News FocusConservation Biology

The Fight for Yasuni

Science  26 Nov 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6008, pp. 1170-1171
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6008.1170

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Summary

Over the past decade, biologists working in Ecuador's Yasuni National Park and the adjoining Waorani Ethnic Reserve, a 17,000-kilometer section of the Amazon Basin that was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989, have documented Yasuni's remarkable biodiversity, providing evidence that its forest has the highest number of species on the planet, including an unprecedented core where there are overlapping world richness records for amphibians, reptiles, bats, and trees. Through a group called Scientists Concerned for Yasuni, these researchers have waged an international campaign to protect the location, which happens to sit atop Ecuador's second largest reserve of crude oil. This unabashed science-based advocacy has had an impact. In 2007, Ecuador President Rafael Correa offered a proposal in which his country would, in exchange for several billion dollars, keep the oil permanently under ground. The innovative initiative took a significant step toward reality this summer when the United Nations agreed to oversee a trust fund paid to Ecuador for the project. If all goes according to plan, the initiative may serve as a model for preserving intact biodiversity in other oil-rich portions of the western Amazon. But that's a big "if": President Correa has vowed to allow drilling if the international community fails to compensate Ecuador sufficiently.

* Eric Marx is a freelance writer based in Berlin.

  • * Eric Marx is a freelance writer based in Berlin.