Marine pollution from shipping is an important issue due to its emissions levels and its environmental impact on the atmosphere, soil, water and people. When I thought about it, I ruminated on what measurements the Mexican environmental authorities have, which policies are enabled to reduce that pollution, and the roadmap to comply with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) requirements. As part of IMO, Mexico is obliged to achieve its targets. The country lacks nitrous dioxide and sulfur dioxide measurements, its registries of marine incidents in Mexican waters are incomplete, and it doesn’t have a roadmap for the IMO targets.
The investigation was one of the most popular in the Spanish section during the week of publication and its English version moved well too. It was republished by other media outlets. The research exposed an ignored problem by authorities and environmental organisations, and has helped to instill conscience among academics and environmental NGOs. In its Bussiness Plan 2022-2027 Pemex announced it will refine ultra-low sulfur gasolines, including marine diesel, to comply with the Mexican regulation and to lower pollution. In addition to it, some international vessels and cruise ships have begun to install scrubbers to filter pollutants. One of the expectations for 2023 is a new piece of legislation on the use of scrubbers on board.
The research involved 30 FOIA requests to various government agencies on measurement data, incidents registry, and law violations. The research implied the analysis of databases on port traffic, trade by ports, marine incidents and satellite images of non-registered incidents. The whole sets of data served to confirm the hypothesis that Mexico lacks a comprehensive framework for addressing marine pollution, vital for fighting the causes and effects of the climate crisis and for achieving the 13 and 14 SDG targets, of the whole 17 by 2030.
Context about the project:
The investigation was challenging, because it involved understanding and analysis of technical and technological issues to have an idea of how to deal with the pollution generated by ships. Also it involved the understanding of the international and national legislation. The analysis of the databases was time-demanding and the tracking of the vessels involved in environmental incidents. As an exclusive research, there was scant knowledge about the issue in Mexico. So it was built from scratch and on novel ideas about it and on the FOIA requests. One effort was to convince the satellite company on the images and analysis sharing, the first to show contamination incidents incorporated into a journalistic investigation.
What can other journalists learn from this project?
Colleagues might do a follow-up on the issue. The investigation shows the usefulness to use FOIA requests when there is no available public information and to know what data governmental agencies have on environmental issues, reinforced by the Escazu Agreement –in force since 2021 and to which Mexico belongs– and what type of policies they apply and their results. The research shows the importance of considering different angles to take into consideration, to build a comprehensive picture of the issue. It also highlights the importance of the use of satellite images, a growing trend in environmental studies, and the alliance between media and satellite enterprises for the common good. Finally, colleagues can learn how to use transport tracking platforms to identify ships and their routes to review possible contamination incidents.