Via Chris Shaw, I just received a letter from Bill McLarney, Proyecto de Biomonitoreo de Rios, Associacion ANAI. He is trying to raise awareness of the threat of dams in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Click More to see his full letter.
I'll do some more hunting. Here are some links on this situation:
I just want to contribute a note of personal support for all involved in trying to openly and intelligently discuss the issue of dams in Bocas del Toro. And to urge all involved to do what they can. The role of ANAI will continue to be as a disinterested provider of biological information, to which all concerned are welcome. What is most frustrating is being blocked in our attempts to gather this information, apparently by the same Panamanian government agency which should be asking for information. (And which, at the level of ANAM-Changuinola, in the person of Valentin Pineda, they are asking for.)
Of course you, the Naso and the Ngobe tend to see this as a local issue. (Although the threat of species extirpations in a World Heritage Site can scarcely be considered exclusively "local.") From this side of the border, I recall the hydro plans which were floated 10 years ago for Talamanca, and think "we're next." But the big issue is the possibility of total alteration of the fluvial ecosystems of the entire isthmus, from Chiapas to Darien. (And this comes wrapped in the even larger issue of PPP/TLC - "free trade.") Whether to approach each dam, river or country separately seems to me to be a tactical issue. The fact that partial victories have been achieved on the Pacuare (Costa Rica) and the Usumacinta (Guatemala/Mexico) is encouraging, but it also increases the pressure on sites like Bonyic. At some point, the big issue is going to have to be engaged.
Scaling back to the local (Bonyic, now plus the 3 dams proposed on the Changuinola), it seems to me that above all else what is needed right now is a big stone in the road. This probably implies some sort of legal action, perhaps one with small chance of victory but potential to tie things up for some time. For this reason alone (and there are others) legal assistance is urgently needed.
The second burning need is for publicity. I have made attempts to interest journalists, largely without success. It seems to me that a pristine tropical white water river, a nation of 4,000 people with their own language and culture, the threat of species extirpations in a world heritage site, a revolution in the only monarchy in the hemisphere, and the smell of corruption comprise a muckraking journalist's dream. Why have we collectively failed to interest either the international or Panamanian press? The bigger issue of PPP is also potentially hot. Right now, it strikes me that we need publicity in the Panamanian media and something quick and dirty in some US publication - not a glossy like Audubon, but something like Earth Island Journal used to be. I could do a better job on this part if I were in the
States; will somebody there please help?
I also wonder why there is not much communication/collaboration with other groups facing pieces of the same issue. For instance, before leaving the States I wrote one of the groups involved in the Pacuare struggle, and received no reply.
For our part, ANAI wants very badly to live up to our promises re fish and shrimp surveys. Data generated in similar situations in the islands of the Caribbean (same species, extirpation and total ecosystem alteration following dam construction, and data from Costa Rica showing the presence of "marine" species in headwater rivers) seems very convincing to me, and will be presented. But we really want to do fish surveys in the Changuinola/Teribe and other watersheds of Bocas del Toro - and are in fact contracted to do so by PRODOMA (USAID) as part of a larger biomonitoring capacitation project. But we are blocked by our inability to obtain permits from ANAM.
The alternative is already in motion. On Monday we will receive a visit here in Hone Creek from Felix Sanchez, to work out the details of a plan to train and equip members of the Naso to do presence/absence surveys for diadromous fish and shrimps in Naso territory and upstream, in the La Amistad Biosphere Reserve. This training will be carried out in Costa Rica during the 3 weeks I have left in my current stay. (With recent developments, it appears we will also need to train Ngobe representatives to do the same work in the Changuinola watershed.) While these trainees will not be able to use electrofishing techniques in order to obtain quantitative results, and their work will lack the imprimatur of a Ph.D. biologist, I am confident it will provide the basic information we need to open an informed dialogue about an issue which, to my knowledge, has not even been mentioned in the environmental impact studies carried out so far.
Even though I am confident that we can move efficiently and swiftly to do these studies, we will need to buy time in order for this information to be useful.
Osvaldo, I am writing you and copying a few friends in the US in the hope that we can all spread the word. Please, everybody, think about how you could help. My personal opinion, subject to survey results, is that we are on the brink of a major ecological disaster, and one which is preventable. And it comes wrapped up in a series of economic, social and legal issues which have not been adequately exposed. The one certain thing is that the debate to date has been conducted with an inadequate information base, a fact which negatively affects all concerned.
Thanks to all for your consideration.
Proyecto de Biomonitoreo de Rios