Around the Region

Brazilian environment minister calls Chico Mendes “irrelevant”

The United Nations Environment Programme named him a Global 500 Roll of Honour Award winner in 1987. Paul McCartney dedicated a 1989 song, “How Many People,” to him. A Hollywood film based on his life premiered in 1994. And the arm of Brazil’s Environment Ministry that designates and manages federally protected lands is called The Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation. Yet the name of Chico Mendes, the late rubber-tappers’ union leader who became Brazil’s most famous environmentalist by spotlighting the need for rainforest protection, does not appear to mean much to Ricardo Salles, Brazil’s recently appointed environment minister. Appearing on a popular televised interview program on Feb. 11, Salles dismissed Mendes as “irrelevant,” unleashing a torrent of public criticism led by green advocates and others critical of the two-month-old administration of Brazil’s new rightwing president, Jair Bolsonaro. Mendes was murdered in 1988 by the son of...

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Agriculture and tourism at odds in Uruguay over blue-green algae

Uruguay. Summer vacation. A heat wave pushing temperatures to 35º Celsius (95º Fahrenheit). A perfect time to go to the beach, right? Well, no—not this summer, anyway. The problem is that blue-green algae blooms, a growing problem in Uruguay due largely to increasing agricultural runoff, this year began affecting the country’s popular coastal vacation communities. After having contaminated freshwater drinking sources and some beaches on the River Plate in recent years, this summer the contamination extended up the country’s Atlantic Coast, forcing resort communities to hoist health-warning flags at the height of the tourist season. Such was the case in La Paloma, 240 kilometers (149 miles) east of Montevideo. Cyanobacteria, microorganisms known more commonly as blue-green algae, produce toxins that can cause skin irritation, gastroenteritis and other health problems, with children especially vulnerable. The South American summer of 2018-19 has been marked by heavy rainfall in...

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Monarch migration heartening in East, but dispiriting in West

The World Wildlife Fund has confirmed experts’ forecasts of a substantial increase in the number of monarch butterflies that migrated from the northeastern United States and Canada to the central highlands of Mexico in recent months. Roosting monarchs (Danaus plexippus) occupied just over six hectares (15 acres) of their oyamel fir and Mexican pine wintering ground in the Mexican states of Michoacán and Mexico. That’s a 144% increase over the 2.48 hectares (6.13 acres) they covered last year and represents a surge in overall numbers: six hectares accommodate an estimated 225 million monarchs.    The good news about the monarchs that migrate from eastern regions of North America overshadowed a dramatic decline in the far smaller population of “western monarchs,” which live west of the Rocky Mountains and overwinter in the U.S. state of California. A count of the migrating western monarchs conducted by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate...

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