Environmentalists in Canary Islands gear up for a fight against TMT

Environmentalists in Canary Islands gear up for a fight against TMT
An archive rendering of the Thirty Meter Telescope at a proposed alternate site at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos on La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain. (Image: M3 Engineering)

LA PALMA, Canary Islands (HawaiiNewsNow) - An environmental group in the Canary Islands is elaborating on its opposition to the Thirty Meter Telescope being built in the so-called “Plan B” site.

Ben Magec - Ecologistas en Acción has pledged to seek legal action to stop the $1.4 billion telescope from being built in the Canary Islands. The Spanish government, meanwhile, supports the project.

In an email to Hawaii News Now on Wednesday, the group said a number of natural and archaeological sites have already been lost to other telescope construction projects and that TMT could further threaten sensitive ecosystems and culturally-significant artifacts.

The new statements come amid a standstill in the Thirty Meter Telescope conflict in Hawaii.

For a fourth week, protesters are blocking the access road to the planned site for TMT at the summit of Mauna Kea. And TMT officials say that despite the opposition, they remain committed to Hawaii.

At the same time, however, Thirty Meter Telescope officials did move forward this week with efforts to secure a building permit for TMT’s back-up location in the Canary Islands.

Rendering produced years ago of the TMT at a proposed alternate site at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos on La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain.
Rendering produced years ago of the TMT at a proposed alternate site at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos on La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain.

“We continue to follow the process to allow for TMT to be constructed at the ‘plan B’ site in La Palma should it not be possible to build in Hawaii,” TMT said, in a statement. "This process has been ongoing since 2016. Maunakea remains the preferred site for TMT.”

Ben Magec, a non-governmental organization, has pushed back against over-development in the Canary Islands for more than two decades and say their newest target is TMT.

The group said the site where TMT has scoped for its “Plan B” location has already been negatively affected by the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory facilities.

The summit where the observatory is located is “a biodiversity hot spot with a high presence of protected species,” Ben Magec said, adding that any land transformation could disrupt it further.

The NGO also said there are also concerns about the loss of archaeological and cultural artifacts, including historic cabins, stone stacks and petroglyphs.

“Sadly, many of them have disappeared forever because of the earthworks and constructions of roads for the ORM," the group said.

In addition, Ben Magec claims the site TMT has chosen on La Palma as its alternative to Mauna Kea is located “outside the limits” of the ORM, “in an area where the government’s management plan expressly prohibits any movement of land because of its natural wealth and fragility.”

(Image: M3 Engineering)
(Image: M3 Engineering)

The Canary Islands is an “autonomous community” of Spain. The archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean is home to the Observatorios de Canarias, with telescopes on the islands of Tenerife and La Palma.

Colonization of the Canary Islands began in the 15th century and in the centuries that followed, the aboriginal Canarian culture was almost completely erased. Some Canary Islanders trace their lineage to aboriginal ancestors, however, Ben Magec said, “whether we are descendants or not of the aborigines, we have the responsibility to defend their legacy.”

The group said some words, place names and few traditions have also been preserved. (For example, “Ben Magec” means “children of the sun” in the aboriginal Canarian language).

So where do things go from here?

Ben Magec said it’s preparing legal arguments against TMT, should the project move to the Canary Islands. And they note that this isn’t the first time they’ve gone up against a telescope project.

The group has taken their case against the Cherenkov Telescope Array to the Supreme Court of Spain.

TMT has not responded to Ben Magec’s opposition to the project.

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