Our Conservation Projects

Health, Food, and Biodiversity Improvement Yellow Spotted Turtle Repopulation

Some Background

The Arajuno River, located in the upper reaches of the Amazon basin in eastern Ecuador, is an area where indiscriminate fishing with dynamite and other illegal and dangerous practices is putting at risk the health of the local Indigenous Quichua population. The overall result of these fishing practices, coupled with one of the highest deforestation rates in the Ecuadorian Amazon (approximately 2% annually), is a continued degradation of the environment, human health and the local economy. Amongst the Quichua Indians, 40% suffer from chronic malnutrition. The infant mortality rate is 60% for children under the age of 5 years old and 80% of the indigenous population live at or below the official level of poverty established by the Ecuadorian government.

We have recently discovered that the same area where fishing with dynamite takes place is also the home of the Southern River Otter, a species listed as endangered in the CITES red book. One active den has been found directly in front of Arajuno Jungle Lodge on the banks of the Rio Arajuno.

Fishing with dynamite and other illegal means is not a part of the traditional culture of the native population. This practice was introduced approximately 15-25 years ago by colonists at a time when, according to the older natives, large fish were abundant in the river and fishing pressure was low. This reduction in fishing quality and quantity coupled with an increased human population is suspected to be a contributing factor to the high level of malnutrition. It is believed that the high level of malnutrition is due to reduced sources of natural protein plus an unbalanced diet from increased consumption of processed foods introduced by the outside world.

Health, Food, and Biodiversity Improvement Goals

1. Improve the health and well being of the Quichua Indians living along the Arajuno River by providing alternative sources of protein through small-scale aquaculture projects and a series of health and environmental education workshops to improve nutritional practices and sustainable use of natural resources.

2. Provide alternative income sources by selling aquaculture products and increase tourism through the promotion of sport fishing and training local natives as fishing guides.

3. Improve the overall biodiversity of the zone by decreasing the level of illegal and devastating fishing with dynamite.

Monitoring and Evaluation

In the investigative phase of the project, a base line of data will be established to measure project advances. This data base shall include the number of persons and families to be directly and indirectly involved and general information concerning their current health and economic status. From the base line data, annual targets will be established and a calendar of activities developed. The activities will include a monthly evaluation of progress. Actual incidences of illegal fishing will be documented and monthly results will be analyzed to identify in what communities further work is needed. This monitoring of illegal fishing will also serve as a means to employ other methods of control to reinforce the efforts of local law enforcement agencies.

Project Design and Implementation Plan

Project activities include investigation, development of a model aquaculture project, health and environmental education workshops, monitoring and control efforts and the development of economic incentives and alternatives to the current illegal practices.

The problem of malnutrition due to the introduction of nontraditional foods and a depletion of traditional food sources is relatively new and requires innovative solutions. Aquaculture with native species in this region of the Amazon is not well researched nor currently practiced in general.

For this reason it is necessary to develop a small-scale model for investigative and promotional purposes. This model will be installed in the local area and be used to teach the native peoples how to build their own aquaculture systems. Technical assistance will be provided to help them in their efforts with an emphasis on teaching the participants how to install their own systems and follow up visits to assure the sustainability and multiplicity of the project.

The desired results of these project efforts are to improve the health of the local Quichua population by providing them the means to produce their own sources of high quality protein through family-scale aquaculture projects using native species found locally. The aquaculture projects will be linked to workshops teaching proper nutritional, sanitary and sound environmental practices. Improved health should also contribute to less family income going toward health problems and more toward preventative health measures.

It should be noted that while the focus of this project is the Arajuno River in Ecuador, the situation among the native peoples throughout the Amazon basin is similar. Therefore it is extremely important that this project be supported and successful in order for it to be replicated in other parts of the Amazon.

Yellow Spotted Turtle Repopulation Project

Once common along the banks of the Arajuno River, the Yellow Spotted Turtle is now listed as an endangered species. In recent years, fishing the river with dynamite, the over-harvesting of turtle eggs and meat, and the continued growth of the Kichwa population in this area has depleted the population and destroyed the habitat of the Yellow-Spotted Turtle. I

It has been our experience that treating the symptoms of such complex, multi-faceted problems is a waste of time and money. Adding more turtles to the river without treating the causes of their demise accomplishes nothing. In the hope of addressing the root causes, the Arajuno Foundation has funded this project. Working through the Arajuno Jungle Lodge we hope to accomplish the following goals:

1. Reestablish a viable population of Yellow Spotted turtles along the Arajuno River system.
2. Develop an alternative source of protein for the local Kichwa population.
3. Enhance the touristic value of the river by reincorporating this highly visible and popular species along the Rio Arajuno riverbanks as a new component of wildlife observation.
4. Create a new environmental education tool in the Kichwa communities by installing turtle-raising ponds in each community and giving the local people the tools and knowledge necessary to become participants in the project.
5. Restore and protect the riparian zone of the Rio Arajuno riverbanks with Giant Bamboo and Yutzo trees in order to protect the Kichwa communities from flooding and enhance the reproductive conditions necessary to establish and increase the Yellow Spotted Turtles populations on the river.

Our future plans for this project include:

1. Expansion of this program into all Kichwa communities along the Arajuno River and into other river systems.
2. Development of a water-quality monitoring program along the Arajuno River.
3. Development of a watershed management plan for the Arajuno River with the Kichwa people being the primary stake holders.
4. Enhancement of ecotourism and community tourism in all the local communities.

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