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

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

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our guiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In five years we have published over 300 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our volunteer student editors and writers come from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). We have an all volunteer staff. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang and NSR Student Editors and Writers. For a brief summary of our history, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

Professor Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports. Ellie Swanson and Marin Ekstrom, Assistant Managing Editors, The North Star Reports.

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Filed under Abigail Blonigen, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

6 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

  1. Cassandra Mahlberg

    Dear Abby,
    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?

  2. Samantha Willert

    Hello Abigail,
    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!

  3. Aleah Rubio

    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?

  4. Megan Gonrowski

    Hey Abby,
    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.

  5. DyAnna Grondahl


    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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