Michael Ellis: Amazon Trouble

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Michael Ellis is back from a trip to Ecuador’s Amazon where his joy was tempered by some troubling questions.

A few days ago I was in a somewhat remote section of Ecuador’s upper Amazon Basin. The Yasuni National Park is the richest biological place on earth. Yes, more documented species per hectare than anywhere.

Our five days of exploration was coming to an end. We were paddled by canoe before dawn down seven miles of Añangu Creek. The rainforest was just awakening with the thunder of red howler monkeys, tinkling poison dart frogs, the soft avian hoots of undulated tinamous calling to one another. The peace was broken occasionally by screaming mealy Amazon parrots above and the splash of a black caiman or perhaps one of the monstrous fish below us. We couldn’t tell. The ethereal mist was rising, the day beginning as we drifted silently through the green fecundity. My heart was full.

In 2008 Ecuador was the first country to give nature – mountains, rivers, forests, air and islands- legal rights. Unfortunately, there is an abundance of petroleum in this part of the Amazon. Ecuador offered to keep Yasuni intact if the world would pay one half of the oil’s value, a paltry $3.6 billion. The world replied, "No."

We exchanged our quiet dugouts and for a powerful motorized canoe to cruise back up the Napo River to bustling Coca. Here we’d catch a plane for the short flight over the Andes to Quito.

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All along the river were signs of extraction. Oil workers with their orange hardhats, barges full of trucks and equipment, large hotel boats, roads cut through the forest, and constant burning of off gases.

These workers were making a living and Ecuador was getting much needed currency. The refined oil from elsewhere had allowed me the extravagance of travel and to stay in a luxury lodge. That morning’s contrast walloped me goodthe destruction, habitat loss and my role in all of it. Eco-tourism, airplane flights, lodge construction, cultural losses.

I left the region deeply troubled.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist leading trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.