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Cozumel, the Mexican island taking a stand against cruise ships | International

The sound of someone breathing underwater is like a hypnotic purr. Every breath produces a long column of bubbles rising to the surface and a sound like Darth Vader’s mask. The man behind this mask is the biologist Germán Méndez, who advances in a perfect horizontal line, his oxygen tank strapped to his back, as though supported by an invisible harness. He is diving in the crystalline waters of the Caribbean, carefully looking after his coral farm. If one is lying on the sea bed, he gently replaces it so that it does not fall down again. Some look like purple tentacles, others resemble yellow brains or huge folding fans swaying in the sea. “What do you think of my office?” he asks as he emerges.

But Méndez’s office, off the island of Cozumel on Mexico’s eastern seaboard, is under threat. In an area that has been reserved for the preservation of coral for a decade, the government has authorized the construction of an 800-meter (2624-foot) mass of concrete: the island’s fourth international cruise ship pier. The project is part of a strategic plan set out by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in October 2020 to kick-start the economy after the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic. Méndez, on the other hand, believes that destroying part of the coral reefs the island is famous for is akin to “shooting the golden goose.” And he wonders aloud: “What are tourists going to come for? To see dead rocks? Cozumel isn’t an island of piers, it’s a coral island.”

When the sun starts to set, the stretch of the coast where the pier will be built starts to fill up. A group of friends drink cans of beer under a mangrove and a little further along a couple kiss with the sound of the sea in the background. The area is so close to downtown Cozumel that it is a popular place for residents to while away the afternoons. Here there is no dollar charge to enter nightclubs like there is in the tourist areas. There are no frozen margaritas or umbrella-shaped straws. Here there is just a public space, of which there are fewer and fewer, where those who do not have a lot can feel wealthy admiring the turquoise sea as the sun tints the horizon red. When the pier goes up, this part of the beach will be off limits to the public.

The activist Guadalupe Martín waves a flag during a signature collection drive in Cozumel on January 22, 2022.
The activist Guadalupe Martín waves a flag during a signature collection drive in Cozumel on January 22, 2022.Teresa de Miguel

A group of women arrive in a whirl of noise to collect signatures calling for a public consultation on the project. The youngest, Olivia Rose, whizzes up and down the promenade on her scooter with a flag bearing the name of the collective: “No to the fourth pier.” Environmentalist Guadalupe Martín Cab, who is also president of the Conservation, Research and Environmental Management of Cozumel (Cimac) organization, applauds Rose’s efforts while she sets up a small table on the sidewalk. Claudia Yaneth Cifuentes, a staunch supporter of López Obrador, asks a man who wants to sign up for the cause for his ID. The collective is heterogeneous, as is the fight against a project that aims to bring more tourists to an island where livelihoods depend on tourism.

Martín Cab knows what she wants to say and she wants to say it quickly, before darkness falls. “The question is: why do they want to build a fourth pier when the ones that are already there are never full?” She has the numbers to prove it, too. Cozumel has three international cruise ship piers that did not exceed 54% of their capacity in 2018 or 2019, buoyant years for tourism before the pandemic hit. Even so, Cozumel is one of the most-visited islands in the world by cruise ship operators. The company that won the contract, Muelles del Caribe, gained a juicy bit of business. As well as constructing the pier, it will also put up a terminal building with a commercial area attached. And there could lie the answer to Martín Cab’s question: in a statement, the company said “evidently, the pier is being built for future operations and not current ones, and as such is needs to have greater dimensions than those currently in operation.”

When Martín Cab found out about the project, Cimac carried out a census of the zone that counted around 20 different species of coral, among them two that are on the endangered list. However, when Muelles del Caribe presented their own findings to the environmental authorities the company reported only seven species. That led Martín Cab to join forces with Méndez and other organizations on the island to file an injunction against the project, with the help of the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA). The action was admitted by the courts in January. In early February, a second injunction filed by the “No to the fourth pier” group was also accepted by a federal judge, who ordered the project provisionally put on hold while the matter is deliberated in court.

A cruise ship near the area where authorities are planning to build a fourth pier on the Mexican island of Cozumel.
A cruise ship near the area where authorities are planning to build a fourth pier on the Mexican island of Cozumel. Teresa de Miguel

It is Monday morning and as soon as dawn breaks these floating cities begin to appear in the sea. There are five of them, which translates into thousands of people who will descend on the beaches early and reboard their cruise ships to set sail again around 5pm. Taxi drivers wait for fares in a huge line, but the majority of the day-trippers have their itineraries set by their tour operators. They descend to the terminal building, board buses and head for beach clubs or an ATV tour of the jungle. They will use all use the bathroom, it is estimated, at least twice during the day. Meanwhile, the island’s one sewage treatment plant works at full tilt. If the fourth pier is built, there could be up to 18,000 more daily visitors arriving on Cozumel, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

The viewpoint of the institutions that promote tourism at a national level is more flattering. Marisol Vanegas, who served as secretary for tourism in the state of Quintana Roo until last July, is a supporter of the fourth pier because in her estimation it will not only increase the number of visiting ships but will also diversity the types of company that arrive on Cozumel. Vanegas points out that every cruise ship tourist spends around $175 (€153), which is “not inconsiderable given they are only there for a few hours.” However, she acknowledges that visitors who stay in hotels to dive around the island spend more.

A cruise ship operated by Disney sounds its horn, which emulates a famous jingle from the cartoons of our childhoods. It also interrupts Miriam Moreno, who is wondering who genuinely benefits from this kind of tourism. “These are huge corporations who feed off other huge corporations. What trickles down to residents is really very little.” A social psychologist and diver, Moreno is a member of the Coral Hero organization, which is dedicated to the community conservation of reefs in various parts of Quintana Roo. She says that since 2020, when cruise ships largely stopped coming because of the pandemic, the island’s economy has supported itself through its main source of employment: the diving industry. “But if it continues to be managed as it is now, the reefs are not going to last much longer. And divers tend to look for living areas, not dead ones.”

A view of Lakam Ha, a tourism development project in Cozumel, as seen on January 23, 2022.
A view of Lakam Ha, a tourism development project in Cozumel, as seen on January 23, 2022.Teresa de Miguel

What is happening in Cozumel is also happening elsewhere in the world. Venice’s decision to stop welcoming cruise ships reverberated globally. To what extent can a place entertain so many people on a daily basis, provide them with fresh water and deal with their waste? How many cruise ships can anchor at an island before its viable limits are breached? In environmental terms, Cozumel’s beauty is also a curse. Tens of thousands of tourists want to enjoy its coral reefs, its beaches and crystalline waters, and its forests that contain dozens of unique species. But to meet that demand it is necessary to build beach clubs, resorts and controversial projects like Lakam-Ha, in the south of the island, which gradually eat away at the pristine landscapes that attract tourists in the first place. This has been the story of Cancún, Playa del Carmen and Tulum in Mexico’s Caribbean coast.

“What they are doing across the whole of the Riviera Maya is cutting down mangroves, building hotels and pumping sewage into the sea. That is why we are seeing huge amounts of algae in those areas, which are killing off the coral,” says marine biologist Thomas Goreau, president of the Global Coral Reef Alliance. Goreau worked alongside Méndez in the reef restoration project in Cozumel and says that the nutrients contained in sewage provide food for algae, but are lethal for coral. To this has been added so-called White Syndrome or White band disease, a coral disease that was first detected in Florida in 2014. Four years later it had killed off half of the reefs around Cozumel.

Méndez appears uncomfortable on dry land. He is happier in a wetsuit, propelling himself forward with long blue fins, tending to what he calls “his coral,” as though they were his offspring. Around him, he sees only destruction where others see economic development. When the interview ends, he asks with a concerned look: “Did I sound too catastrophic?”

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Congratulations, Privacy Just Took A Great Leap Out the Window!

Your Data Is Being Used Without Your Permission And Knowledge

The Voice Of EU | In the heart of technological innovation, the collision between intellectual property rights and the development of cutting-edge AI technologies has sparked a significant legal battle. The New York Times has taken legal action against OpenAI and Microsoft, filing a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court. This legal maneuver aims to address concerns surrounding the unauthorized use of the Times’ content for the training of AI models, alleging copyright infringements that could potentially result in billions of dollars in damages.

READ: HOW YOUR DATA IS BEING USED TO TRAIN A.I.

This legal tussle underlines the escalating tension between technological advancements and the protection of intellectual property. The crux of the lawsuit revolves around OpenAI and Microsoft allegedly utilizing the Times’ proprietary content to advance their own AI technology, directly competing with the publication’s services. The lawsuit suggests that this unauthorized utilization threatens the Times’ ability to offer its distinctive service and impacts its AI innovation, creating a competitive landscape that challenges the publication’s proprietary content.

Amidst the growing digital landscape, media organizations like the Times are confronting a myriad of challenges. The migration of readers to online platforms has significantly impacted traditional media, and the advent of artificial intelligence technology has added another layer of complexity. The legal dispute brings to the forefront the contentious practice of AI companies scraping copyrighted information from online sources, including articles from media organizations, to train their generative AI chatbots. This strategy has attracted substantial investments, rapidly transforming the AI landscape.

Exhibit presented by the New York Times’ legal team of ChatGPT replicating a article after being prompted

The lawsuit highlights instances where OpenAI’s technology, specifically GPT-4, replicated significant portions of Times articles, including in-depth investigative reports. These outputs, alleged by the Times to contain verbatim excerpts from their content, raise concerns about the ethical and legal boundaries of using copyrighted material for AI model training without proper authorization or compensation.

The legal action taken by the Times follows attempts to engage in discussions with Microsoft and OpenAI, aiming to address concerns about the use of its intellectual property. Despite these efforts, negotiations failed to reach a resolution that would ensure fair compensation for the use of the Times’ content while promoting responsible AI development that benefits society.

In the midst of this legal battle, the broader questions surrounding the responsible and ethical utilization of copyrighted material in advancing technological innovations come to the forefront.

The dispute between the Times, OpenAI, and Microsoft serves as a significant case study in navigating the intricate intersection of technological progress and safeguarding intellectual property rights in the digital age.


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Conflicted History: ‘Oppenheimer’ And Its Impact On Los Alamos And New Mexico Downwinders

‘Oppenheimer’ And Its Impact On Los Alamos And New Mexico Downwinders

The Voice Of EU | In the highly anticipated blockbuster movie, “Oppenheimer,” the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man behind the first atomic bomb, is portrayed as a riveting tale of triumph and tragedy.

As the film takes center stage, it also brings to light the often-overlooked impacts on a community living downwind from the top-secret Manhattan Project testing site in southern New Mexico.

A Forgotten Legacy

While the film industry and critics praise “Oppenheimer,” a sense of frustration prevails among the residents of New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin, who continue to grapple with the consequences of the Manhattan Project. Tina Cordova, a cancer survivor and founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, expresses their feelings, stating, “They invaded our lives and our lands and then they left,” referring to the scientists and military personnel who conducted secret experiments over 200 miles away from their community.

The Consortium, alongside organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists, has been striving to raise awareness about the impact of the Manhattan Project on New Mexico’s population. Advocates emphasize the necessity of acknowledging the human cost of the Trinity Test, the first atomic blast, and other nuclear weapons activities that have affected countless lives in the state.

The Ongoing Struggle for Recognition

As film enthusiasts celebrate the drama and brilliance of “Oppenheimer,” New Mexico downwinders feel overlooked by both the U.S. government and movie producers. The federal government’s compensation program for radiation exposure still does not include these affected individuals. The government’s selection of the remote and flat Trinity Test Site, without warning residents in the surrounding areas, further added to the controversy.

Living off the land, the rural population in the Tularosa Basin had no idea that the fine ash settling on their homes and fields was a result of the world’s first atomic explosion.

The government initially attempted to cover up the incident, attributing the bright light and rumble to an explosion at a munitions dump. It was only after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan weeks later that New Mexico residents realized the magnitude of what they had witnessed.

Tracing the Fallout

According to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, large amounts of radiation were released into the atmosphere during the Trinity Test, with fallout descending over a vast area. Some of the fallout reached as far as the Atlantic Ocean, but the greatest concentration settled approximately 30 miles from the test site.

Now I Am Become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.

J. Robert Oppenheimer

The consequences of this catastrophic event have affected generations of New Mexicans, who still await recognition and justice for the harm caused by nuclear weapons.

A Tale of Contrasts: Los Alamos and the Legacy of Oppenheimer

As the film’s spotlight shines on the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a contrasting narrative unfolds in Los Alamos, more than 200 miles north of the Tularosa Basin. Los Alamos stands as a symbol of Oppenheimer’s legacy, housing one of the nation’s premier national laboratories and boasting the highest percentage of people with doctorate degrees in the U.S.

Oppenheimer’s influence is evident throughout Los Alamos, with a street bearing his name and an IPA named in his honor at a local brewery. The city embraces its scientific legacy, showcasing his handwritten notes and ID card in a museum exhibit. Los Alamos National Laboratory employees played a significant role in the film, contributing as extras and engaging in enlightening discussions during breaks.

The “Oppenheimer” Movie

Director Christopher Nolan’s perspective on the Trinity Test and its profound impact is evident in his approach to “Oppenheimer.” He has described the event as an extraordinary moment in human history and expressed his desire to immerse the audience in the pivotal moment when the button was pushed. Nolan’s dedication to bringing historical accuracy and emotional depth to the screen is evident as he draws inspiration from Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

For Nolan, Oppenheimer’s story is a potent blend of dreams and nightmares, capturing the complexity and consequences of the Manhattan Project. As the film reaches global audiences, it also offers a unique opportunity to raise awareness about the downwinders in New Mexico, whose lives were forever altered by the legacy of nuclear weapons testing.

The Oppenheimer Festival and Beyond

Los Alamos is determined to use the Oppenheimer Festival as an opportunity to educate visitors about the true stories behind the film’s events. The county’s “Project Oppenheimer” initiative, launched in early 2023, encompasses forums, documentaries, art installations, and exhibits that delve into the scientific contributions of the laboratory and the social implications of the Manhattan Project.

A special area during the festival will facilitate discussions about the movie, fostering a deeper understanding of the community’s history. The county aims to continue revisiting and discussing the legacy of the Manhattan Project, ensuring that the impact of this pivotal moment in history is never forgotten.

As “Oppenheimer” takes audiences on an emotional journey, it serves as a reminder that every historical event carries with it complex and multifaceted implications. The movie may celebrate the scientific achievements of the past, but it also illuminates the urgent need to recognize and address the human cost that persists to this day.


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GSK’s Mosquirix Is Revolutionizing The Fight Against Malaria

GSK’s Mosquirix And The Fight Against Malaria

Over the past three years, the global focus has primarily been on the Covid-19 pandemic, diverting attention and resources away from other infectious diseases that disproportionately affect vulnerable populations in the Global South. Among these diseases, malaria continues to be a pressing public health concern, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of people each year, especially children in Sub-Saharan Africa. While significant progress has been made in preventing and treating malaria, innovative solutions are needed to combat this deadly disease.

Advancements in Malaria Prevention:

Researchers have made remarkable progress in both prevention and treatment strategies for malaria. The World Health Organization’s recommendation of dual-ingredient insecticide-treated bed nets in March 2023 marks a significant milestone in preventing malaria transmission by Anopheles mosquitoes. These nets, including those with more lethal insecticide combinations and those disrupting mosquito growth, are key tools in malaria prevention efforts.

LEARN MORE: ALL ABOUT HEALTHCARE

The Importance of Cost-Effective Antimalarial Medicines:

Cost-effective antimalarial medicines play a crucial role in combating malaria. In 2021, approximately 45 million children between the ages of three months and five years received seasonal malaria chemoprevention, which involved monthly doses of therapeutic drugs at a cost of less than $4 per person. While this approach has shown promising results, the development of a groundbreaking vaccine brings renewed hope.

GSK’s Mosquirix (RTS,S) Vaccine:

GSK’s Mosquirix, also known as RTS,S, is an innovative vaccine that has the potential to transform the fight against malaria. This vaccine offers hope in preventing the disease, particularly among children in malaria-endemic regions. Although the current cost is relatively high, around $40 per child for the first year, it presents an essential step forward in malaria prevention efforts.

The Persistent Threat of Malaria:

Despite substantial investments of $26 billion to combat malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa, the number of cases has seen a slight increase between 2000 and 2019, although the number of deaths has decreased. This highlights the need for new prevention measures tailored to vulnerable populations, especially children. Taking inspiration from the Covid-19 pandemic, where monoclonal antibodies have demonstrated their potential, similar approaches could be explored in the fight against malaria.

The Potential of Monoclonal Antibodies:

Monoclonal antibodies, laboratory-made copies of immune system proteins, have shown immense potential in combating various diseases, including cancer and autoimmune disorders. Their remarkable selectivity and ability to target specific molecular markers make them an attractive option for preventive interventions. Researchers at the United States National Institutes of Health, led by Robert Seder, have identified two antibodies that target CSP-1, a protein used by the malaria parasite to invade liver cells. Clinical trials are currently underway in Mali and Kenya to assess their safety and efficacy, focusing on seasonal and year-round malaria transmission settings.

Game-Changing Potential:

Monoclonal antibodies have the potential to be a game-changer in malaria prevention, advancing the long-sought goal of eradication. The latest generation of antimalarial antibodies offers extended protection, with a single dose potentially safeguarding a child for at least three months, if not longer. Clinical trials will determine the extent and duration of this protection and guide future improvements to achieve a once-a-year injection.

Making Monoclonal Antibodies Accessible:

While monoclonal antibodies are often associated with high costs, efforts to increase their potency could significantly reduce expenses. It is estimated that an injection as small as one milliliter of the antibody drug being trialed in Mali and Kenya could protect children at a cost of only $5-10 per person. To ensure accessibility, it is crucial to engage national regulatory agencies and involve affected countries in the production of these biologics. While manufacturing antibodies is a complex and regulated process, investing in the necessary technology now would greatly benefit developing economies burdened by endemic malaria.

Addressing Disparities and Raising Awareness:

Currently, demand for monoclonal antibodies primarily comes from high-income countries, with Africa accounting for only 1% of global sales. This disparity underscores the importance of working with national regulatory agencies to address public health concerns and involve affected countries in the production and distribution of these life-saving biologics. Collaboration among government, academia, and industry is crucial to coordinate advocacy efforts and raise awareness about the potential of monoclonal antibodies in malaria prevention.

Preparing for Success:

While the deployment of the first generation of antimalarial antibodies is expected to occur no earlier than 2027, it is essential to start preparing for their potential success now. These antibodies hold tremendous promise as a powerful weapon in the fight against malaria, alongside bed nets, medicines, and emerging vaccines. Clinical trials will provide vital information on the extent of their efficacy, duration of protection, and dosage requirements. It is imperative to remain proactive and ensure that the necessary infrastructure and policies are in place to facilitate the widespread adoption of these breakthrough treatments.

Combining Science & Research:

As the world continues to battle the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it is crucial not to overlook the persistent threat of malaria, especially in regions heavily impacted by poverty. While significant progress has been made in malaria prevention and treatment, the development of innovative solutions like GSK’s Mosquirix vaccine and the potential of monoclonal antibodies offer renewed hope in the fight against this deadly disease. By harnessing the lessons learned from Covid-19 research and engaging in collaborative efforts, we can work towards a future where malaria is no longer a major public health concern. Together, we can strive for the eradication of malaria and ensure a healthier future for vulnerable populations worldwide.


By Laura Richardson | Independent Contributor “The Voice Of EU

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