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Costa Rica Gold Mine Threatens Rare Bird and River Water Supply
CCT warns that open-pit mine will endanger the great green macaw as well as the San Juan River, which forms the country’s border with Nicaragua
SAN JOSE — The independent Tropical Scientific Center, or CCT, warned Wednesday that if a planned open-pit gold mine in northern Costa Rica begins operating it will endanger the great green macaw as well as the San Juan River, which forms the country’s border with Nicaragua.
Oliver Chassot, a CCT researcher who has spent 12 years monitoring populations of the exotic, endangered bird, told Efe Wednesday that the studies he has carried out indicate that the site of the mine “is part of a biological corridor” for the species.
“There’s a presence of great green macaws in Las Crucitas (the site of the mine). It’s not part of its nesting area, but the mine will have a negative impact on its population and habitat,” Chassot said, adding that Costa Rica is home to roughly 210 of these birds.
Canada-based Vanessa Ventures suspended work on the mine, which lies just 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from the San Juan River, in September after Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court agreed to hear a challenge to the project.
CCT President Carlos Quesada said climate conditions in the area, one of the country’s rainiest, could cause mudslides inside the mine and lead to the filtration of chemicals into aquifers and the contamination of nearby rivers like the San Juan.
“We have to look at what development model this country wants: a sustainable one with collective long-term benefits or a short-term, particular one where an activity like mining benefits,” Quesada said.
Because of the mine’s proximity to the border with Nicaragua, the government in Managua has already sent two protest notes demanding that the project be halted. But Costa Rica has responded that it made a sovereign decision in the matter and that the mining activity will not affect the neighboring country.
The motion before the Constitutional Court was submitted to challenge a decree signed by President Oscar Arias and Environment Minister Roberto Dobles that characterized the Vanessa Ventures project as part of the “national interest.”
Under the decree, the company is allowed to chop down 191 hectares (471 acres) of woodlands, including some 200 endangered yellow almond trees, which are the main source of nourishment and nesting for the great green macaw.
Vanessa Ventures felled 50 hectares before it was ordered to halt the project.
The Costa Rican government and the company have defended the mining project, saying it will create some 200 jobs and generate greater tax revenues, local purchases, investment and salaries in Las Crucitas, an underdeveloped area.
Quesada said the mine represents a “short-term” vision of development because the 10-year concession offered to Vanessa Ventures will result in “irreversible” damage to soils and aquifers.
At least 700,000 ounces of gold valued at some $800 million are to be extracted and the company said its operations will not harm the environment because they will be carried out under the highest standards and with the use of cutting-edge technology.