Les lacs de pétrole de la Réserve nationale Paca Samiria dans l'Amazonie péruvienne (David Hill/The Guardian)
Decades of exploration and exploitation has led to severe contamination in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve in Peru’s Amazon.
Walk into one of the many tour agencies in Iquitos, the biggest city in Peru’s Amazon, and you’ll hear many wonderful things about the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. “Best place to see animals in their natural habitat,” one guide says. “An abundance of parrots, paiche and monkeys, and all kinds of bird species,” cries another.
“Pacaya-Samiria”, as it’s dubbed, extends for just over two million hectares and is the second largest of Peru’s 170 “protected natural areas.” In 2015 USA Today’s travel website 10Best voted it the world’s second “Best Place for Wildlife”, losing out to Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. “Located near the Amazon headwaters in Peru,” 10Best stated, “the reserve is home to some of the biggest wildlife populations in the Amazon.”
This sense of Pacaya-Samiria’s uniqueness is shared by many - in Iquitos, in Peru’s government, across civil society and internationally, especially since it has been declared a “Ramsar site” and “Wetland of International Importance.” Years before he became the country’s first Environment minister, Antonio Brack Egg, now deceased, called it “one of the most important areas for the reproduction of hydro-biological species in the Amazon” and said it protected various species of flora and fauna at risk of extinction, like giant otters, manatees and monkeys.
Indeed, according to a book co-published in 2014 by the Iquitos-based Fundamazonia, Pacaya-Samiria has 965 plant species, 102 mammal species, 527 bird species, 69 reptile species, 67 amphibian species and 269 fish species, and is “in the epicentre of wild fruit consumption in the Amazon.” Richard Bodmer, Fundamazonia’s president and one of the book’s co-authors, told the Guardian that, in addition to its “very rich aquatic bird species mixed with very rich forest bird species”, as well as its “very high diversity in animal species”, Pacaya-Samiria is “by far the largest fisheries reproduction area in western Amazonia”:
It’s a flooded forest because it is at the confluence of the two major rivers that form the Amazon: the Maranon and the Ucayali. In the flooded season, the fish go into Pacaya-Samiria where there are a lot of food resources - all the debris left on the forest floor, all the fruits which have fallen and all the insects which are hanging onto the trees and leaves. That leads to reproduction. Basically, Pacaya-Samiria becomes an inland sea of 20,000 square kilometres - the largest flooded forest in western Amazonia - full of fish food. When the water goes down, the fish leave and go into the Maranon, Ucayali and Amazon. They move down and out of the reserve as it becomes drier. The whole fisheries of this section of western Amazonia to a large extent depends on Pacaya-Samiria.
No doubt about it, Pacaya-Samiria is a special place, but that only makes this question all the more important to ask: What about the oil operations taking place there? What about the parts of the reserve the tourists and wildlife watchers don’t see? PUINAMUDT, a collective of indigenous federations in Peru’s northern Amazon, states that there are “true lakes of oil, [river] banks abandoned to crude, clots of oil in the water, black roots and sediments, toxic hydrocarbon emissions, and surface water iridescent with oil. The shadow of irresponsible and unpunished oil operations hangs over the entire area.”
Pacaya-Samiria is run by SERNANP, within the Environment Ministry. Former head of the reserve, Javier Noriega, told the Guardian the affected zone has “oil everywhere” and is “completely ugly” and acknowledged the pipelines are “very old”, but also said that some have been sabotaged and the worst of the contamination dates back decades. He said that oil operations are just one of “various threats”, including illegal logging, to the reserve.
“What I remember very well is the odour, the constant smell. I think we got headaches from walking the day in hip-deep, contaminated water around Pluspetrol’s base,” one man, who visited the reserve with several Kukama men but preferred to remain anonymous, told the Guardian. “The most impacting stuff we saw, though, was along the pipeline. Around the middle of the 16 km duct leading through and out of the reserve towards the River Maranon we came across a large and pretty fresh crude oil spill. It was about two to three hectares.”
Pluspetrol, Petroperu and CNPC did not respond to requests for comment.
Suite de l'article de David Hill ("Andes to Amazon") sur le site du Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/andes-to-the-amazon/2016/jan/14/look-at-the-oil-spilled-in-the-worlds-2nd-best-place-for-wildlife