When Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador, decided to hold one of the world’s most biodiverse areas of rainforest for ransom, the world paid up. In 2007, the president announced that he would allow drilling beneath Yasuni National Park to extract approximately 846 million barrels of oil, which was valued somewhere around $7.2 billion UNLESS… the world paid Ecuador half the revenue being lost by not extracting the oil by Dec. 30, 2011.
In response to President Correa’s announcement, a “crowdfunding” initiative catalyzed by an alliance of European local authorities, Japanese shops, soft drink companies, Russian foundations, US film stars like Bo Derek, Leonardo DiCaprio, Edward Norton and Al Gore and regular people like you and me, managed to raise “$116 million — enough to temporarily halt the exploitation of the 722 square miles of “core” Amazonian rainforest” (The Guardian).
Located in the northeast corner of Ecuador in the provinces of Pastaza and Orellana, Yasuni National Park is home to roughly 2.5 million acres of wetlands, lakes, rivers and dry land forests. In 1979, it was deemed a UNESCO International Biosphere and is currently one of the most protected areas in all of Ecuador. “Due to fervent conservation efforts, the park has been able to protect and sustain a vast abundance of life. Close to 600 different types of birds can be found within the park’s parameters, which represents a third of all known Amazonian bird species. Add that total to 170 mammals, 560 fish species, close to 300 different reptile and amphibian creatures and thousands upon thousands of different plant varieties, and you’ll get a sense of how bio-diverse YasunÃ National Park truly is. In just 2.5 acres of the park, there are as many tree species as in the U.S. and Canada combined.” (Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador).
If the project was given the go ahead, the UN estimates that 407 million metric tons of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) would have been emitted into the atmosphere. But, for now, Yasuni National Park and the indigenous tribes who dwell on its land are protected from the ecological devastation it faced during the past four years. Only time will tell if President Correa’s big scheme will set the precedent for the way the world pays to protect its remaining pristine habitats, preparing for the day when the price of oxygen may outweigh its precious oil.
Photo by: flickr/ggallice