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Conservationists alarmed by plan to build prison on island reserve: 'This project means quite strong environmental damage'

"We're on high alert right now."

"We're on high alert right now."

Photo Credit: iStock

Every year, it becomes more obvious what an incredible impact humanity has on the environment, from microplastics in the water to an ever-increasing average temperature. Some areas, set aside as nature reserves, escape the worst of the damage, creating a sanctuary for species that would otherwise die out.

Now one of those reserves is at stake in Honduras, where the government intends to build a maximum security prison on an island that was previously almost untouched, Mongabay reported.

What's happening?

The Swan Islands is an archipelago of three small islands over 150 miles from the Honduran mainland. They are so remote that they have their own unique ecosystem, and the distant location has also made them difficult for experts to study, Mongabay detailed.

Now, Honduras has had a recent rash of arrests after a 2022 government announcement allowing law enforcement to ignore some constitutional rights of its citizens. There is no room for all the prisoners, and the government has decided to build its new prison on one of the Swan Islands.

The island in the proposal is only about 1,000 acres in size and previously held nothing but a single landing strip and a crew of about 12 Honduran naval personnel, Mongabay reported. The proposed prison would house 2,000 prisoners.

Why does it matter what happens to the Swan Islands?

According to conservationists, this prison project would devastate the island ecosystem, which has not even been fully studied. 

Ilia Rivera, president of the Honduras College of Biologists, told Mongabay: "All human activities, even the smallest ones, have an impact on the environment. So thinking about building a prison in a place so far from the mainland — obviously it's going to have an environmental impact on the island's terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems."

The concern isn't just the prison building and grounds themselves. There is no food and no source of other supplies on the island. The activity of bringing supplies for 2,000 people to the island would be its own ecological disaster — and the Honduran government doesn't even know what delicate ecological balance they'll be upsetting since so little of the work of studying the islands has been completed.

"We're on high alert right now because the construction of this project means quite strong environmental damage," said Rivera.

Another prison was recently built in Utah despite researchers' concerns about the location.

What's being done about the prison project?

Conservationists and critics have protested the decision to build a prison on the Swan Islands. Continued pressure could halt the project, but it's unlikely.

However, individuals can prevent similar projects in the future by voting for eco-conscious candidates and policies.

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