Chalillo Dam

PRESS RELEASE: Belize wildlife activist battles Canadian power company

September 16, 2002

Sharon Matola, the woman leading the international fight against a Canadian-backed hydro scheme in Central America’s Belize is in Toronto this week to meet with environmentalists.


The woman leading the international fight against a Canadian-backed hydro scheme in Central America’s Belize is in Toronto this week to meet with environmentalists.

Sharon Matola, a biologist, scarlet macaw expert, and the director of the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Centre, teamed up with Toronto-based Probe International and other groups across Canada several years ago when she learned that Fortis, a Newfoundland-based power and real estate company, planned to flood Belize’s Macal River Valley, one of the wildest places left in Central America.

The campaign to save the Macal River Valley from Fortis’ hydro scheme has since mushroomed into a global effort, with thousands of people across Canada and around the world urging Fortis to cancel the dam. Joining Sharon in her fight are celebrity conservationists including Robert Bateman, Harrison Ford, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., David Suzuki, and Newfoundland’s Greg Malone.

The Macal River and its tributaries in Belize are the only known nesting sites for the world’s largest and most spectacular species of scarlet macaw, according to Matola, who estimates there are less than 150 of these birds remaining in Belize, and describes the threatened river valley as "the only place in Central America where [scarlet macaws] live unmolested."

Sharon also works with the world’s leading jaguar experts, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, who says that flooding the Macal River Valley would "disrupt the integrity of the jaguar’s habitat in Belize."

Bringing her message to Canadians, Sharon has protested outside Fortis headquarters in St. John’s, met with parliamentary critics in Ottawa, and recently appeared on CBC’s Disclosure in an exposé about Canadian government backing for the dam.

Earlier this year, Sharon and other leading conservationists in Belize stopped Fortis in its tracks when they filed two ground-breaking lawsuits challenging the government’s approval of the $45 million Chalillo dam. A final decision is expected from Belize’s Supreme Court this fall as to whether Fortis violated Belize’s environmental laws.

The effects of Chalillo on wildlife would extend beyond the tiny country of Belize, says Matola. Its reservoir would fracture the Meso-American Biological Corridor, a last tract of undisturbed rainforest stretching from Mexico to Panama – designated by the nations of Central America to protect migration routes and breeding grounds for predatory cats, migratory birds, and other species.

"Trading off millions of years of biological evolution for a costly and unreliable hydro scheme which, at best, would last 50 years, is an environmental crime of the highest degree," says Matola.

– 30 –

Sharon Matola is in Toronto September 16 to 18, 2002.

To arrange an interview, CONTACT:
Gràinne Ryder, Policy Director, Probe International,
Toronto, Canada
Tel. (416) 964-9223 ext.228

Categories: Chalillo Dam

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