolster investments in green infrastructure, according to Quartz.
"Environmental issues are completely relegated—they don't figure in this administration's agenda," Alanis-Ortega told Quartz.
Meanwhile, the economic benefit of the Pemex refinery is questionable, since economists say it would be more cost effective to import oil than to build this refinery. Furthermore, mangroves have a proven economic benefit. According to Mongabay, researchers estimate that mangroves provide "ecosystem services" equal to $194,000 per hectare annually. Multiplied by their global span, that means the world's mangroves provide around $2.7 trillion in services every year.
Mangroves also store much more carbon than scientists had previously thought, according to a study by 20 researchers around the world published in Environmental Research Letters.
"Protecting, enhancing and restoring natural carbon sinks must become political priorities," Jonathan Sanderman of the Woods Hole Research Center and lead author of the study said as Mongabay reported. "Mangrove forests can play an important role in carbon removals because they are among the most carbon-dense ecosystems in the world, and if kept undisturbed, mangrove forest soils act as long-term carbon sinks."
As Quartz reported, Mexico prioritized protecting its mangrove forests as part of Paris climate agreement commitments. Mexico has the fourth-largest area of mangroves in the world. However, mangrove deforestation is rampant across Mexico, and, according to the University of California, San Diego at the current rate, the country may lose half its remaining mangroves in 50 years.
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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