Amazon Rainforest: Sacred Zones Not Sacrifice Zones
The Amazon Rainforest embodies a stunning quote by Mark Nepo, “In many ways, our stories are part of one story. Our surprise at the beauty and fragility of life is part of one chorus of awe”. The Amazon rainforest is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, where interconnection between flora, fauna, and the abiotic systems they evolve in thrives. In 2012, I reached an apex of study, which is many environmental student’s dreams, to study biodiversity and conservation in the Amazon Rainforest. My group, from the University of Toronto, travelled to Tiputini Biodiversity Station (TBS), a biological field station established in Amazonian Ecuador in 1994 by the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in collaboration with Boston University. TBS is located within the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve, which has served to protect the Amazon and the Indigenous populations that have lived there since time immemorial.
When I went to the Amazon in May 2012, I had torn three ligaments in my left knee playing volleyball at my host University, USFQ, only four days earlier. So, I ventured onto the rugged trek on crutches and leg brace, not fully realizing how difficult getting into the iconic Amazon would be. In eight hours we reached our destination, my schoolmates ran around in euphoria, and I, looked around while projecting my own dance onto the forest. That night, I prayed to the Amazon – famous for its healing powers with plants one dreams up in fantasy fiction writing. I dreamt that night that I got up out of bed and walked around my cabin without my crutches, and looked at the mirror at my miraculous self supporting body. I woke up in the morning, and for the first time in five days (the doctor said I wouldn’t walk for at least three weeks, and should be sent home), I could walk! From that point on I joined all the activities offered by TBS, from walking on extensive boardwalks in the canopy of the rainforest strata to swimming in the Tiputini River that flowed past the station.
Up in the canopy of the Amazon, leg brace and all !
Tiputini Biodiversity Station serves as a space for scientists and educators to learn and teach the rich knowledge held by the Amazon. Scientists study everything from animal behaviour to global climate change, which has produced discourse that shows the importance of preserving the Amazon Rainforest – for its own inherent rights, for being the largest carbon sink on the planet, for the tribes that live there, for biodiversity conservation, the list goes on. As TBS states on its mission of advancing science and environmental education, the “greater the understanding of the functioning of rainforest should provide the basis for sustainable management into the future”. Protecting this forest is not an easy feat, and has become increasingly controversial in a world run by an extractive based global economy.
Ecuador, like many countries considered “undeveloped”, there is inner and outer pressure to alleviate poverty and become part of global trade. With this, there is the socio-economic dilemma of preserving ecosystems, and the cultures that have co-created these ecosystems versus extracting the land for resources to export. The Ishpingo Tiputini Tambococha, or ITT oilfields in the Yasuní National Park in eastern Ecuador, hold nearly a trillion barrels of oil, about a fifth of the country’s total reserves. This has been estimated to produce up to 18 billion dollars in revenue. President Raphael Correa recognized this amount in light of the worth of the rainforest, which cannot even be properly quantified into dollars, especially considering climate change. Correa then lifted the moratorium on oil drilling in the Amazon and created the ITT Initiative, which called on the planet to donate 3.6 billion dollars in exchange for the protection of the Amazon. Indigenous and environmental activism and solidarity promoted this initiative, as well as the Tiputini Biodiversity Station. Upon learning all of this, my classmates and I organized our own fundraiser, with funds being split between the ITT Initiative as well as for the vulnerable TBS that had become such a gem in our hearts. Unfortunately, only 8 million was raised, so the dilemma of extraction versus preservation continues.
My photo: Outside of the rainforest on the Napo River
Tiputini Biodiversity Station recognizes that short visits from people near and far cannot cure the woes facing the Amazon. However, for a short time it immerses people in one of the most magnificent places on the planet, raises awareness about the issues facing the forest and the wisdom behind why we need to save it. These visits transform people’s inner space, shaping their values and expanding their worldview. The motivation to dig up the only sacred spaces left on earth, using the riskiest methods like fracking, is a narrative that is manifest in the Amazon, as well as every other continent on the planet. Our action to say no to extractive practices in our back yards is in solidarity with all other places facing the same issue. Sacred places and people can be protected while an economy is developed, and this will depend on renewable energy production, low impact tourism, and sustainable, honourable harvest from the earth. I can tell you from experience, studying in the Amazon has definitely magnified my passion to save the coast of British Columbia and be part of the growing climate movement. We are all connected by a thousand invisible threads, let your passion strengthen the tapestry that is the web of life.
To learn more about protecting the last sacred rainforests on the planet, check out these links!