ECUADOR CONSERVATION CHALLENGES AND COMBATIVE EFFORTS
There truly are different kinds of wealth, and Ecuador is rich in biodiversity. It’s not something the country takes for granted, and Ecuador supports 14 nature reserves, 11 national parks, a wildlife refuge, and various natural heritage sites. In total, Ecuador protects around 466,987 hectares of land and 14,110,000 hectares of sea surface.
Ecuador struggles to maintain the balance between the country’s economic and ecological interests. As the country’s economy largely depends on the exports of oil and bananas—both which necessitate environmental fragmentation—the Ecuadorians often find themselves at a crossroads. Occasionally, this position can lead to great steps toward environmental preservation; occasionally, this position leads to difficult choices for a country struggling with national debt. In the last several years, Ecuador’s difficult choices have centered around the masses of oil sitting beneath the Amazon rainforest. Unfortunately, Ecuador frequently seems faced with the reality that conservation requires money, and that money can cost too much. Too often, nature seems to pay the price.
TO DRILL OR NOT TO DRILL? YASUNÍ NATIONAL PARK OPEN FOR OIL ONCE AGAIN
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa had previously proposed a 6-year moratorium on oil drilling in untouched portions of the Yasuní National Park. The scheme, known as the Yasuní Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) initiative, proposed to conserve underground stores of oil in return for donations from international communities. Although donations were given to Ecuador, the goal was not met by a significant amount. The President declared that as “the world has failed us,” Ecuador felt justified in going forth with drilling. In 2014, a permit allowing Petroamazonas, an oil company, to begin oil production in the region as soon as 2016.
With as much as 800 million barrels of crude oil biding its time underground, the Yasuní ITT block has the potential to fund many of Ecuador’s infrastructure projects and local communities living in poverty. The economic benefits from drilling have been one of the Ecuadorian government’s primary arguments for drilling, and a decent portion of the public, and indigenous groups, agree.
The Ecuadorian government was quick to assure the the country—and the international community at large—that new drilling in the ITT block would not greatly affect the Yasuní National Park or its biodiversity. Many people disagree, however, and petitions and protests have been gathered and held since the government’s decision to end the moratorium.
Some environmental activists have drawn attention to Petroamazonas’ poor record regarding oil spills and the environmental fragmentation caused not just by drilling but by the construction necessitated by the project. Kelly Swing, who founded the Tipitini research center located within Yasuní has claimed that the region affected by drilling could be 20-30 times greater than the small fraction the government claimed violate once the access roads have been considered. Although environmental activists have been arguing against the government’s decision to renew drilling, it is the indigenous groups that have been making the biggest impact.
THE SOCIO BOSQUE PROGRAM
In 2008, the Ministry of the Environment of Ecuador (MAE) began an initiative called the Socio Bosque Program that provides economic incentives to landowners of Ecuador’s native forests. The program prioritizes regions recognized as critical for the conservation of ecosystems as well as regions with high impact on locals. In effect, the program hopes to not only protect the native ecosystems and reduce habitat fragmentation but also promote the well-being of local communities with high poverty percentages. The Socio Bosque Program hopes to conserve 4 million hectares of native ecosystems over the course of the next seven years.
One major success story of the Socio Bosque Program is the entrance of 47,500 acres of rainforest located in the Chai Nunka Reserve into the program in 2013. This conservation project protects 7 communities of the Shuar, represented by the Shuar Tayunts federation, and serves as a significant pathway to maintaining ecological connectivity between the El Condor Mountain Range and Podocarpus National Park. This project means much for the Shuar people who will now be able to invest more money into community health funds and improve community housing.
BREAKING NEWS AND BREAKING THE GUINNESS REFORESTATION RECORD IN 2015
In May 2015, Ecuador made the news for breaking the world record for reforestation. Thousands of Ecuadorians lent a helping hand to the conservation-centric goal to plant 647,250 trees, with 216 plant species included in this number. The seedlings were planted throughout Ecuador’s diverse terrain and ecosystems in 150 locations, and so the mass reforestation effort should make a visible effort across the country and not just in protected areas.
The countrywide effort was part of a long-term goal to eventually reforest 500,000 hectares of land—an objective that would ultimately zero out Ecuador’s current deforestation rate.
Recently, conservationists have been using dogs to lend a helping nose to conservation efforts within the Galápagos Islands. Dogs such as Darwin the Labrador have been trained toward the important job of sniffing out one of the islands’ biggest environmental threats: the giant African land snail. They even have their own website now, the Dogs for Conservation website.