A new study published in the journal Conservation Letters has revealed that over 500 new dams are currently being constructed or are planned to be constructed within protected areas. More than 1,200 dams already exist in such areas. In the first global report on dam construction areas, it has been revealed that most governments are bypassing or rolling back laws in order to construct dams in these protected areas. The main concern being raised by the authors of the study is that the people who are mandated with protecting riparian areas are also the ones responsible for invading them.

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In the EU alone, about 33% of all the proposed dams lie within protected areas. For example, two hydropower projects in Romania pose a danger to Natura 2000 sites. If such constructions are not stopped, the reserved areas, rivers and natural resources around them are at risk. Michele Thieme, lead author of the study and freshwater scientist at World Wildlife Fund (WWF), said, “Rivers are the lifeblood of ecosystems. Any policy that aims to conserve nature must prioritize the free flow of rivers.”

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The study has established that many governments are redefining boundaries of protected lands to create room for construction. The study points out that if legislation continues being loosened in this manner, it will not be long before the delicate ecosystems in these areas are irreversibly damaged.

“The sheer number of dams that are planned within protected areas is alarming,” Thieme warned. “Government and industry policies must prevent the development of dams planned within these areas. The dams that already exist within protected areas should be prioritized for possible removal and the surrounding river systems should be restored.”

This study follows another paper that highlighted the impact of dams on ecosystems. A 2019 paper published in Nature revealed that over 65% of long rivers across the world are impeded with dams and other structures. Worse yet, the report established that the construction of dams across major rivers is to blame for a 76% reduction in freshwater migratory fish populations since 1970. Because dams impede the movement of fish upstream for breeding, they have led to a decline in freshwater fish populations significantly.

The report is now calling on governments and other stakeholders to stop bypassing and changing laws for short-term gains. Those in authority must protect these areas at all costs to avoid further harm to ecosystems.

+ Conservation Letters


Image via Hans Linde