Conservation NGO Claims Wildlife Refuge was Poisoned

August 13, 2010

The Marine Turtle Restoration Program (Pretoma) is preparing to file a formal complaint with Costa Rica’s Environment Tribunal against Agropecuario Caletas S.A. for allegedly spraying harmful chemicals on a wildlife refuge in the northwestern province of Guanacaste.

Pretoma charges that a plane from the farming company sprayed toxic chemicals over the Caletas-Arío National Wildlife Refuge, poisoning the area’s wildlife.

A Pretoma volunteer on patrol at the Caletas refuge on July 20 filmed a crop duster spraying a liquid over a field that the group claims is within the refuge. The video also shows dozens of dead fish and crabs on the beach shortly after the spraying.

Andy Bystrom, a spokesman for Pretoma, said the chemicals released over the area drained into a nearby mangrove wetland and then entered the Río Bongo, killing the river’s fish and crabs.

The video has been posted on the YouTube website at www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyzhyCmFcdE.

Agropecuario Caletas S.A. denies the charges and claims that the video could have been shot in any part of Costa Rica, not necessarily Caletas.

“That’s what they always say, but we have all kinds of witnesses,” Randall Arauz, director of Pretoma, said.

Ana Ventura, the volunteer who filmed the video, recalled a “strong poison smell” and said that after the plane passed, “most of the volunteers ran to get T-shirts to cover their noses and mouths.”

Arauz said he is gathering information and will present the case to the Environment Tribunal next week.

Last year, Pretoma filed a complaint against Agropecuario Caletas S.A. for illegally excavating land in order to build a road near the refuge.

The Environment Tribunal imposed a $30,000 fine on the company for the earthmoving and ordered them to repair the damages. The payment is still pending.

–Mike McDonald

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