Yasuní National Park: Exploring Biodiversity and its Threats – by Abigail Blonigen. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
The Amazon has always seemed like a far off place, certainly somewhere I never expected to go, but our first field trip of the program was to the most bio-diverse sector of the largest rain forest in the world: Yasuní National Park.
It was a seven hour bus ride from Quito to the Oriente, during which we drove through a “cloud forest,” a subtropical zone where the mountains trap the moisture from the rain forest creating an eternal fog. We crossed rivers, saw waterfalls, watched the foliage change from mountainous to tropical, and hoped our bus did not get too close to the edge when parts of the road were washed away.
We made a pit stop in Lago Agrio to eat lunch and pick up our guide. Lago Agrio means “sour lake” in Spanish, and we soon discovered why: petroleum. As we were not allowed inside, we stopped outside of an oil field and saw the flames of the rig burning in between the trees. Our guide told us hundreds of thousands of insects fly into the flame, especially at night. In addition, it kills birds and causes the majority of the animals in the area to evacuate, dramatically affecting the biodiversity of the area. This is in addition to the deforestation which occurs to set up the site, as well as the environmental harm extracting petroleum causes.
Our next stop was at a petroleum “pool,” or place oil companies dump contaminated water. The pool we saw was small in comparison to others that exist in the area, at only three meters deep. The oil company reported 380 pools in the area, however there are really closer to 1,000, according to our guide.
Downhill from the pool was, inevitably, a pond contaminated by the oil runoff. Though it is now surrounded by caution tape, animals still drink from it as they do not know any better. Our guide said that the oil companies have neglected to inform indigenous communities what is safe and what is unsafe, so there have been approximately 1,000 oil-related deaths in that area alone. Cancer is now extremely prevalent in indigenous communities of the area. Our guide told us that entire villages have been built on former oil sites without the indigenous people knowing they were putting themselves in danger. Their livestock drinks the same water, and either dies of disease or passes on the chemicals to those who eat it. Thousands of indigenous peoples are losing their lives and their livelihoods in just that area.
Remediation at this point is virtually impossible and extremely expensive. The only hope is that the damage does not spread deeper into the Amazon. There is a saying in Spanish: lo qué pasó aquí, nunca en Yasuní, translating to: what happened here can never happen in Yasuní.
This experience shaped my mindset for the duration of the trip. Yasuní National Park is an incredible place. We went on several nature hikes during our few days there, and each time we discovered an incredible variety of plants, animals, and insects. There are mushrooms that feel and look like pig ears, spiders who work together to make gigantic webs, monkeys swinging in the trees, hundreds of species of colorful birds constantly chirping in the background, lizards, snakes, frogs, tarantulas, tapirs, we saw it all. It is unbelievable that we saw so much, though it is only a minuscule fraction of the biodiversity in Yasuní and the Amazon.
I was astounded by the harmony in which the rain forest lives. I have never seen the circle of life laid out more clearly. And, from what we learned, the indigenous people of the area fit perfectly into that circle. For example: many of the fruits and plants animals consume in the Amazon are mildly toxic or acidic, so they will go to mud pits and eat the dirt to aid digestion. Insects hang out around the mud pit because they hang out everywhere, birds and monkeys will go to the mud pit to eat the insects and the mud, larger predators will wait by the mud pit to make a snack of the monkeys and birds, and the indigenous peoples will hunt there for the larger predators.
With nearly every new plant we encountered, our professor explained to us how the local indigenous population, the Waorani, made use out of it. The jungle provides them the tools for everything: houses, food, fruits, medicines, bowls, jewelry. I was amazed to discover that they have a vine that they boil into tea and use as a contraceptive. We had a short session with some Waorani women who taught us how to make baskets and bracelets out of palm fronds. Though we couldn’t communicate very well as they did not speak much Spanish, their demeanor and the quick work of their hands showed how intimately in touch they are with the world around them.
Though I have always considered myself to be environmentally aware, Yasuní gave me an entirely new perspective. The Amazon is a beautiful, sacred place, and it hurt my heart to see it devastated by “la mano sucia” or the dirty hand. Every time environmental protections are rolled back, precious water, land, and life are lost, hitting indigenous communities most directly. The reality is, the oil supply is going to run dry eventually, so instead of continuing to cause environmental harm, we should be redoubling our efforts to transition toward green energy and preserve the beauty Pachamama (Mother Earth) has provided us with.
Abigail Blonigen serves as an assistant editor for The North Star Reports
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26 responses to “Yasuní National Park: Exploring Biodiversity and its Threats – by Abigail Blonigen. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports”
Thank you very much for the article you’ve written. I’m glad you reflected on this integral part of your trip. Becoming attuned to our natural surroundings is a skill that we have a lot of difficulty with in Western society. Sure we go hiking and sea glass hunting, swim or fish in our lakes, etc, but our natural connection to the land and creatures we share the earth with seem to be broken. If we care more about our temporary goods and ourselves, rather than the next generations, it is no wonder that people are willing to sacrifice the Amazon for oil. The consumer society that we have developed here in the US and around the world has shifted value from beautiful, naturally occurring phenomena like the Amazon, to man-made, earth-shattering phenomena like iPhones. I hope that exposure and education, like you have received, will help restore our sense of wonder and value of nature. What would be your next step for fighting back against oil-mongers? Is there an alliance that needs to develop between indigenous peoples and the urban populations in order for change to be made?
This was such an interesting read! Thank you for sharing your experiences while in South America! I think it is wonderful you are addressing the environmental crisis that is taking place in Yasuni National Park. It is extremely hard to hear about the oil pools and other harm that companies are placing on the animals and humans that are living there. In my world history class, we are learning about climate change and the effects it had on people around 2200 BCE. The drastic change in temperatures back then caused kingdoms to collapse, people to suffer, and many deaths to occur (Tignor et. al, 2018, p.83). We must bring this issue to light and I agree with you, we must double our efforts in order to prevent things from getting worse and preserve the beauty of this national park. Thank you for your post!
I thought this article was truly intriguing! I think it is absolutely horrible what the government is doing to Yasuní National Park. I also think it is tragic that they are not thinking about their own people’s safety. I wonder how terrible their environment has to get before the government realizes what they are doing to it. Could a solution for the government, if they decide that they are never going to stop using and going after oil, to at least start off with finding a new, resourcefully and friendly way to dispose of the oil? Are the indigenous people considering to move at all, knowing that things might get worse? I hope something changes soon and fast! Thank you for sharing this article!
Wow. This is a very sad and informative article about the Yasuni National Park. I find it very disturbing that the oil companies do not take the responsibility to inform the indigenous communities where it is safe and not safe to live. It is sad to know how such a beautiful creation is being ruined by these oil companies. Are there any active environmental movements in Ecuador that focus on this certain environmental issue?
This is a wonderful article and I have been studying and thinking a lot about the environmental damage in Ecuador for the last year. I am excited and saddened to see these images as I prepare to set off to Ecuador in less than a month. I’ve done a little research on the environmental politics in Ecuador and it seems that when they updated their Constitution in 2008 they had a special section about environmental projection that the people demanded (especially the indigenous peoples) because the people feel the greatest effects of the environmental damage to their land, water, and food sources. I’m sure this is something you studied while you were in Ecuador in the politics course. I am also interested in learning more about the indigenous activist movement that happened in response to this environmental damage to the water system and the fish (a major food source). You mentioned “la mano sucia” and this reminded me of images I’ve seen online of protesters with tar/oil black hands raised in protest against the damage of oil extraction. Have a great final semester! Thanks for all the wisdom on what to expect in Ecuador.
I am delighted by your descriptions of this trip to Yasuní. I am saddened by the fact that oil companies are destroying parts of the Amazon, but I am even more disheartened by the fact that I am not surprised. Oil is the centerpiece of much cross-cultural drama. It has led to destruction in multiple facets of humanity – most pertinently, the destruction of the environment. I am fascinated by your words on the Waorani. I appreciate how they live on the land as part of the land/ecosystem/life cycle and not as dominators of it. While I admire the life they lead, I imagine it requires endless tireless work. However, to lead a life so in tune with nature would be abundantly rewarding. Thank you for sharing.
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First off, thanks for sharing your experience! I too have always seen myself as environmentally aware, but the more interactions I have with other individuals who have experienced these types of locations, the more uninformed I feel. One thing I would really like to learn more about is the insects that die when they fly into the oil rig flame. Although most insects make me crawl, I think this is a major factor in the loss of biodiversity of the area. I believe there is more than the direct impact of the death of insects as we can assume this can create a lack of food for other species. This sets a tone of deep frustration for me against the oil companies that have decided a monetary gain is more important than the destruction of species, human lives included! The people who have been living in the area seem to have been stepped on for a quick buck. Is there a concerted effort currently fighting for the protection of the Waorani people and land?
Again, thanks for sharing your experience!
Thank you for sharing your experience. Reading this article reminded me yet again of why awareness is essential for change. I am saddened to learn of such blatant disregard for the well being of the indigenous people. I am bewildered that the government is able to leave communities in the dark regarding such vital information as that of the oil. If so, how many communities worldwide are faced with a similar situation? It seems as though the spiritual connection between ourselves and the world we live in has faded throughout the years. Has Western culture truly disconnected us to this extreme? I admire the Waorani community for hanging onto the belief of harmony with Mother Nature.
Abigail, I found this article to be quite heartbreaking but I also feel that it is important for the destruction of this area in Ecuador to be reported and you did a very good job of that. The Amazon accounts for much of the world’s biodiversity; the number of different species is extremely vast. It is amazing what money and greed can do to our environment. What is even more troubling is that the indigenous people in the area near the oil company’s plant are being completely lied to; this is a major human rights violation that the government should take action on. I find it interesting that oil companies all around the world, including those in the US, completely ignore indigenous communities by building illegally on their land and polluting it.
Thank you again for sharing.
Abigail, as heartbreaking as this article is, it is important to report on these human rights and environmental issues and I think you did a very good job doing so. The Amazon accounts for much of the world’s biodiversity; the number of different species is quite vast especially in the insect world. You also mentioned that there are indigenous people living near the oil plant that is polluting the surrounding waterways which they and their food thrives off of. This is a major human rights violation. It is interesting to me how indigenous communities are not given proper rights over their land and are completely lied to about what is going on on their land. Much like in the US, oil companies do a really good job of ignoring the rights of indigenous people which is something I find really frustrating.
Thank you again for sharing!
First, thank you for sharing this article with us. I love to hear about other people’s adventures and learning from them. I was quite saddened to read about all the destruction and death that has occcured in regions of Ecuador because of the oil mining. In my experience, it seems most indigenous groups or tribes live relatively healthy, disease-free lives until modernization is introduced. Coincidence? Maybe, but that’s hard to believe. I really hope some steps will be taken in the very near future to prevent further damage from occurring, and so more incidents like this do not occur in other regions, making it a widespread (more-so than it is already) issue.
Dear Abigail Blonigen,
Thank you so much for sharing this story and the travesties that are occurring in Lago Agrio. This is a great example of how big oil companies take advantage of poorer areas creating sacrifice zones. Fun fact the flam that is burning of oil rig is a burner like a stove that is almost constantly running to burn the natural gasses that cant be stored; This pollutes the air but is said to be a “healthy alternative” to methane directly entering the atmosphere.
I forgot to mention that this action of burning natural gases is called Oil Flaring.
This article was such a joy to read. I always love reading and learning about things that I never really paid a lot of attention to. Unfortunately I was not aware of all the harm that was being done to the amazon and how it affects whole communities of both animals and humans. You beautifully described the harmony in which these ecosystems survive by using one of my favorite phases “the circle of life”. Hopefully, one day we can all say that we helped in some way because it is important for all of us to do something to help our environment because after all, without it, we wouldn’t be here either.
This was an extremely eye opening article to read, I have never heard of these run off pools that become present as a result of oil refineries. This seems to be a very pressing and relevant topic. This article sparked my interest in HECUA’s ecuador trip even more, I have already been planning on going on this trip but after having read this article my excitement has grown and I cannot wait to learn more on this topic and others.
Having gone on this incredible trip to Yasuni with you, I felt I was overcome with emotions and memories as I read this. It is impossible to forget the devastation and destruction we watched unfold in this beautifully biodiverse and incredibly breathtaking location. In our Worlds Together, Worlds Apart textbook (Tignor et.al.) we are learning a lot about the evolution of different societies and things like patriarchal roles and migration. It made me think of the Waorani women we were fortunate enough to meet at the reserve. These women are working so hard to preserve their culture despite all the horrible things happening around them. Thank you so much for sharing this, as it made me think back and reflect on the incredibly eye-opening experience we were privileged to have.
This was a great article! It’s one thing to listen to the news and hear of the destruction of the rain forests, but it’s another thing to hear someone’s personal experience with it. Your article really brings out the contrast between the destruction of the oil plants and all of the life that goes on in the forest. In my World History course text book “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart”, we’ve learned about how young civilizations in Egypt maintained their cities by utilizing the Nile river, “The annual floods gave the basin regular moisture and alluvial richness gave ruse to a society whose culture stretched along the navigable river and it’s carefully preserved banks” (Tignor, p. 58). The Egyptian people respected the river and utilized it’s water according to it’s natural way. Because of the predictability of the Nile’s flooding, the Egyptian people were able to sustain their villages. If only the capitalistic societies obeyed nature’s laws like the indigenous population you describe in your article does. Indeed, we should strive for greener energy.
Your experience in the Amazon sounds amazing when discussing the cloud forest and scenery you encountered. It reminds me of my experience in Costa Rica and I how in awe I was at the forests and wildlife. I would definitely love to get to the Amazon some day. Moving to the main point of your story I was shocked to read how there was a oil rig in the middle of all this nature. Even further the fact that it had flames, which caused even more damage and death to wildlife and insects in the area. It is always heartbreaking to read how severely our hunt for resources has and is affecting nature. I was horrified to read about the pools of petroleum that are in the area and how they leak into water sources for animals and indigenous communities. The chain reaction of animals drinking this and humans consuming it is awful. This damage from the hunt for resources gets me thinking about how aggressively we seek out natural resources for trade and economic gain. Just recently in “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart” by Tignor et al., I just read about the beginning of major trade and crop production in Mesopotamia and other civilizations (2018). It is so interesting to compare how civilizations hundreds and thousands of years ago were still able to live life without seeking and using the resources we so desperately want today. They were most concerned with good crop growth and harvests to be able to supply food and have good water resources for the populations. Today we are pushing our way into these forests and places of wildlife further and further when we already take so much from the earth. Reading about the damage we cause will always make me wish as a species we still lived in ways that weren’t so damaging to the environment around us. I am glad you still saw the beauty the Amazon had to offer and appreciated nature for as it is, thank you for sharing your experiences!
It breaks my heart to hear about the indigenous people dying to other man-made inventions whether it’s direct or indirect. I wish there was a way we could combat things like this but there’s so many factors and difficulties. I did however enjoy reading about the wildlife that you saw in Yasuni National Park. The circle of life being laid out in such a close area really is fascinating and something I wish I could see some day. The “cloud forest” you spoke about and how moisture is trapped their made me think of the Nile river and how reliable it is. In Tignor’s, “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart” he mentions, “The Nile’s predictability as the source of life and abundance shaped the character of the people and their culture” (p. 58). It seems that a very similar thing happens in Yasuni, that a very predictable and wet climate shaped how the circle of life works there and how it most likely has worked for thousands of years. Awesome job on the post Abigail it was fun to read!
Your post was such a bittersweet story. I was captivated the whole time learning about the Amazon and all of its inhabitants. I was also heartbroken, reading about the oil and all the damage being done to the area is so sad. I can’t even imagine living somewhere like that, although each day the whole world seems to be inevitably creeping closer towards that reality. It is somewhat baffling that there hasn’t been a stop to the actions with the petroleum pools, but I guess everyone is so money hungry, they don’t care what happens to things and resources that don’t directly affect themselves. This reminds me of a quote in my history book, “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart” by Tignor et al. The quote on page 318 stated, “Hardly more than a village of simple mud huts, Mecca’s inhabitants sustained themselves less as traders than as caretakers of a revered sanctuary called the Kaaba. They regarded this collection of unmortared rocks piled on top of one another as the dwelling place of deities” (Tignor 2018). This quote shows that all it takes is a certain mindset to make something beautiful or make something a wasteland. I think people need to wake up and realize that the Amazon and it’s magnificent forests and creatures is much more than ‘unmortared rocks piled on top of each other’ that the Mecca found so divine. The earth is in trouble and we are the generation that is able to reverse it, I think more people need to learn what you did about the Amazon and the dire changes it rightfully deserves.
It is so saddening to hear what is happening to this area. I can’t imagine the devastation this oil company has caused for the Indigenous people of the area. To have over 1,000 oil pools is shocking to me, how are they able to legally do this? The poor animals who have no idea what they are getting themselves into when they are just trying to survive is so sad. In Tignor’s “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart” the early humans although they did start to cause a little pollution they never did anything to this extent. If they were able to survive without oil, we should be able to as well. Although the damage can’t be undone at this point, I think there should be better effort to put a stop to this and save what is left of the Amazon. What an eye opening experience.
Thanks for sharing!
I really enjoyed reading your post, it is fascinating to hear your experiences. I was saddened to hear about the environmental crisis that you saw. I feel that this is something that is being seen more and more all over the world due to climate change. In “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart”, the authors discuss how a warming climate affected the world. They state, “The Old Kingdom fell because of radical changes in climate—namely, a powerful warming and drying trend that blanketed Afro-Eurasia beginning around 2200 bce” (Tignor et al., p 83). Not only do we face this crisis today, humans also had to adapt to a warming climate in the past as well. I think it is really important to start a conversation about climate change, especially when you have experiences like you shared with us! Thanks for your thoughts!
– Hannah Holien
Really good post, It was crazy to see how much some people do not care about the environment, and the nature around them. Things like this I feel like are happening more and more, and our natural resources are starting to get destroyed. People care more about making money than taking care of the earth and preserving things that mean a lot to the world. Back in the day, people really used the natural resources to there advantage, and they cared for these types of things. It’s very sad to see the lack of respect now. In the text there are many examples of communities that take care of the nature and resources around them, and use them to there advantage. I think if there becomes more laws, and stricter ideas put into place, maybe we can get back to where we were. I am happy that you got to see something like this, because it is a huge problem.
This is such an educational post. It is so sad to read about how poorly the environment is being treated in the Amazon. It is so heartbreaking to read about the effects that poor treatment of the environment is having on the people, animals, and plants living in the Amazon.
It is so unfortunate that there is not more effort being put into environmentally friendly energy sources. Hopefully someday soon environmental stewardship will become more of a priority to leaders all around the globe.
Thank you for sharing your story!
I really enjoyed reading this post, as I am a pretty environmentally aware person as well. I am jealous that you were able to visit the Amazon and see so many cool and eye-opening things. It is very unfortunate that some communities live with the issues of oil run-offs in their waterways and local environment. It is detrimental to the ecosystem, wildlife and people. I wish there was more being done to places like this, because I know many more places face the same exact problems. Environmental awareness is rising and eco-friendly energy sources are becoming more and more common, so I would like to say that there is hope. Unfortunately, the recent fires in the Amazon could not have done anything to help the environmental problems the bio diverse forest is facing.