Lessons Learned at the Amazon Waters International Conference (Part I)

June 16, 2016

Immersing ourselves in the Amazon Basin: key speakers and concepts from the Amazon Waters International Conference, which took place June 15 in Lima

Lima, Perú.- The Amazonian Waters International Conference, held on June 15 at the NM Lima Hotel and organized by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), brought together more than a hundred experts, authorities and stakeholders focused on conservation of the Amazon basin. The conference culiminated in the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Amazon Waters Initiative, signed by Peruvian Minister of the Environment Manuel Pulgar-Vidal and President and CEO of WCS Cristián Samper, among others. The conference also featured presentations and discussions around crucial issues that stress the importance of viewing the Amazon as a large basin, and the need to use a holistic approach its management and conservation.

All presentations are available at http://amazonwaters.org; what follow are key concepts about the Amazon Basin by leading specialists at the conference.

Manuel Pulgar Vidal

Dr. Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Minister of the Environment, Peru:

  • “The integration of the Amazon in a single basin allows us to understand the importance of issues such as mining, pollution, and seeing the basin as a whole. And it allows us to better understand the different ecosystems within the basin.”
  • “We must take into account the properties of the water and water sources, in addition to its role before the threat of climate change. We should acknowledge the importance of water, including its potential to help tackle this climate change scenario, to make the most appropriate decisions in”
  • “Thinking about the Amazon and the Amazon waters, without thinking about unresolved issues like the cultures that live there, is wrong. In Peru, we have not yet resolved the issue of indigenous territories, so there are potential conflicts when native peoples meet migrants and settlers.”
  • “We must think about the relationship between culture and natural resources’.
Julie Kunen

Dr. Julie Kunen, Vicepresident for the Americas at WCS:

  • “The Amazon River has more than 2400 species of fish, more than the entire Atlantic Ocean.”
  • “People usually only see the Amazon as a vast forest that is threatened by roads and the plunder of natural resources, among others. However, freshwater ecosystems are also threatened and need urgent action.”
  • “The main threats facing freshwater ecosystems in the Amazon are:
    • A highly productive fishery in the basin, on which 400,000 people are directly dependent, and that is not being managed at an appropriate scale. For example, 80% of fish caught are migratory species; however, none of the systems of fisheries management work at the scale of the whole basin, although these migratory species should be treated on this scale.
    • Infrastructure projects, which we lack detailed information on. If these projects are not monitored carefully or mitigated, they threaten the flow of water and sediments.
    • The possibility of large hydrological changes as a result of plans for new megaprojects, such as dams, especially given the threat of climate change. “
  • “We need an alliance that works beyond the borders of rivers, protected natural areas, countries, and regions.”
Michael Goulding

Dr. Michael Goulding, researcher and consultant on the ecology of rivers and wildlife in the Amazon:

  • “The Amazon ecosystem is an integrated organism; so the concept of the ecosystem implies “
  • “The flow of the Amazon River is so great that it’s necessary to see it as a hydrological region, an Amazonian watershed or basin, which represents and contains that flow.”
  • “We must understand that rivers also represent a type of wetland. This concept has generated a great debate with the Ramsar Convention.”
  • “The main stem of the Amazon River is the portion of the Amazon that has the least natural protected areas.”
  • “If we do not conserve the basin, fishing is affected. If there are not enough fish tomorrow, what will the local people do? They will hunt. And then, they will also cause the end of “
Ronaldo Barthem

Dr. Ronaldo Barthem, Scientist at the Museu Goeldi in Brasil:

  • “Throughout the Amazon, fishing occurs over a large area and productivity varies a lot by environment, but it is the main activity that sustains the population. However, we tend to ignore the total fisheries production in the whole of the B”
  • “There is no political management in the region with any continuity. For example, in each country the institutions overseeing fisheries are constantly changing.”
Dra. Marcela Núñez Avellaneda

Dra. Marcela Núñez Avellaneda, Researcher at the Amazon Institute for Scientific Research (SINCHI) in Colombia.

  • “We are prioritizing mercury monitoring in Colombia. Some studies provide data on the concentration of mercury, especially in young people and in different types of fish. For example, large catfish have very high mercury concentrations. “
  • “Three or four years ago, fish were being studied to give an early warning of mercury levels. We have been promoting meetings with different sectors in the Colombian Amazon so they continue this monitoring. There are very specific actions to take, but efforts have not been very strong as of yet.
Marco Ehrlich

Dr. Marco Ehrlich, Deputy Director of Science and Technology at the Instituto Amazónico de Investigaciones Científicas (SINCHI) in Colombia:

  • “In Colombia, the main causes of environmental degradation in the Amazon are extensive cattle ranching, drug trafficking, armed conflict, extraction of natural resources (such as rubber, precious woods, wildlife, commercial fishing, etc.), extraction of nonrenewable resources such as hydrocarbons and mining, and illegal gold mining. “
  • “We must support indigenous communities so that they can withstand the pressure of illegal mining in their territories.”
  • “There are several examples in which indigenous communities are organizing to counter illegal mining; but there are also cases where there are indigenous communities and representatives in favor of mining. Why? Because they begin tothink that if they have no other economic choice, they must get involve themselves in Because of this, we need to promote sustainable and productive alternatives. “
Elizabeth Anderson

Dr. Elizabeth Anderson, Director of International Research Programs at the School of Environment, Arts, and Society, Florida International University:

  • “In the Amazon, water is essential in many ways, including For the shawi people, for example, water is very important and is part of their myths and cosmology. They see water as a source of strength and ancestral connection.”
  • “During the past decade, there was a pause in global hydropower development. Supposedly, it was the end, but now there is a boom, focused mainly in tropical basins’.
  • “Currently, between those existing and under construction, there are 97 dams in the Amazon region of Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador. However, if we add any plans currently being proposed, the figure is 257.”
Tim Baker

 

Dr. Tim Baker, Associate Professor in Tropical Forest Ecology and Conservation, University of Leeds, United Kingdom:

  • “The most important area of peatlands in the Amazon is the depression of the Pastaza Marañón basin. All of England fits in this area.”
  • “Peatlands, which have organic matter below ground, are made up of three types of vegetation:
    • Swamps or wetlands
    • Open marshes
    • Peatland pole forests (varillales)
  • “The importance of peatlands can be easily answered if we consider how much carbon is stored in them: 90% of is stored under this type of “
  • “How much carbon is stored in the peatlands of the Pastaza Marañón area? A total of 3.1 billion tons, which is the equivalent of 60 years of CO2 emissions caused by human activity in Peru. This demonstrates how important it is to keep that carbon stored in the soil of Loreto, and for Peru to meet its emissions targets.”
  • “To maintain peatlands and their stock of carbon, the key is to maintain the water cycle so they are not affected. This should be very high priority. “

Presentations

Vision of Amazon Waters – Julie Kunen

Amazon Waters: Connectivity, scale, and challenges– Michael Goulding

Fishing and Fish Migration – Ronaldo Barthem

Mercury Pollution – Marco Ehrlich – Marcela Núñes-Avellaneda

Living Rivers – Elizabeth Anderson

Amazon Peatlands – Tim Baker