A Brazilian judge has ordered a halt to construction of the controversial Belo Monte dam hydroelectric project on the Rio Xingu, in a new twist to the long running dispute surrounding the scheme.
Judge Carlos Castro Martins ruled in favour of a fisheries group which has long argued on the damaging effect the dam would have on both fish stocks and local indigenous people who depend on fishing for their living.
The company building the dam, Norte Energia, have been barred from "building a port, using explosives, installing dikes, building canals and any other infrastructure work that would interfere with the natural flow of the Xingu river, thereby affecting local fish stocks", however he allowed the building of accommodation blocks for the project's workers that has already started to continue.
The companies behind the scheme are expected to appeal against the ruling, while the Brazilian government maintains that the dam's construction is vital due to growing energy needs.
Plans for the project were first put forward in the 1970's, but were soon shelved due to controversy, only to be brought back in the 1990's.
In the last decade the scheme has gone through a series of redesigns, environmental impact assessments and further controversy until in August 2010 a license was finally granted and Norte Energia signed a contract to construct the dam. In the last year the project has repeatedly been stopped only to be started once more after various court rulings.
If completed, the project will be the world's third largest hydroelectric dam, but its construction would not only flood a vast area of rainforest, but also reduce the flow of a 100km/62 mile curving stretch of the river known as the 'Volta Grande' or Big Bend.
This could have major impacts on many of the estimated 600+ fish species which live in the Xingu, with the entire known world distribution of aquarium favourites such as Zebra plec, Hypancistrus zebra (pictured above) and Sunshine plec, Scobinancistrus aureatus included within the area, potentially dried out or drowned by the project.
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