Scientists Call Ecuadorian Region Hemisphere’s Most Biodiverse

A part of Ecuador being pursued for oil exploration is actually the Western Hemisphere’s single most biodiverse region, a team of international scientists that includes two UT-Austin researchers has found.

At stake are huge value to the planet and huge amounts of money.

The 13-scientist team has mapped out the flora and fauna of Yasuní National Park, the only place on the planet that is known to contain “peak diversity” of plants, birds, mammals, and amphibians.

“There are more bird species in a few hundred acres of Yasuní than one could expect to find in the entire state of Texas,” says team member and biological sciences lecturer Peter English. “The ecology of many of these species is still a mystery.”

But Yasuní National Park also happens to sit atop massive oil reserves.

Protecting it, the Ecuadorian government says, would cost hundreds of millions that the country can’t afford. President Rafael Correa says he will have to allow oil exploration in the park if Ecuador doesn’t receive $100 million from the rest of the world by December.

A United Nations initiative aims to help. The Yasuní-ITT Initiative at the U.N. General Assembly proposes that Ecuador receive compensation for half of the revenues the nation would lose by protecting the estimated 846 million barrels of oil beneath the forest.

So far about half of the $100 million has been pledged. That includes $50 million from the Italian government and smaller amounts from Turkey, Australia, Colombia, and Peru. Private donations include a year’s salary from a vice president of the Royal Bank of Canada.

The money would go into a UN-overseen trust fund for conservation, reforestation, renewable energy, research, and social programs for the region’s people.

Photos of Yasuní National Park wildlife via joshbousel/Flickr Creative Commons


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