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The Belo Monte Dam endangers the Zebra Pleco and the lives of thousands of people

Updated on September 11, 2013

Belo Monte Dam - a threat to life

The Belo Monte Dam threatens life in the Amazon region, from the lives of all the indigenous people who will lose their homes and livelihoods to unique species of wildlife. The very rare black and white Zebra Pleco fish being one example of an animal endangered by this vast construction scheme.

Plans for the Belo Monte Dam were first talked about way back in 1975 and then put on the shelf due to objections. They were being looked at again in the 1990s and over the last decade, and sadly it has led to Norte Energia signing a contract on 26 August ,2010, to build the Belo Monte Dam.

There has been enormous opposition all the way with regard to this massive hydroelectric dam, which it is said will provide for much of the energy needs of a fast-developing Brazil. But not everyone is convinced that it will do so but rather will be an incredible waste of money and cause untold environmental destruction to the area and ruin the lives of thousands of indigenous people. Unfortunately despite the ongoing protests, it currently looks as if the Belo Monte Dam is going to be created no matter what anyone thinks and no matter how much it destroys.

Nevertheless, the building of the Belo Monte Dam has been stopped in the past, but can it be stopped again and for good?

Zebra Pleco (Hypancistrus zebra) photo by Birger A
Zebra Pleco (Hypancistrus zebra) photo by Birger A | Source

Zebra Pleco could become extinct in the wild

The Zebra Pleco (Hypancistrus zebra) is a very unique and rare tropical catfish that could become extinct in the wild if the Belo Monte Dam is constructed in Brazil. If this dam is built not only will it bring an end to the way of life of thousands of indigenous tribal people who have lived in the area of the Xingu River, which flows into the mighty Amazon, but is a very serious threat to wildlife and biodiversity.

The black and white-patterned Zebra Pleco is just one endemic species only found in that area that is likely to die out if the dam is made. The Sunshine Pleco (Scobinancistrus aureatus), the Slender Dwarf Pike Cichlid (Teleocichla centisquama), the Plant-eating Piranha (Ossubtus xinguense) and the Xingu Dart-Poison frog (Allobates crombiei) are other endangered species.

It is estimated that hundreds of endemic species will die out because of this but no one really knows how many plants and animals are affected. It is impossible to know what you will be killing if you destroy a large rainforest and divert and drastically diminish the normal flow of a river.

Any species of fish or other animals that need to migrate up and down the river will no longer be able to do so as they have in the past.

Zebra pleco, Hypancistrus zebra living in Rio Xingu biotope aquarium

Belo Monte Dam on Amazon

Belo Monte Dam believed to constitute Fair Use
Belo Monte Dam believed to constitute Fair Use | Source

Biodiversity destroyed

The problem is that the Belo Monte Dam if constructed will create two vast reservoirs and canals and, in so doing, flood 668 square kilometres, 400 of which will be rainforest. In addition to this the normal flow of the river will be destroyed because as much as 80% of it will be diverted away from where it normally runs.

This is bound to have devastating effects on the biodiversity of the area as well as destroying the livelihoods of the Juruna and Arana indigenous people who live there. The Xingu River's "Big Bend" will experience a permanent drought.

Over 20,000 people from Alatmira and Vitoria do Xingu will have to leave their homes and take their chances elsewhere.

Furthermore it is estimated that as many as 100,000 migrant workers will come to the area but there will only be some 40,000 jobs at the height of the Belo Monte Dam's construction, and of these only 2,000 will be long term employment. This will mean that many of these people will turn to illegal logging, cattle ranching and other unsustainable industries, thus destroying even more of the Amazon's precious rainforests. They will be rivals for work and resources with the displaced indigenous people too and this is sure to cause social tension and problems.

Methane and Global Warming

Philip Fearnside of the National Amazon Research Institute has realised that incredible volumes of methane gas are sure to be generated by the forests of decaying vegetation flooded to create the Belo Monte reservoirs and canals.

Our planet is already suffering badly from the early stages of Global Warming and we need to drastically cut down on greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere. Methane, which is such a gas, is 25 times worse than carbon dioxide, the one that most people are talking about having to reduce.

Scientists have long pointed out so often that the rainforests are the "lungs" of the planet and help regulate the amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The Belo Monte Dam by destroying more forest will make a very bad situation even worse!

Belo Monte Dam protest campaigns

There have been many campaigns to halt the construction of the Belo Monte Dam. Over 600 protesters, mainly members of the indigenous tribes threatened by it, as well as environmental activists occupied the construction site for the dam until their protest was ended by a judge who ordered their eviction.

Amazon Watch is an organisation that monitors all threats to the Amazon and publishes updates of news and campaigns on its website. It has an ongoing petition to Stop the Belo Monte Dam.

David de Rothschild MYOO ARTiculate 3° 17' S, 52° 12' W - Mission Overview

David de Rothschild and MYOO

Adventurer, author and environmentalist David de Rothschild, who only last year sailed his Plastiki catamaran made of 12,500 plastic bottles across the Pacific to raise awareness of plastic pollution, has just been on another expedition. David went to the Amazon to the Xingu River in November to see the Belo Monte Dam situation for himself and report on it. via his MYOO website and elsewhere.

Working in alliance with Amazon Watch, David and his team are seeking to raise awareness of the issue raised by the dam and having a look at what we stand to lose if it is made. Speaking on his MYOO ARTiculate video diary referring to the outcome of a 20-year battle to stop the dam he says "common sense obviously failed." David and the MYOO team intend using art, sculptures and photography to comment on this matter.

What does the future hold in store? Only time will tell but so many of us are praying for a miracle that will stop the Belo Monte Dam for good!

A Last Stand for the Xingu


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    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you, aa! For me it is in some ways even sadder that such an amazing fish's survival depends on people who keep them in tanks! As a synchronicity I just had the Amazon Watch mailout.

    • aa lite profile image

      aa lite 

      7 years ago from London

      When I used to keep freshwater fish I really wanted to add the zebra plec to my aquarium. They have been bred in aqaria but were very expensive at that time. It is so sad that the Amazon rainforests are under so many attacks from people and businesses, it is such a unique biotope, and so important for the planet it should all be under special protection. Great hub!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hello, this is such an excellent article, congratulations

      The World Bank estimates that forcible “development-induced displacement and resettlement” now affects 10 million people per year. According to the World Bank an estimated 33 million people have been displaced by development projects such as dams, urban development and irrigation canals in India alone.

      India is well ahead in this respect. A country with as many as over 3600 large dams within its belt can never be the exceptional case regarding displacement. The number of development induced displacement is higher than the conflict induced displacement in India. According to Bogumil Terminski an estimated more than 10 million people have been displaced by development each year.

      Athough the exact number of development-induced displaced people (DIDPs) is difficult to know, estimates are that in the last decade 90–100 million people have been displaced by urban, irrigation and power projects alone, with the number of people displaced by urban development becoming greater than those displaced by large infrastructure projects (such as dams). DIDPs outnumber refugees, with the added problem that their plight is often more concealed.

      This is what experts have termed “development-induced displacement.” According to Michael Cernea, a World Bank analyst, the causes of development-induced displacement include water supply (dams, reservoirs, irrigation); urban infrastructure; transportation (roads, highways, canals); energy (mining, power plants, oil exploration and extraction, pipelines); agricultural expansion; parks and forest reserves; and population redistribution schemes.

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Marissa, I put the link to the petition in the text above for Belo Monte Dam protests. I haven't heard from David for a while but I think that's because he has been so busy with his current work. He knows that if I was in the UK I would love to work for the MYOO office there. What I can do from here is write articles like this so that's what I am doing. I will be doing another on the Gibe III dam in Ethiopia which in many ways is just as bad. The amazing people of the Omo River Valley will lose their way of life if it is made:

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Did you ever think of asking David if he needs anyone to help him with anything else in his quest to save the planet? Could you work with the environment? Anyway, I just read your last post and I will sign a petition if they have it out there.

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Marissa, one thing we can all do is sign the Amazon Watch petition, and sometimes petitions really do work so I sign them. We can all spread the word. A lot of people don't know about this and those that do have wrong information eg some people think all is safe there now because of a judge's ruling earlier this year and it's not! I am personally hoping that catfish can become a symbol of the struggle for balance between yin and yang and balance again in that area of the Amazon if that dam can be stopped. It came to me that people will respond to a black and white catfish maybe more than facts and figures and what is happening to thousands of indigenous people and the environment! Sometimes endangered animals can halt developments. It is worth a try! Tropical fish keepers like that fish so it is safe but only in captivity if the dam goes through and being exchanged for a lot of money. This is not how it should be and is another subject! And what about all the other animals and plants that are not so eye-catching? To my mind they are just as important.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I am sorry that people have to create industry without thinking about how this will affect our planet.

      What can we do on a personal level to help the situation?

      We plant more vegetation. People went logging in my woods and it takes so long to grow the trees back.

      The Zebra Pleco is a gorgeous fish. This fish was created by God or the gods. Amazing fish. Thanks for this post. Great post Bard.

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you, pmccray and annmackiemiller!

    • annmackiemiller profile image


      7 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England

      thank you so much for sharing this wonderful hub

    • pmccray profile image


      7 years ago from Utah

      Quite interesting and very important. Thank you for sharing,voted up, marked useful and interesting.


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