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TIPUTINI BIODIVERSITY STATION

       The Tiputini Biodiversity Station (TBS) is located on the banks of the Tiputini River in the lowland rainforests of eastern Ecuador. This is the western border of the Upper Amazon basin and home to the world's greatest concentration of species diversity. TBS is a small research station that was developed in 1994 by the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in collaboration with Boston University principally for research, education and conservation. Within the buffer zone of Yasuni National Park, it is part of a region designated as a World Natural Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations, approximately 1.7 million hectares in size.

       It is also part of a specific corridor (a maximum of 100 square miles - 150 square kilometers - extending from Lake Añangu in the northwest and eastward along the Tiputini River) representing a particularly intact portion of the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve. This has not happened by chance nor solely because of isolation - which has until now, excluded industrial operations and the invasion of colonists - but instead and most importantly, its pristine condition is due to completely conscious and conscientious decisions.

       The efforts of TBS and of an indigenous village at Añangu have played an enormous role in locally maintaining nature. Their dedication to investigating and conserving this natural treasure for over 10 years has brought further renown to the region. The Añangu community abandoned its own traditional hunting practices long ago in order to preserve the forest and its denizens for the benefit of their culture and future generations – incredibly, the Quichua at Añangu have, with the help of two inspired NGOs (Ecuadorian and international), built a first-class ecotourism lodge on the shores of Lake Añangu. TBS has gained recognition as a steward of conservation and protection in the area, has enabled researchers to investigate the region’s biota and allowed students to learn about and marvel at its bountiful complexity of life.

       Even with its designations and protectors the entire region is beginning to be exploited and damaged by the oil industry and the subsequent human colonization which follows.

 

OIL AND THE ECUADORIAN AMAZON

       The history of the oil industries destructive practices in the northeast of Ecuador goes back to the early 1970's when Texaco began exploration and production in the Sucumbios province. Since then more than 30% of the Ecuadorian Amazon has been deforested, developed and polluted. The indigenous cultures known as the Cofan and Huaorani have been decimated as a result of the oil industry and increased colonization facilitated by the oil roads and pipelines. Currently, over 30,000 inhabitants of the region are involved in a $1 billion dollar lawsuit against ChevronTexaco for the pollution and destruction they left behind.

       "Texaco's oil operations devastated one of the most biologically fragile places on earth. 2.5 million acres of rainforest were lost; Oil spills equivalent to 2 Exxon Valdez disasters have contaminated the land and water; and the company recklessly dumped 20 billion gallons of highly toxic wastewater into streams and rivers.
        Texaco also left behind more than 350 open waste pits contaminated with heavy metals and some of the most carcinogenic chemicals known to man, including: Benzene, Toluene, Arsenic, Lead, Mercury and Cadmium.
"
                                                                                                        - AmazonWatch.Org

       In the mid-1980s oil exploration began in the Yasuni region of the Napo province. The first concession, known as Block 16, was awarded to the U.S. oil corporation Conoco and consisted of 200,000 hectares of land located within the borders of the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve and Huaorani Ethnic Reserve. Conoco conducted exploration operations and then sold the concession to their subsidiary Maxus Ecuador, Inc. in 1991 because of international public pressure. In 1993, Maxus began construction on the 150 km Pompeya Sur-Iro road which cuts through the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve and into the heart of the Huaorani Ethnic Reserve. The road alone destroyed approximately 30,000 hectares of virgin lowland rainforest. Maxus promised to keep colonists out and to remove the road after their operations were completed. The concession has changed hands twice since the completion of the road and is now controlled by the Spanish-Argentinian corporation Repsol YPF. Colonization and hunting are now occurring on the road, along with widespread oil operations. Roads continue to be built off the main road to reach the expanding drilling sites and it is now doubtful that the road will ever be removed.

       Unfortunately, the oil industry is expanding throughout the Ecuadorian Amazon. Newly created concessions are now on the auction block by the Ecuadorian government. These new concessions basically open the entire Ecuadorian Amazon to the oil industry.

 

THE SITUATION NOW

       TBS lies within Ecuador's Oil Concession Block 14 which is controlled by Encana, a large corporation from Canada. At the moment, governmental pressure has been augmented for all oil operations in eastern Ecuador to fill the newly finished OCP (trans-Ecuadorian pipeline). This situation means that our lands (about 650ha in the buffer zone of the Yasuni National Park and Biosphere Reserve) and the surrounding region have been slated for intensive studies to determine more details about the presence and distribution of crude oil under ground. Chemical tests on the surface have proven sufficiently promising for the next phase (3-D seismic survey) to proceed. Fortunately, an environmental impact assessment is required before Encana can proceed. This is why we need you to act now!

       This biologically unparalleled area continues to be threatened by oil development despite the fact that the heavy crude extracted here is of particularly low quality and value (due to high viscosity and sulfur content). And what’s more, the minute quantity (considering world production or U.S. daily consumption) being produced hardly makes the venture worthwhile. In general, oil is expensive to produce in eastern Ecuador due to challenges for accessibility and lack of infrastructure. Oil from eastern Ecuador is not particularly valuable on the world market due to these same characteristics. From the world-production or U.S.-consumption (about 22 million barrels/day) perspective, Ecuador’s national input of a few hundred thousand barrels per day is miniscule.

       Thirty years of oil production in Ecuador have yielded 3 billion barrels of crude, implying tremendous potential for the local economy. Waste, mismanagement and other distractions have instead translated into little to no direct benefit for the local economy, infrastructure (communication systems, roads, bridges, electricity generation, airports, hospitals, schools, etc.), public health, security, education, conservation, etc. In sum, this has meant a lot of environmental impact with little to no social benefit to show for it. How can we (and why should we) realistically expect anything else from continued exploitation?

       The bottom line for oil development in the Yasuni area is that in exchange for tremendous natural losses (more species per square area than anywhere else on the planet), only modest levels of financial compensation can result (some production of low-grade crude oil for mediocre short-term economic gains).

       The fact that this sector (Añangu-Tiputini) has virtually no signs of the hand of man (modern or indigenous) makes it truly very unusual. We simply must recognize that this situation represents a most unique opportunity to save a lot of nature* while sacrificing very little if anything economically. The intact forest can certainly produce long-term sustainable income through wise use as a scientific laboratory, educational facility, potential source of medicinal plant products and for responsibly managed ecotourism, whereas oil exploitation in this area produces income for only short periods (based on historical records) and, as worldwide experience has shown repeatedly, forever imposes impacts on the potential for these other valuable uses. For a real world example, tourism for birding in Costa Rica alone brings in over $400 million per year – and this part of eastern Ecuador has substantially more nature to offer.

       Many societies that have developed to become the “first world” are often described as having a “super glue” mentality. If things get broken, they can be fixed – easily and quickly. If the damage is bigger, it costs a little more, but it can still be fixed – IF we throw enough money at it. When will we learn the most important conservation lessons of all? - (1) In the long run, things work out a whole lot cheaper if we never “break” them in the first place. (2) Some things are simply too complex to “fix” if they do get broken; it would just take too much money, too much effort and too much time – and sadly, they still wouldn’t be quite the same ever again.

       There’s still time to do something about this irrational imbalance between oil exploitation and alternative strategies. The obvious question is: Why can’t this relatively small piece of land simply be set aside to continue to be absolutely free of devastating human impacts?

       In the end, we must make choices between what is gained and what is lost, what is sustainable and what is not – positive choices for the greater good of both humankind and our habitat, the Earth.

 

       *example of “a lot of nature” -- On a moderately well-studied piece of land of only about 3 square miles (or 6.5 square kilometers) in extension (the Tiputini Biodiversity Station), we have documented the presence of 500 species of birds, 165 species of mammals, over a hundred species of frogs and 72 species of reptiles (see table below for broader perspective). This is not to say that so many species can be maintained within such a small piece of forest (the density of each is obviously very low) but the concentration of diversity is unquestionably spectacular.

Number of species of

                                    Amphibians      Reptiles      Birds      Mammals

       United States                194             261          768          428
       Ecuador                        427             396        1616          380
       TBS                             106               72          500          165

 

The following resources were used in the development of this page:

Kelly Swing, Ph.D., Director, Tiputini Biodiversity Station - Many thanks to Dr. Swing for his great contribution.

Acción Ecológica - NGO monitors oil, forestry, mining, and fisheries corporations. Works closely with Ecuadorian indigenous populations, particularly in areas affected by oil production. In Spanish.

The Advocacy Project - An excellent source for an in-depth look into all aspects of oil in the Ecuadorian Amazon. See the sections - Our Work and Publications.

Amazon Alliance - Works to defend the rights, territories and environment of indigenous and traditional peoples of the Amazon Basin. The Alliance is an initiative born out of the partnership between indigenous and traditional peoples of the Amazon and groups and individuals who share their concerns for the future of the Amazon and its peoples.

Amazon Watch - Works with indigenous and environmental organizations in the Amazon Basin to defend the environment and to advance indigenous peoples' rights in the face of large-scale industrial development: oil & gas pipelines, power lines, roads, and other mega-projects.

Cofán - The Cofán Nation is one of the oldest intact cultures in the Americas, with over five hundred years of recorded history. Our mission is to preserve our culture by protecting our environment, the rainforest that is our home. Our nation is one of the worlds smallest, with only 1,000 people. We speak our own language, A‘ingae, that is like no other presently spoken. Most of us live in Ecuador, where we have managed to regain control of approximately 1,000,000 acres of our ancestral territories.

CONAIE - The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE)
Since its formation in 1986, CONAIE has led the Indigenous peoples of Ecuador from relative isolation to a position at center stage of Ecuadorian society. CONAIE is the representative body that guarantees Indigenous people the political voice that has too long been denied them, and that expresses their needs and goals within a rapidly changing world.

CONFENIAE - Confederacion de Nacionalidades Indigenas de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana - Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon

Ecuador Oil Exports - Case study from American University's Trade and Environment Database (TED).

Oil Watch - A network of groups that oppose the activities of oil companies in tropical countries. Oilwatch facilitates information exchange between local populations affected by oil and mining.

Project Underground - Supports the human rights of communities resisting mining and oil exploitation.

Proyecto Primates - This website compiles information about scientific research at the Proyecto Primates field site in Yasuní National Park, Ecuador for the curious browser, for students of ecology and behavior, and for primatologists.

Texaco Rainforest - After the Gold Rush Complete coverage on the story of Texaco in the Ecuadorian Amazon

UNESCO - MAB Biosphere Reserve Directory

World Rainforest Movement - Index of articles on Ecuador's rainforests from the World Rainforest Movement bulletin.

www.chevrontoxico.com - The name explains. Worldwide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yasuni National Park and Huaroni Ethnic Reserve

 

Eleutherodactylus ockendeni, calling, Tiputini Biodiversity Station, Rio Tiputini, Ecuador.

 

Colonists along Maxus road, Rio Tiputini, Ecuador.

 

Tiputini Biodiversity Station, Rio Tiputini, Ecuador.

 

Cut forest on Maxus road, Rio Tiputini, Ecuador.

 

Glasswing and Morpho butterflies, Tiputini Biodiversity Station, Rio Tiputini, Ecuador.

 

Catepillar, Tiputini Biodiversity Station, Rio Tiputini, Ecuador.

 

Gonatodes humeralis, Tiputini Biodiversity Station, Rio Tiputini, Ecuador.

 

Eleutherodactylus variabilis, Tiputini Biodiversity Station, Rio Tiputini, Ecuador.

 

Farm along Maxus road, Rio Tiputini, Ecuador.

 

Epipedobates femoralis, Tiputini Biodiversity Station, Rio Tiputini, Ecuador.

 

Fungus-eating beetle, Tiputini Biodiversity Station, Rio Tiputini, Ecuador.

 

Huaorani settlement along Maxus road, Rio Tiputini, Ecuador.

 

Construction on Maxus road, Ecuador.

 

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