Alastair Rogers, MA FRGS
Joint Services Scientific Expeditions, British Navy
More than 10 years of research in the Macal River Valley
Ismael Fabro (for distribution to all NEAC Members)
Chief Environmental Officer
Department of Environment
Turneffe Street, Belmopan
Dear NEAC Member,
RE: Wildlife Impact Assessment (WIA) of Proposed Chalillo Dam
As a Contributing Editor to the Natural History Museum’s WIA I would like to highlight some extremely important points as you face the task of assessing the environmental impact of this proposed project. Please note these are my points not official views of the Museum.
I am particularly concerned that comments in the EIA about the WIA could be misleading: “Readers of the Natural History Museum report are advised to read it with the knowledge that it is a draft report and they should formulate their conclusions accordingly”. The WIA is in fact a full, albeit preliminary, report. Its conclusions are very clear and fully justified. I am also quite certain these conclusions would be reinforced - not fundamentally changed - by further research.
I have led five Joint Service Scientific Expeditions to the Upper Raspaculo in conjunction with the Natural History Museum and have therefore spent more time and directed more scientific research in the area than any other person. These expeditions have completed more than 1200 days of fieldwork along the Macal and Raspaculo Rivers and covered a wide diversity of disciplines including: Archaeology, Botany, Geology, Hydrology, Entomology, Biology, Herpetology and Ornithology. Scientists from Belize, Britain and America took part and we have published 3 volumes of our findings and many scientific papers.
From this research and experience of working in the area it is absolutely clear that constructing a dam at Chalillo would cause major, irreversible, negative environmental impacts of national and international significance - and that no effective mitigation measures would be possible.
The project would destroy the vast majority of a critical and unique habitat, threatening the last viable populations of many vulnerable and endangered wildlife species in Belize and removing vital feeding grounds for migrating birds.
In addition, we know that many important archaeological sites would be destroyed – the number and full significance of which has not even been quantified yet.
The full rationale for these conclusions is in the Natural History Museum’s WIA. As I have said, it is a ‘Preliminary Report’ in the sense that the Museum recognises more work can and should be done. But please be clear that this does not invalidate its conclusions. We know more than enough to justify the conclusions reached so far. Further research should be undertaken, but it is likely to reveal more deleterious impacts – certainly not less.
There are two inescapable reasons why there will be major, irreversible wildlife impacts:
Finally, the impact on the Belizean People’s natural heritage and Belize’s reputation as a first-class eco-tourist destination must not be underestimated. Whilst many minor, even possibly as yet unknown to science, species will be affected, even lost, nothing will be as dramatic and as rapid as the decline of highly visible, flagship species like the unique sub-species of Scarlet Macaw Ara macao cyanoptera.
I have been involved with studies of these birds for the last 15 years and it is clear that there are less than 200 birds surviving in Belize, and that they rely absolutely for their survival on the resources and remoteness of the Macal and Raspaculo River valleys. As the final version of the Museum’s WIA issued on the 5th September says:
“The project is likely to cause rapid reduction in the already endangered population of Scarlet Macaw, leading to population inviability and probable eventual extirpation from Belize”.
This is but one example why I press upon you the need to fully take into account the WIA and its very clear conclusions. It will be a disaster for the People of Belize today and in the future if a decision to proceed is made in the belief that there will not be major, unavoidable and irreversible, wildlife impacts of national and international importance. I trust that the NEAC will be absolutely clear about this and make its recommendations in the full light of these facts.
[signed Alastair Rogers]
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