For Immediate Release, April 23, 2007
Contact: Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 986-7805
Petition Filed to Protect Panama World Heritage Site
Proposed Dams Could Devastate La Amistad International Park
PARIS— Today the Center for Biological Diversity and more than 30 other organizations from the United States and Panama petitioned the World Heritage Committee to list La Amistad International Park as a World Heritage site “In Danger” due to the planned construction of four controversial hydroelectric dams.
La Amistad, Spanish for “friendship,” is a World Heritage site shared by Panama and Costa Rica. It protects the largest and most diverse virgin rainforest remaining in Central America and is one of the last refuges for such endangered species as the jaguar, ocelot, Central American tapir, resplendent quetzal and harpy eagle. According to the World Conservation Union, the floral diversity of La Amistad is “perhaps unequalled in any other reserve of equivalent size in the world.”
The World Heritage Committee is part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and is responsible for implementing a 1972 treaty to protect natural and cultural areas of outstanding universal value. The committee designated the Costa Rican portion of La Amistad in 1983 and listed the park as a single World Heritage site in 1990 after Panama nominated its portion of La Amistad in 1989. The decision to add La Amistad to the list of World Heritage sites was based on the fact that it is an outstanding example of ongoing biological evolution and provides significant habitat for threatened species.
The United States-based AES Corporation is pushing forward with plans to construct a series of hydroelectric dams in the Changuinola River basin of Panama, putting the exceptional natural values of La Amistad at great risk. The Changuinola River flows from the heart of La Amistad and is one of the only free-flowing rivers remaining in Central America. The four dams would permanently alter more than 600 miles of stream and flood significant areas of tribal land.
“The dams, roads, bridges and power lines slated for construction would devastate unique native species, destroy a dynamic, free-flowing river, and open this remote jungle for development,” said Peter Galvin, conservation director with the Center for Biological Diversity.
La Amistad supports more than 215 species of mammals, 600 species of birds, 115 species of fish, and 250 species of reptiles and amphibians. It also contains one of the highest levels of endemism in Central America, supporting several hundred plant species and 40 bird species that are found nowhere else in the world. Additionally, the park supports several indigenous tribal communities that live along its border, including the Naso and Ngobe tribes in the Changuinola River basin.
The dams have been promoted as a way to offset greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, but a growing body of scientific evidence shows that dams and reservoirs — particularly those in the tropics — actually increase rather than decrease greenhouse gas emissions because they create a significant amount of methane.
Once La Amistad is listed as “In Danger,” the World Heritage Committee and Panama must adopt a plan for corrective measures and take all efforts to restore its values. The World Heritage Committee can also allocate financial assistance from the World Heritage Fund.
“We must act now to protect La Amistad or else risk losing this international treasure,” said Ezekiel Miranda, an environmental leader who lives near La Amistad.
Both Spanish and English versions of the La Amistad World Heritage “In Danger” petition are available. Please click here for the English version and here for the Spanish.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 35,000 members dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org .