By DW. Soft beige sand stretches down to the water where surfers laze on their boards waiting for the next wave to deliver them back to the shore. This particular scene plays out in Mexico, but could be set on many a Central American Pacific beach where tourists sip tropical cocktails and lap up the sun. Yet behind the tranquility of some of these idyllic settings is an altogether darker substance.

Drug trafficking is one of the greatest challenges facing Mexico. Thousands of people die in narcotics-related crimes every year, and the U.S. government estimates some 90 percent of cocaine entering the country arrives via its southern border.

But one of the lesser known victims of the war on drugs in Mexico is the environment whose forest and coastal ecosystems are severely affected by the illegal trade. All the way from the southerly part of the country to the Amazon forest in South America, land is cleared to make way for coca and marijuana crops, roads and even landing strips. But cartels are also involved in illegal logging and cattle farming, which Karina Benessaiah, a PhD candidate at the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University, says is even more harmful.

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