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The Chocó, a cradle of biodiversity in western Ecuador, is the fourth most important hotspot for biodiversity in the world. The coastal tropical rainforest of the Chocó once stretched unbroken from southern Colombia to northern Ecuador. Despite devastating clearance, the forests that survive hold innumerable species of plants and animals, many of which are unique to this region. The Save the Chocó Campaign by Fundación Jocotoco, an Ecuadorian conservation non-profit, seeks to raise USD$5 million to purchase and protect 57 000 acres of pristine rainforest in the Chocó. 

The land purchase by Fundación Jocotoco would connect several existing reserves through the expansion of its Canandé Reserve (currently 18 500 acres) in the Chocó. This purchase would create a fully contiguous protected area of more than 740 000 acres – larger than Yosemite National Park in California and significantly larger than any protected area in Western Ecuador. Connecting these reserves would ensure that the last large population of jaguars will continue to roam the forests of Western Ecuador.

The newly protected area would cover a very large altitudinal gradient from sea level to nearly 5000m, higher than any peak in the continental US. This is the only site on the west slope of the Tropical Andes where the entire gradient of ecosystems can be protected. This large gradient is important to achieve climate change mitigation as it would allow wildlife to shift their ranges with increasing temperatures. Moreover, this purchase would create a buffer zone for the indigenous Chachi Reserve and thereby help to preserve the forest the Chachi culture depends on. 

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Unfortunately, the only credible buyers for these properties are palm oil companies. Almost all of the forest west and south of Canandé Reserve has been cleared for oil palm plantations, releasing an estimated 2.12 million tons of greenhouse gases annually. The project would prevent the emission of more than 10 million tons of greenhouse gases. 

The survival of at least eight critically endangered species depends on this campaign, including the Brown-headed Spider Monkey, one of the 25 most threatened primates on the planet. 

The Chocó rivals the Amazon in terms of diversity of species but is far more threatened with only 2% of primary lowland rainforest remaining and an annual deforestation rate of 2.5%. Very little of the Chocó has been explored and there is a possibility that many species have yet to be discovered. Ten amphibians and reptiles that are found in the region await species description; they are so rare that they have not been found elsewhere. 

Featured image by: Flickr

About Fundación Jocotoco

Fundación Jocotoco is an Ecuadorian non-profit organisation whose mission is to protect the most threatened species and habitats in Ecuador. For more information, visit www.jocotoco.org. Donations are fully tax-deductible and will be matched up to USD$400 000. For questions, email: martin.schaefer@jocotoco.org

On September 1, the Provincial Court of Orellana in Ecuador’s Amazon dismissed the case brought by indigenous communities to shut down major oil pipelines over the April 7 oil spill that affected nearby land, wildlife and communities. The judge asserted that there are other mechanisms in place to address claims for remediation and redress. The communities have said they will appeal the verdict. 

On August 12, Earth.Org reported that National and Amazon-region Indigenous federations and communities in Ecuador had filed legal actions demanding that the flow of crude oil through Ecuador’s major pipelines be suspended. The judge said that the court was the incorrect legal venue to bring the case to and that ‘administrative, civil and criminal mechanisms exist to address plaintiffs’ claims for remediation and redress’. 

The communities will appeal the verdict and, with other Indigenous organisations and international partners, ramp up their global campaign, “Stop Amazon Extraction,” calling for a moratorium on all extraction in the Amazon. 

Carlos Jipa, president of the Kichwa Indigenous federation, FCUNAE, says, “We denounce the judge’s decision today. The judge failed to even so much as acknowledge our rights, when, in fact, his decision should have ordered the immediate suspension of crude oil through the compromised pipelines that continue to endanger my people. Oil operations are still contaminating our rivers and threatening our lives. We protect our rivers and our forest, and we are ready to fight this until the end. We will appeal the court’s decision.”

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The spill was the result of the SOTE and OCP pipelines that ruptured from erosion and put at risk the safety and health of the Kichwa people; communities in Ecuador, Peru and Brazil that depend on the Coca and Napo rivers for drinking water. A number of endangered and vulnerable wildlife species in the area were also threatened by the spill. Aggressive erosion and massive landslides are threatening an imminent second oil spill.

The affected indigenous territories overlap the Bajo Napo Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), a site of global importance to the planet’s overall health and the persistence of biodiversity. The KBA is home to a remarkable diversity of wildlife. With more than 580 species of birds, including harpy eagles, zigzag herons and cocha antshrike, and high levels of biodiversity of species of ant birds, tyrant flycatchers, ovenbirds, parrots and tanagers, the KBA is a popular spot for ornithologists and birdwatchers. The area also has a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Ramsar Wetland of international importance. Other species at risk include giant armadillos, giant anteaters, lowland tapirs, mountain lions, jaguars, Goeldi’s monkeys, Amazon River dolphins and Amazonian manatees. 

Despite substantial evidence that the state and oil companies acted negligently, which included extensive testimony from scientific experts and first-hand accounts from community members, the defense’s lawyers argued throughout the trial that the companies were not responsible. They claimed that the oil spill was an “unpreventable act of nature” and that the river would clean itself over time. They also claimed to have supplied adequate food and water to communities whose lands and drinking water were contaminated, but community members who received limited supplies over the past four months say the aid was wholly insufficient to survive on and came with strings attached. 

Maria Espinosa, lawyer for the case from GWC partner Amazon Frontlines, says, “The court’s decision is unacceptable. 27 000 Indigenous people are still in grave danger and facing the imminent risk of another oil spill. Throughout the trial, we have demonstrated how the Ecuadorian government and the oil companies violated the constitutional rights of Indigenous peoples and the rights of nature, and that extractivism is destroying people’s lives and the Amazon rainforest. To this day, there is still no guarantee of justice or reparations for those affected. We will appeal this ruling, and fight together until justice is delivered.”

This article comes from the frontline activities of Amazon Frontlines, whose mission it is to support indigenous peoples to defend their rights to land, life and cultural survival in the Amazon Rainforest. 

Amazon Frontlines

Amazon Frontlines is a non-profit organisation based in Lago Agrio, Ecuador that leverages technology, legal advocacy and movement building to support indigenous peoples to defend their rights to land, life and cultural survival in the Amazon Rainforest. For more information, visit www.amazonfrontlines.org

Global Wildlife Conservation

GWC conserves biodiversity on Earth through the safeguarding of wildlands and wildlife protection. It engages in biodiversity exploration, habitat conservation, protected area management, wildlife crime prevention and endangered species recovery. For more information, visit https://globalwildlife.org

Featured image by: Forest Guardians

Ecuador has sounded the alarm after its navy discovered around 260 mostly Chinese-flagged fishing vessels in the ocean surrounding the Galápagos islands. The fleet, found just outside a protected zone, raises the prospect of damage to the protected region’s diverse ecosystem and marine life.

Chinese Fishing Fleets in the Galápagos

The fleet was spotted with satellite imaging on the borders of the Galápagos Protection Zone. The fleet was found between the boundaries of the zone and Ecuador’s territorial waters, an area that serves as a major migration route for sea creatures, including many endangered species.

Former environment minister Yolanda Kakabadse says, “This fleets’s size and aggressiveness against marine species is a big threat to the balance of species in the Galápagos.” Kakabadse and Roque Sevilla, ex-mayor of Quito, have been put in charge of designing a ‘protection strategy’ for the islands. Sevilla says that diplomatic requests would be made to request the fleet’s withdrawal. “Unchecked Chinese fishing just on the edge of the protected zone is ruining Ecuador’s efforts to protect marine life in the Galápagos,” he says. He added that the team would also seek to enforce international agreements that protect migratory species. 

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chinese vessels Galápagos
A Marine Traffic image showing the fishing fleets, represented by the orange arrows at the bottom left, as of July 27 2020 (Source: Hong Kong Free Press).

Chinese fishing vessels come every year to the seas surrounding the Galápagos islands, a UNESCO Heritage Site, but this year’s fleet is one of the largest seen in recent years. The Galápagos Marine Reserve has one of the world’s largest concentrations of shark species, including the endangered whale and hammerhead sharks. UNESCO describes the islands as a ‘living museum and a showcase for evolution’. 

Ecuador is trying to establish a corridor of marine reserves between Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia to seal off important areas of marine diversity. Kakabadse says that efforts will also be made to extend the exclusive economic zone to a 560km circumference around the islands. 

The Ecuadorean navy has been monitoring the fleet since it was first spotted in the week of July 20. The country’s defence minister Oswaldo Jarrín says, “We are on alert, conducting surveillance, patrolling to avoid an incident such as what happened in 2017.”

The incident in question refers to the capture by the navy within the Marine Reserve of a Chinese vessel, which was found to be carrying 300 tons of marine wildlife, mostly sharks. 

UPDATE AUGUST 11: Ecuador’s navy is conducting surveillance of the Chinese fishing fleet, which has grown to 340 vessels. China has promised a “zero tolerance” approach to illegal fishing and has proposed a moratorium on fishing in the area between September and November. The fishing fleets usually leave the area before that period.’

UPDATE SEPTEMBER 18: According to environmental protection NGO Oceana, the fleet are mainly fishing for squid, a vital part of the diet of endemic creatures including hammerhead sharks, as well as tuna. It has also been determined that the vessels disabled their public tracking devices, typically done to hide illegal activities.

This is a developing story. Follow Earth.Org for more updates. 

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