Chalillo Dam

Belize biologist leads fight to stop proposed dam

Bijal P. Trivedi
National Geographic Today
March 14, 2003

Sharon Matola,
Director of the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center, talks to
National Geographic about the campaign to stop Newfoundland’s Fortis
Inc. flooding the Macal River Valley with its proposed Chalillo dam.


Since 1998, Sharon Matola, a Baltimore-born biologist and environmental activist who is
now a naturalized citizen of Belize, has led an international campaign
to stop the Chalillo hydroelectric dam in her adoptive country.

The dam would flood the Macal River Valley ‚Äì a so-called “Biogem” of
rain forest and fertile flood plain that is home to many endangered
species like the howler monkey, jaguar, and tapir.

Matola, a graduate of the New College of Florida in Sarasota, is the
founder and director of the Belize Zoo. She has launched educational
and research programs and written children’s books.

Matola ended up in Belize 20 years ago by a circuitous route that
included stints as a circus performer and lion trainer in Mexico.

Last week, after addressing the “Forces for Nature” benefit of the
Natural Resources Defense Council in New York City, Matola spoke with
National Geographic Today about her cause and her life.

What could the Chalillo dam do?

Sharon Matola guides Princess Anne through the Belize Zoo, which she
founded almost 20 years ago. Matola is leading the fight against the
proposed Chalillo dam, which would flood the Macal River valley
destroying prime habitat for many endangered species like the jaguar.

It will flood more than 2,000 acres of pristine rain forest along about 22 miles [35 kilometers] of the Macal River valley.

The valley is rich in biodiversity, including a number of endangered
species. For example, the valley is the only place left in northern and
Central America where one subspecies of scarlet macaw can live
undisturbed. In other places these macaws are poached or have guards
watching the nests.

Only about 250 of the birds survive. But here they are living more or less as they always have – that should be preserved.

The region is also a corridor for wild cats, like the jaguar – which I
saw for the first time in this valley – and for many species of
migratory birds.

Categories: Chalillo Dam

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