SATELLITE LAUNCH OPERATION CAN BENEFIT WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Gitanjali Singh Sunday Stabroek June 1999
A satellite launch operation in the Waini can improve the standard of living of Amerindians, add to the government's treasury and not harm wildlife in the area if negotiations with Beal Aerospace Technologies are handled well.
This is the view of turtle conservation expert, DR Peter Pritchard, who has advised the local Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to this effect. He has also spoken to officials of Beal Aerospace Technologies on the issue. Beal Aerospace Technology is pushing to have its satellite launch base in the Northwest of Guyana near the third lagoon of the Waini and has initiated wide consultation to foster understanding of the investment locally.
Speaking with Stabroek News from his US base on Friday, Dr. Pritchard said that the effects of the Satellite operation on the wildlife depends fundamentally on how it is done. He noted that at the moment there is no law enforcement, land or wildlife protection in the northwest, but pointed out that the government can use this opportunity to ensure that there is.
"The government has an option or possibility of making a sound wildlife presence in the area," Dr. Pritchard stated., pointing out that next to Cape Canaveral, which is not far from his home, there is a major turtle nesting ground and not far away is a major bird sanctuary.
To facilitate a similar situation in the northwest, mechanisms have to be built into the arrangements the government has for the AREA, IF NOT, there will be considerable potential for harm, DR Pritchard said.
He noted that years ago when Continental Oil was drilling in the area, its staff was killing the turtles and said there will have to be tight central control of personnel in the satellite operation to ensure this does not take place.
Alluding to the government's interest in having this satellite investment, Dr. Pritchard said this is an opportunity which can be used to draw wildlife conservation into the plan and have the extensive protected area system for the 80-mile area stretching from Moruca to Waini. He stressed that there could a lot of harm if precautionary measures are not taken, but assured that this investment can be used as a means of bringing law and order into an area which has been a free-for-all.
Dr. Pritchard noted that the World Bank had been willing to fund and design a Guyana National Protected Areas System (GNPAS) from Moruca to the Waini, but this has not happened because government has not made it a priority. But now that the issue of the environment is resurfacing with the kind of investment that Guyana has never seen before, the government need to make the ground rules and plan for the entire coast.
The Turtle Conservation expert noting the limited budget for conservation in Guyana said with satellite launches running into hundred of millions of US dollars, the entire conservation budget for the area can be met by Beal Aerospace as a small change.
"We can get good conversation from a friendly industrial presence and Beal can do a lot of good if it so chooses, " he said, noting that these would have to be appropriate subjects for negotiating between the government and Beal.
Guyana, he noted, is lacking a national parks system, with Iwokrama and Kaieteur being two accidental protected areas.
"If handle properly, all the parties can win. I do not see any losers," Dr. Pritchard assured, repeating that there can be many merits to this investment. He said many Amerindians will want jobs and some will want to continue to fish and hunt and will be able to do so with minor regulations.
"This investment is not a means of disempowering of Amerindians. Rather, it will assist them in becoming masters of their own destinies" said Dr. Pritchard.
On the direct impact of the satellite launches and turtle population on Shell Beach, and other wildlife, Dr. Pritchard said with launches once a month, some birds might take flight, but the sounds will not scare away the turtles, unless there is a bright illumination. However, he said, such illumination is not harmful and will only force the turtle into the sea for a few hours.