By Nicola Peel
In the year 2000 I first went down to the Ecuadorian Amazon. I had been asked by the Australian based Rainforest Information Centre (RIC) to live for 6 months deep in the jungle and film the endangered pink river dolphins. Oil companies were wanting to drill in the lagoon where they live and RIC was in the process of turning this into a Protected Forest. I spent 6 months living in this isolated part of the jungle passing my days alone in a dugout canoe filming the wildlife and getting the evidence we needed to show the dolphins did in fact live in the lagoon.
I left wanting to find out more about the oil companies impacts in the Amazon as it is not well reported and so I went on to make a couple of short documentaries about the matter.
First we made a film Amazanga Kausai about an indigenous tribe who are losing all their ancestral territory to oil, gold and timber companies. The film helped to raise $30,000 so we could buy the land and give it back to the rightful custodians.
I then commenced on a journey from the headwaters in Ecuador down the Amazon River to Brazil documenting the impacts of the oil industry on those living down river. I am currently editing a feature film “Blood of the Amazon” about my findings.
Feeling it was not enough just to document this environmental devastation I wanted to really help make a positive difference.
I had heard about Mycoremediation (the use of mushrooms to break down hydrocarbons/oil) and wondered if it was possible to find a native mushroom that could help with the horrific contamination in the Amazon.
A fantastic group of scientists came together and we set up The Amazon Mycorenewal Project and have been working for the last 4 years and getting some incredible results .
Over the years I have witnessed so many terrible spills and spoken to hundreds of locals affected. In some villages up to 80% of the residents have cancer and the children are covered in skin lesions.
This is mainly due to over 1000 toxic waste pits left behind by Texaco. After drilling, waste including oil, heavy metals and radioactive substances were dumped into these unlined pits. This continues to seep down into the water table and surface in the streams, rivers and peoples wells. Without running water they are still dependent on using the rivers and wells for drinking, cooking and washing.
Realising that this was a priority I then started fundraising to build rainwater catchment systems. Every year I go down and work with families who are in real need of clean water and together we set up rainwater systems. Over the years I have improved them with better filtration. Due to the surrounding gas flares even rainwater is not clean.
I have also just started another project educating people about building with rubbish. There is a huge problem with plastic and no rubbish man to collect it so it is either burnt or left. With the Committee of Human Rights I started the first project in Ecuador to build a workshop space out of plastic bottles filled with rubbish. These buildings are structurally sound and a fantastic way of turning waste into a resource.
My energy and focus is also turning to Yasuni National Park. This has been deemed by 50 of the worlds top scientists as The Most Biodiverse Area on Earth. There are 2 uncontacted tribes still living deep in the jungle and being on the Equator is believed to have been an oasis in the last ice age.
This incredible area is now also under threat from the oil industry. Although President Rafael Correa assured us when he first took Presidency he would not enter, time has changed and now they are looking to go in.
There is no such thing as a clean oil industry and so how can we stand back and allow this to happen. Knowing about the incredible abundance of species who make Yasuni their home we must do all that we can to help protect this area. The Ecuadorean government has agreed to leave the oil in the ground if the international community pay half the value.
So far some countries have paid up but not enough. If we are really concerned about climate change and the burning of fossil fuels surely the best solution is to leave it in the ground. Now is the time for the world to come together to protect the most precious place we have left on Earth.
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If you would like to support my work and help me help the people of the Amazon please visit my website, spread the word and most of all help me to manifest ££$$€€. Together we have the opportunity to truly
to make a positive difference.
For the Earth