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Yasuni national park, Ecuador
Tree loss and wildfires in Latin America have become so extreme that the Amazon is contributing to carbon emissions, rather than absorbing them, according to a July report in the journal Nature. AFD is supporting efforts to combat deforestation and make the transition towards sustainable development models, such as in Ecuador, where protected areas help preserve the wealth of biodiversity. Edison Gabriel Mejía Valenzuela, Director of Yasuní National Park, tells us more.

1Protected areas are obviously vital for the environment. But how much can they achieve? 

Edison Gabriel Mejía Valenzuela: Protected areas are allow for the conservation of most of the planet’s biodiversity. Biodiversity includes all fauna and flora, ecosystems and landscapes, as well as human and cultural diversity, such as indigenous cultures, which are important stakeholders in the conservation of protected areas.

Protected areas not only help to slow environmental degradation, they are also vital because of the benefits they provide to communities. They represent immense banks of diverse genetic resources that provide ecosystem services, such as supplying water to communities or capturing CO2, and offer sustainable development alternatives, such as ecotourism. In addition, protected areas serve as incredible resources for scientific and educational exploration. And, although they already provide humans with many services, we are still not fully aware of all their benefits.

Creating protected areas is also important because they can be used as a basis for developing different conservation strategies. It is about adopting a perspective where the protection of large territories can establish a balance between humans, nature and development, as is the case with biosphere reserves or ecological corridors, which are key sites for wetland conservation, for example.

How is biodiversity monitoring carried out in Yasuni National Park?

E. M.: Yasuni National Park is one of the most biodiverse protected areas in the world. It is home to many endemic and endangered species. For this reason, the scientific community is investing more and more resources into research to protect the park. Two scientific laboratories are working there: the Yasuni scientific station of the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador and the Tiputini biodiversity station of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito. They collect data on the protected areas and help to better identify the park’s needs. 

In recent years, new research laboratories such as the IKIAM Amazon Regional University and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which have extensive experience in research and conservation projects, have been working on the park, which has helped to improve decision-making and management, in order to ensure the protection of ecosystems.

We have also launched a biodiversity management program, led by a technical specialist and supported in the field by the park rangers, who have undergone specific training. They are currently working on the front line, for example, monitoring lepidopterans, conducting the national primate census and the turtle conservation project and, since last year, monitoring dolphins, caimans, manatees and arapaima fish.

This monitoring allows data and information to be generated in keeping with our conservation values. We assess all impacts on biodiversity caused by activities, such as road building or oil and gas extraction. More recently, we signed an agreement with the National Institute for Biodiversity, which will be involved in the monitoring of the park. 

Via two projects, TerrAmaz and TerrIndigena, which border Yasuni National Park in Ecuador, AFD is financing both the protection of indigenous territories and biodiversity. How does protecting indigenous territories help to protect biodiversity?

E. M.:  There is no doubt that community territories are areas where there is significant biological diversity. This is because these territories are often protected areas, and the communities there rely on this biodiversity to feed themselves, to obtain water and raw materials and to grow medicinal plants. 

Protected areas of territories must provide benefits for present and future generations and promote the planning and management of these territories, for example, by developing management plans that define the tools required for sustainable development. The aim is to ensure that the environment remains healthy and is protected, and that communities can make optimal use of their territories and their potential natural and cultural wealth.