How Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest, biodiversity and cultural identity is being protected in the face of development
Sheer walls of jungle rise-up on either side of our motorised canoe as we chug down the Nangaritza river, in the upper Amazon rainforest of southern Ecuador.
High above, the rock-face abruptly flattens into a table-top mountain and occasionally the thick forest-cover gives way to cascading waterfalls. It feels like we’ve discovered a lost world.
I crane my neck to look up at these surrounding tepuyes; unique rock formations with plateaus that are cut-off from the surrounding lowland Amazon forests, creating ecological islands in the sky. Here the flora and fauna has evolved in isolation over millennia – a different world of animal and plant life has emerged.
Awe-struck, I wonder at the creatures harboured in the depths of these little-explored mountaintops. Two years ago, during a rapid assessment of the biodiversity in this area, researchers discovered 28 species new to science in just 15 days. What other unknowns are lurking in the forests above?
The diverse biological world of the Nagaritza valley also harbours diverse cultures; colonists from the Andes, who have been here for generations, live alongside the Shuar indigenous communities – characterised by strong cultural traditions and a unique vision of the universe.
But this is no longer a lost world and the local people, their traditions and the forests that surrounds them have been impacted by development. The expansion of the region’s only road is bringing further logging and colonization, while mining is having devastating impact on the forest and rivers.
Conservationists from Nature & Culture International are helping communities gain legal title to their land and create community-run protected areas.
This work is ensuring that parts of the region’s environmental integrity remains intact, while empowering these diverse cultures in the face of development – creating a legacy for generations to come.