Ecuador’s Indigenous Protest Mining in the Amazon Rainforest

March 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Indigenous women perform a ritual during a march in Ecuador to protest against the policies of President Rafael Correa which they say will result in more mining in the Amazon region and threaten the environment and their way of life.

Protests in Ecuador yesterday shut down the capital city of Quito while indigenous protested the governments signing of new mining contracts.  The Amazon Rainforest is one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world.  As the largest tract of tropical rainforest in the Americas, one in 10 species in the world can be found within the Amazon Basin.

This area is also home to a number of indigenous groups, including groups within the Brazilian Amazon which have remained without contact from the outside world.  For decades the Amazon Region has also been exploited for its wealth of natural resources including deforestation, oil production, and mining operations.

Environmentalists are concerned about loss of biodiversity that will result from destruction of the forest, and also about the release of the carbon contained within the vegetation, which could accelerate  global warming.  As regions within the Amazon Basin continue to succumb to eco-side the many of the indigenous groups from the area have become the voice for the Amazon through community based conservation efforts.

Manta Rays receive international protection from the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals

December 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

WildAid applauds the recent listing of the giant manta ray (Manta birostris) under Appendix I and II in the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), an international treaty organization concerned with conserving migratory species and habitats on a global scale. Listed on November 25, 2011, member countries are now obligated to provide strict national protections for giant manta rays and their key habitats.

Despite being protected in several countries, manta rays migrate into unprotected waters where they are subject to overfishing. CMS listing will spark coordinated conservation efforts among member countries to monitor the species and protect its habitat.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which declared giant manta rays as Vulnerable with an elevated risk of extinction earlier this month, intense fishing pressures and growing international consumer demand have caused manta ray populations to decline by 30% worldwide, with some regions experiencing an 80% decline over the last 75 years.

Manta rays and their close cousin, mobula rays, are highly valued in Chinese traditional medicine for their gill rakers, cartilaginous projections along the gill arches used for trapping food particles when filter-feeding. Previously targeted by small-scale subsistence fisheries, increasing consumer demand has expanded the gill raker trade into a global commercial industry. According to the IUCN, targeted manta ray fisheries now operate in critical habitats and well-known aggregation sites in the Philippines, Mexico, Mozambique, Madagascar, India, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Tanzania and Indonesia.

The Manta Ray of Hope project, a joint effort of WildAid and Shark Savers, assisted Ecuador’s CMS delegates in shaping the proposal to list manta rays as well as made available to all CMS delegates a condensed version of its forthcoming Manta Ray of Hope report prior to the 10th CMS meeting in Bergen, Norway earlier this month.

The report, which will be released to the public in December, provides the most far-reaching documentation ever conducted on the intensive overfishing of mantas and mobulas and the growing pressures that have pushed these animals to the brink of local extinctions.

“CMS listing is a critical step needed to end the exploitation of mantas and mobulas”, said Peter Knights, Executive Director of WildAid. “By harnessing the cooperation and concerted efforts of member states, the CMS listing sets the stage for cohesive monitoring and regulation of the gill raker trade”.

For its submission to CMS, the Manta Ray of Hope team, led by Shawn Heinrichs, worked with partners in Ecuador, the country that sponsored the move to protect mantas, including local NGO Equilibrio Azul. The team also consulted with Dr. Andrea Marshall, Guy Stevens and Sonja Fordham of Shark Advocates International in advance of the CMS meeting to assist with preparations.

About Manta Ray of Hope: WildAid, Shark Savers, and a team of the top manta researchers in the world are partners in the Manta Ray of Hope project, a collaboration of non-profit organizations, researchers, dive operators, governments and local communities to save mantas and mobulas from this unsustainable trade. Manta Ray of Hope is developing global conservation campaigns based on sound science, including:

  • An upcoming report on the destructive fishing and consumption of Mobulids.
  • Establishment of trade bans and sanctuaries.
  • Education and awareness campaigns for consumers.
  • Ecotourism development in fishing communities.

Manta Ray of Hope receives support from the Silvercrest Foundation, Hrothgar Investments Ltd, and private donors.

For more information, please visit www.mantarayofhope.com 

Read about the Manta Ray Study in Ecuador and Galapagos

Galapagos Sea Lion Emergency Appeal

November 9, 2011 § 2 Comments

Galapagos Sea Lion Pup
An unprecedented level of Galapagos Sea Lion pup mortality is occurring NOW on San Cristobal Island, Galapagos.  Please support us to stop this tragedy. Donate now.

Since the beginning of the 2011 breeding season, scientists from the University of San Francisco de Quito have observed mass mortality of newborn pups, miscarriages and stillbirths on and near San Cristobal Island in the eastern region of the Galapagos Islands.

Mortality rates for pups have reached almost 60% compared with an average of 5 – 15% in a normal year.
The Galapagos National Park (GNP), with help from the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), the University of San Francisco / Galapagos Science Center and Agrocalidad are urgently trying to determine the main reason for the deaths.

The need for a quick diagnosis is clear – the Galapagos Sea Lion (Zalophus wollebaeki) is already classed as endangered and the spread of this disease to other islands in the Archipelago carries a serious threat to the species.  Although the cause of this mass mortality remains unknown, the clinical signs point to a variety of diseases, some of which may have the potential for transmission to and from other mammals, or possibly even humans.

The scientists at CDF are acting with great urgency together with their partners and have requested the support of the Galapagos Conservation Trust to aid:

  • the identification of the disease agent
  • the formation of an action plan to contain the disease
  • the monitoring of future pup mortality, sample collection and analysis
  • the sampling of sea lion colonies on other islands for comparison and to identify the spread of disease
  • the protection of public health
  • the planning and implementation of health surveillance to identify and mitigate disease threats in the future more rapidly
Please act NOW and help us reach our initial goal of £6,000* to ensure that we can understand this disease and its likely impacts on the Galapagos Sea Lion colonies.  Keep checking back for updates from the CDF scientists.* Any money raised above this figure will be used for the vital ongoing monitoring work that studies like this urgently require.

Galapagos National Park Seeks to Control Invasive Species

October 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

Image from the Galapagos National Park

On the island of San Cristobal, the Galapagos National Park Service is working to control the number of introduced species in the islands specifically the rat and cat population.  This increased effort to eradicate these species is being done after monitoring of visitor sites on San Cristobal showed the presence of these animals.

Scientists have long agreed that introduced plants and animals are the single greatest threat to the Galapagos ecosystem.   Black rats are responsible for killing of the sharp-beaked finch population on the islands of Santa Cruz.  Park officials say there are a total of 50 bird species currently endangered by rodents, 8 of them critically as well as giant tortoises, iguanas and a series of plants.  Rats are omnivores and will eat whatever they encounter including animal eggs.

Similarly feral cats have been known to endanger a range of species.   Park officials have previous stepped up their eradication efforts after finding feral cats were preying on colonies of iguanas on Santa Cruz and Baltra,  red-footed boobies on San Cristobal and penguins on Isabela.

In San Cristobal the rodent bait is being placed at 83 stations near the Interpretation Center and Isla Lobos.  Additionally 160 stations of baited sardines are being established to control cats from Punta Carola, Frigatebird Hill, Puerto Chino and La Loberia. Park authorities say approximately 70% of the traps are currently in place and daily monitoring of the sites has already began.

Galapagos National Park Seeks to Protect Baltra Iguanas

August 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

Baltra Iguana

The authorities of the Galapagos National Park of Ecuador and the operators of the airport in Baltra are seek to find protect the land iguanas living on the island of Baltra.

Victor Carrion from the national park stated today, since July a total of (5) iguanas have been found dead in the airport area, (3) were killed when hit by aircraft, (1) by motor vehicle and the other by activity near the airport.  The airport operators have told the park that they will begin an inspection of the runway before any airplane is allowed to land or take off from Baltra in order to protect the iguanas. While the program is new the park authorities believe the efforts will help along with having training pilots on how to protect the iguanas.

Baltra is the busiest of the airports in Galapagos.  “Losing five minutes to protect an iguana, I think it’s worth,” said aware of that little time can mean a lot of money for airlines.Carrion noted that during the 1980′s  the National Park and Charles Darwin Foundation implimented a iguana breeding program to restore land iguanas to Baltra.  In 1932 amateur naturalist G. Allan Hancock capture 20 iguanas from Baltra and introduced them to the island of North Seymour which at the time did not have an iguana population.  While this act would be unheard of today his efforts are what allowed the park to initiate the breeding program. The iguana breeding program was successful, Baltra now has approximately 1,000 iguanas. While at one time land iguanas on the island were at the brink of extinction. “There is increasing population of iguanas, the reproduction in the wild is very good,” said Carrion.

“They in certain areas are looking for new areas of life because iguanas are quite territorial and that has forced to take a step just for the airport area,” said the advance that has been advanced in training for staff who are responsible for remodeling terminal and runway.

Thus, workers will know that before getting into the vehicle should be checked, for example, that motor is not under any iguana sheltering from the sun.

Five Months to Save Ecuador’s Rainforest

July 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Ecuador‘s controversial Cash for Environmental Protection has received less funding from foreign governments than Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa had hoped for.  The plan which originally called for $3.5 billion dollar to be pledged in order to preserve the area currently only has $40 million pledged – $35 million of which is debt which was cancelled to aid the plan.  In an effort to raise the money desired individuals can now contribute as little as $1 to save the Yasuni Rainforest.  The Yasuni Rainforest is a stunning area of primary rainforest and home to the Yasuni Parrot Lick is a highlight for visitors of visitors to the Amazon Rainforest including those visiting the Napo Wildlife Center and Sacha Lodge.

by guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media

Posted: 21 July 2011

Individuals can contribute as little as US$1 to compensate the country for leaving its oil underground.

Yasuni people

The Yasuni National Park is home to the Tagaeri-Taromenane, an indigenous people living in voluntary isolation. Photo credit: UNDP

In 2007, Ecuador floated an unprecedented proposal: it would leave a fifth of its oil reserves – 846m barrels of crude – underground for the health of the planet if, in return, the international community stumped up $350bn (£217bn), half its market value. The oil lies in the Ishpingo, Tambococha and Tiputini (ITT) oil fields, beneath the stunning Yasuni national park in Ecuador’s Amazon, an area that scientists have called the most biodiverse tract of rainforest in the world.

But after four years of vainly trying to secure the cash from rich nations, Ecuador is turning to . . . us. Last week, the Yasuni-ITT trust fund, administered by the UN Development Programme, became open to donations of as little as $1 (previously, the fund only accepted contributions of $10,000 or more). “The idea is that individuals the world over will show their support . . . by symbolically ‘buying’ a barrel of Yasuni oil,” says Carlos Larrea, technical director for the crowdfunding initiative.

Scarlet Macaw

Yasuni Park has around 600 recorded bird species, making it one of the world’s most diverse avian sites. Shown here the Scarlet Macaw. Photo © Nick Athanas/ UNDP

The environmental case for protecting this piece of Yasuni national park is beyond question: it boasts an incredible diversity of plant, animal and insect species, including 644 types of tree in a single hectare. It is also home to at least two uncontacted tribes. Leaving the oil underground will avoid the emission of 407m tonnes of CO2 – equal to the annual footprint of Brazil. The cash raised will be used to develop national renewable energy initiatives, in turn helping to fund environmental and social projects across Ecuador.

Chile and Spain were among the first to swell the coffers, adding $100,000 and €1m respectively. Italy followed by cancelling $35m of Ecuadorian debt, with the proviso that the money went into the fund. Germany, however, backed out of its initial pledge to contribute an annual €50m.

There is now around $40m in the Yasuni pot, but the clock is ticking. If there isn’t at least $100m by December, Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa has said he will ditch the scheme for “Plan B” – drilling for the oil.

As if to prove he means it, the rainforest surrounding the ITT block is rapidly being readied for exploitation. Without that missing $60m, there’s every chance the ITT block could be next.

Entanglement the Greatest Danger to Whales in Ecuador

July 19, 2011 § 1 Comment


From Cetaceosyfaunamarina’s Blog

Freezing temperatures in Antarctica are warning indicates that it is time to migrate. The southeastern Pacific humpback whales know it and taking the journey. The course of 8 000 miles to the coast of Ecuador will demand less energy to remain in these icy waters, where, during the winter, food is scarce due to lack of sun and other climatic factors.

The humpback visitors arrive and the show starts. Breaths, jumps, spins …, a tourist attraction that impacts the economy of coastal areas, a sign that the warm Ecuadorian waters (about 25 degrees) helps keep the average temperature (37.5 degrees) of these giant mammals, an opportunity for the scientific community, local and international, research more about them.

Protecting these whales is the objective of marine biologist Fernando Felix of the Whale Museum in Salinas, Santa Elena. With thirty years of research related to whales, the scientist has good and bad news.

Among the good, the population that reaches coast of Ecuador is increased to 5% annually, but the bad news is that same increase triggers problems that if action is not taken will reduce the number of whales.

“The fishing nets installed along the coast are the main risk to the whales and for the fishermen laying the nets” said Felix, who explained that due to the lack of legislation and control over fishing methods, the installed fishing nets (2 km long and 8 feet deep or so) in which the whales, they need to surface every fifteen minutes to avoid drowning, they can stay tangled and die.

The fishermen often leave these nets “installed” in the sea, using floats and weights in the extremities, which extended to keep them waiting for their prey (large fish such as billfish, dorado …) but also tend to hook the boat the nets and just wait for the fish. “Imagine a whale collision with the net at that moment,” Felix poses. “The whale can drag the boat in its attempt to break free,” he says.

Given this, the biologist Gustavo Iturralde, project specialist and regulations of the Undersecretariat of Marine Coastal Management, said that within the Management Plan for the Coastal Wildlife Production Reserve de la Puntilla Santa Elena (protected area created in late 2008) who plan to submit in the coming months, covers the beginning of studies to determine the impact of networking and aims to craft agreements with fishermen in this area so that, between June and September, do not install gear that can affect the whales.

Among the latest data registered in the Population Study of the Humpback Whale in Salinas during the 2010 season, presented by the Whale Museum and annual activity report to the Ministry of Environment, outlined the presence of 839 whales in this sector in 2010 .

But according to annual surveys conducted since 1991 by the Ecuadorian Foundation for the Study of Marine Mammals and later by the Whale Museum, each year they are four to five whales entangled in gillnets craft, but presumably the number is 30 specimens, many of them drown off the coast and serve as food for other larger whales such as orcas.

But this bad news adds another: the recent business of swimming fish hatcheries. “Now there are about three experimental pools, but if the number grows, it would be bad for the habitat of whales,” says Felix. Meanwhile, Iturralde stressed that this activity is the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. “This is in the exploratory stage. If it does materialize activity, the Ministry of Environment will take steps to protect the ecosystem, “he adds.

Among the major problems occur between June and September, are: the reduction of open water where the whales can navigate, the whales are at a greater risk of entanglement in addition the pollution of the seabed for the remains of food left by the pools.

And with these problems, the controls are minimal, the research concern, but argues that the controls Iturralde are concentrated in protected areas and the National Directorate of Aquatic Spaces is responsible for the spaces outside.

Meanwhile, violations continue. Although regulations for whale watching are in place. Whale watching boats are to depart from port with a captain or member of the Armed Forces, who are trained to operate boats in waters in and around whales. The previous Sunday, for example, around Salinas, the Journal found that private boats (not tourist) cruising near these giants without guests without regard for the regulations.

Ecuador Announces Tuna Fishing Ban

July 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

ECUADOR’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Aquaculture and Fisheries has decided to implement a ban on tuna fishing in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO) in two periods, after accepting a recommendation from the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC).

In the first stage, 53 boats will be subject to the ban from 29 July to 28 September, 2011. The second phase of the ban will run from 18 November this year to 18 January, 2012, and will involve 34 tuna boats.

Marcos Cevallos Vargas, director of Sustainable Fisheries Development of the Undersecretary of Fisheries (Subpesca), said the measure covers 4-6 class vessels (more than 182 metric tonnes).

However, there is an exception for 4 class vessels, which will be allowed to perform only a 30-day fishing trip during the period of closure.

Also, these ships will have to carry an observer from Ecuador‘s Onboard Observers Programme or from IATTC.

Cevallos said other countries will also have to respect this fishing ban: Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Japan, US, Venezuela, Guatemala and European Union nations.

The ban will take place between September 29 and October 29, 2011 in the area between 96 and 110º W and between 4º N and 3° S, for certain tuna species like yellowfin, bigeye and skipjack, reported Subpesca.

According to the data provided by IATTC, between January 1 and May 29, 2011 the Ecuadorian vessels caught 81,267 tonnes of tuna.

In the same period the Mexican fleet fished 52,175 tonnes, the Panamanian one caught 27,192 tonnes, and the fleet from Venezuela captured 24,134 tonnes, among others.

Although the overall health of the Pacific’s tuna fishery seems to be vibrant, the prognosis for tuna globally is grim. According to a recent report by the IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature), five of the eight species of tuna are threatened with extinction. Most at risk are Atlantic bluefin and the Southern bluefin in tuna fisheries near Australia.

The decline is widely attributed to overfishing. Up to 90 percent of the large open-water fish have been removed from the ocean over the last 50 years by industrial fishing, and scientists warn those losses could lead to irreversible harm to ocean ecosystems if swift action is not taken.

Researchers and tuna fishers have spent two months in the eastern Pacific Ocean initiating the next phase of a globally managed scheme to promote effective yet less destructive fishing methods to reduce the environmental damage of tuna fishing.

Purse seines seek skipjack tuna but also catch sharks, turtles, or threatened tuna species accidentally. These vessels have a bycatch of 5 per cent on average consisting of non-tuna species and sharks.

The nutrient rich waters of the Humboldt Current running up the coast of South America to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands make the waters here one of the best environments in the world for big fish.  Manta Ecuador along the Coast of Ecuador is the tuna capital of the world.  The city’s main industries are fishing and tuna canning and processing. Processed tuna is exported to Europe and the U.S. International tuna corporations including Bumble Bee, Van Camps, British Columbia Packers, and Conservas Isabel, as well as leading national tuna processor Marbelize, have sizable factories in Manta.

Ocean life on the brink of mass extinctions: study

June 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

from Reuters

Life in the oceans is at imminent risk of the worst spate of extinctions in millions of years due to threats such as climate change and over-fishing, a study showed on Tuesday.

Time was running short to counter hazards such as a collapse of coral reefs or a spread of low-oxygen “dead zones,” according to the study led by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO).

“We now face losing marine species and entire marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, within a single generation,” according to the study by 27 experts to be presented to the United Nations.

“Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of causing, through the combined effects of climate change, over-exploitation, pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean,” it said.

Scientists list five mass extinctions over 600 million years — most recently when the dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago, apparently after an asteroid struck. Among others, the Permian period abruptly ended 250 million years ago.

“The findings are shocking,” Alex Rogers, scientific director of IPSO, wrote of the conclusions from a 2011 workshop of ocean experts staged by IPSO and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) at Oxford University.

Fish are the main source of protein for a fifth of the world’s population and the seas cycle oxygen and help absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities.

OXYGEN

Jelle Bijma, of the Alfred Wegener Institute, said the seas faced a “deadly trio” of threats of higher temperatures, acidification and lack of oxygen, known as anoxia, that had featured in several past mass extinctions.

A build-up of carbon dioxide, blamed by the U.N. panel of climate scientists on human use of fossil fuels, is heating the planet. Absorbed into the oceans, it causes acidification, while run-off of fertilizers and pollution stokes anoxia.

“From a geological point of view, mass extinctions happen overnight, but on human timescales we may not realize that we are in the middle of such an event,” Bijma wrote.

The study said that over-fishing is the easiest for governments to reverse — countering global warming means a shift from fossil fuels, for instance, toward cleaner energies such as wind and solar power.

“Unlike climate change, it can be directly, immediately and effectively tackled by policy change,” said William Cheung of the University of East Anglia.

“Over-fishing is now estimated to account for over 60 percent of the known local and global extinction of marine fishes,” he wrote.

Among examples of over-fishing are the Chinese bahaba that can grow 2 meters long. Prices per kilo (2.2 lbs) for its swim bladder — meant to have medicinal properties — have risen from a few dollars in the 1930s to $20,000-$70,000.

(Editing by Jan Harvey)

Smuggling attempt a marine iguana wrapped in newspaper

Like the rest of the world the waters surrounding the Galapagos Islands are under constant threat from illegal fishing.  Thankfully Sea Shepherd has been helping the Galapagos National Park patrol the waters of the marine reserve since 2000.  Sea Shepherd also provides the K-9 sniffer unit that you may have seen at the airport.

Sea Shepherds efforts have contributed the stopping many international boats who have entered the Galapagos to illegally fish as well as those individuals who have been smuggling marine life from the islands.  We would like to  applaud Sea Shepherd for their efforts in continuing to protect the area and helping to keep Galapagos Diving one of the best dive experiences in the world.

Germany’s Withdrawal of Funding Threatens Plan to Save Ecuador Forest

June 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Eric Marx for AAAS

The Ecuadorian government’s plan to keep oil in the ground in Yasuni National Park in exchange for compensation from world governments has taken a severe blow in recent days. Germany had tentatively pledged up to $50 million a year for the so-called Yasuni ITT Initiative but had reportedly been having second thoughts. Last week, the Die Zeit newspaper disclosed that the country was indeed withdrawing its support, and German officials and others involved in the negotiations for the funding have confirmed that decision. Given this development, scientists and activists concerned about Yasuni are debating whether the initiative is dead and whether they should now concentrate on minimizing any damage from anticipated oil exploration.

Hailed by some as “the world’s first really green oil deal,” Ecuador’s plan would leave almost a billion barrels of oil in the ground below Yasuni National Park in return for $3.6 billion, or about half the market value of the oil. Labeled the most biodiverse forest known on Earth, Yasuni National Park covers close to 1 million hectares on the eastern edge of Ecuador abutting the Peruvian border.

But more than concern about the forest’s animal and plant life has driven interest in the initiative. It would protect the indigenous tribes living in Yasuni and also offer a precedent for reducing future carbon emissions by forgoing fossil fuel extraction. Not exploiting the oilfields in Yasuni could prevent the emissions of around 410 million metric tons of carbon dioxide—equivalent to the annual emissions of France.

Despite Germany’s change of heart, Yasuni activists say the initiative is still a work in progress. Yet they also acknowledge the need for political mobilization given the increased likelihood that Yasuni will again be considered open to oil exploration—what Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has repeatedly characterized as his only plan B alternative if global funding doesn’t come through.

“With or without German support—or even without the [Ecuadorian] government’s support—the initiative remains valid and legitimate, not only for the indigenous people that live within the borders of the national park but for Ecuadorian society and for the world as a whole,” said Ivonne Yanez, president of Acción Ecológica, a Quito-based environmental activist group which has been instrumental in raising the initiative’s profile.

Given the self-imposed deadline set by President Correa’s government, Ecuador still has until the end of the year to collect $350 million, the annual amount proposed under the plan for the next 13 years. Since establishing a U.N.-administered trust fund in August 2010, Ecuador has only received roughly $40 million in multiyear commitments from an assortment of countries, including Italy, Spain, and Chile.

Nevertheless, support in Ecuador for the initiative remains broad and deep, ranging as high as 75% favorability in some polls. “Without a doubt, the initiative has raised the profile of Yasuni and its importance on a national and international level,” says Kevin Koenig, the Amazon Oil Campaign coordinator for Amazon Watch. “Whether that is enough to stop Correa from drilling I’m not sure, though it obviously works in our favor.”

However, some of the scientists who have lobbied hard to protect Yasuni are calling on environmentalists to work together with the oil industry on a sustainable extraction plan. “If Ecuador does not get this money, have no doubt, it will go for the oil–and plans are certainly already in place,” says Kelly Swing, a founding director of the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, one of two Yasuni research stations. “The only functional way to save this biodiversity hotspot is to reach a policy decision at the highest levels in Ecuador to place an absolute ban on road construction in the region.”

So-called roadless oil extraction, in which oil companies use offshore exploration and production methods and leave less of an imprint on the area being drilled, is a viable alternative, argue Swing and others associated with Scientists Concerned for Yasuni, a network of independent researchers that first came together in 2004 to stop a proposed road project inside the park. “Proposed projects lacking this approach should be rejected,” says Margot Bass, a conservation biologist and founding member of Scientists Concerned for Yasuni.

Roadless oil exploration practices are already in use in Ecuador’s Block 10, a region of Amazonian forest near Yasuni, notes Bass. “The process still involves opening a trail through the forest so that heavy equipment can operate along the entire route,” explains Swing. “This trail means … there is a narrow strip of deforestation, usually something like 15 to 20 meters in width, … to the point that some of the trees in the canopy actually remain in contact overhead, thereby allowing upper canopy species to move through their habitat without experiencing as much fragmentation as they would when ‘real’ access roads are built.”

Yet Koenig contends Block 10 is far from a good example to follow as the limited road building there has, he argues, produced environmental impacts similar to traditional oil exploration. And roadless oil extraction also involves helicopter support and other invasive actions which could greatly affect the two uncontacted tribes still living in the park. “The problem is the Yasuni Initiative does not only involve biodiversity but also forest people,” said Yanez of Acción Ecológica. “This could be a genocide.”

Matt Finer, a staff ecologist with Save America’s Forests in Washington, D.C., and an active member in the Scientists Concerned for Yasuni network, cautions discussions of the initiative’s demise were premature. “There are still 6 months left of life,” says Finer, who sees any plan B discussions at this time detracting from ongoing efforts.

Indeed, there are some who believe that President Correa will again extend the deadline, and that if he decides to implement plan B, the parliament will not approve the decision. And perhaps even the German government will change its mind, suggest some. “The Initiative is strongly supported by a large number of parliamentarians, and it has the political support even from within the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development,” says Carlos Larrea, a technical adviser to the Yasuni Initiative’s negotiating team that recently returned from Germany. The German ministry confirmed it does not now plan to provide funding to the initiative, acknowledges Larrea, although a final decision would not be made until late October. “We still have hope the final decision will be positive.”

Read more about the plan to save Yasuini for Cash

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