Changing Planet

Science warns against drilling the most biodiverse rainforest on Earth

By Matt Finer 

Sunset over the Tiputini

The Ecuadorian government is currently racing ahead with plans to drill for oil in the core of what is arguably the most biodiverse corner of the planet: Blocks 31 and ITT of the famed Yasuní National Park. This new aggressive push for oil drilling comes as a stunning backlash to the failure of a 6-year initiative seeking international financial compensation in exchange for leaving the oil permanently underground.

In response, the “Scientists Concerned for Yasuní” – a group of more than 100 scientists from Ecuador and 18 other countries around the world – submitted a statement to the Ecuadorian Congress detailing the extraordinary biodiversity of the park and strongly warning against allowing new oil drilling in its core.  (English and Spanish versions of the statement appear below.)

0014108_bsm15879According to amphibian expert Shawn McCracken of Texas State University, “The scientist’s statement details and reaffirms that Yasuní National Park may very well be the most biodiverse place in the world.”

In a sentiment echoed by long-time primate expert Anthony Di Fiore of the University of Texas at Austin, “The diversity of Yasuní National Park really is quite stunning when you realize the extreme richness spans across all biological groups. From monkeys to birds to amphibians to woody plants, Yasuní is among the world record holders in almost every category.”

Indeed, Yasuní is a remarkable convergence of global peak diversity levels of amphibian, bird, insect, mammal, and tree species. This extraordinary diversity is likely due to the park’s unique and strategic location at the intersection of the Amazon, the Andes, and the Equator.

In addition to the biodiversity, by targeting the core of the park, the drilling project also threatens some of the world’s last remaining indigenous people living in voluntary isolation.

As Stuart Pimm of Duke University notes, “Countless future generations will not understand why we carelessly destroyed the most biologically diverse areas of our planet, nor why we destroyed the indigenous cultures of people who lived in them. Yasuní is exceptionally rich in species and home to diverse cultures— including some living in voluntary isolation. It’s protection defends nature and peoples: destroying it would be a particular tragedy.”

Finally, it is worth noting that several colleagues and I recently published a peer-reviewed scientific study on the potential of best practice to minimize the impacts of Amazonian oil drilling. That study laid out the importance of considering ecological and social factors when deciding where to drill. Considering impacts to one of the most important protected areas in the world and its indigenous inhabitants, the core of Yasuní National Park represents the perfect example of where drilling should not occur.Emantodes lentiferus


English and Spanish versions of the statement


Stuart Pimm is the Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. He is a world leader in the study of present day extinctions and what we can do to prevent them. Pimm received his BSc degree from Oxford University in 1971 and his Ph.D from New Mexico State University in 1974. Pimm is the author of nearly 300 scientific papers and four books. He is one of the most highly cited environmental scientists. Pimm wrote the highly acclaimed assessment of the human impact to the planet: The World According to Pimm: a Scientist Audits the Earth in 2001. His commitment to the interface between science and policy has led to his testimony to both House and Senate Committees on the re-authorization of the Endangered Species Act. He has served on National Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration and currently works with their Big Cats Initiative. In addition to his studies in Africa, Pimm has worked in the wet forests of Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil for decades and is a long-term collaborator of the forest fragmentation project north of Manaus, Brazil. Pimm directs SavingSpecies, a 501c3 non-profit that uses funds for carbon emissions offsets to fund local conservation groups to restore degraded lands in areas of exceptional tropical biodiversity. His international honours include the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2010), the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (2006).
  • New Yorker

    May the area be protected from oil exploration. Indigenous people should have more protection, and should not have to be bothered by modern polluting technologies.. Their natural areas are usually of interest to ethno botanists for medicinal plants for the development of pharmaceuticals for humans and livestock and other wildlife. .Please help protect biodiversity, clean air and clean water.

  • Ken in San Jose

    There is no reason the development of this oil resource can not be done without damage to the environment. The drilling of wells and the pipelines needed to bring out the oil and gas are localized and take only a short time. So the disturbance to the area can be localized and mitigated.
    Instead of always trying to block everything and claiming the sky is falling if the project goes through, environmentalists need to change their tactics to working with industry from day one to develop resources safely.

    • Stuart Pimm

      I encourage you to read the article linked to Dr. Finer’s blog in which he discusses in detail the mechanisms for minimizing impacts. In that context, your remarks are gratuitous. The concerns many of us have stem from the past sordid history of oil exploitation in this area which have been extremely damaging to its peoples and the ecosystems on which they depend. Prof. Stuart Pimm

  • Ating Solihin

    More than 100 scientists from Ecuador and 18 other countries around the world is powerless in protecting the most biodiverse rainforest on Earth in Ecuador because they have no money to pay the Ecuador Government, the only way to stop the extinction of thousands of species. On the other hand, ironically, Bill Gates has donated billions of billions of dollar to save one species that has wiped out other species. Does he know about it? I hope he and the other people on the list of Forbes magazine will read your posting, Dr. Pimm.

  • Jonathon Miller

    It is good to know the scientific community is acting on behalf of the earth and biodiversity. Long ago the time has passed for mere science, today scientist must act on behalf of their beliefs and of the truth. In this time when really all we can rely on is honest science, it is clear and necessary that the global scientific community must express to governments the truth of certain matters. Thank you again for presenting this work to the Ecuadorian government, and hopefully it will be an effective measure in collaborating towards the safeguarding of this globally significant area. The true value of biological diversity is beyond measure and we most likely have not yet the knowledge nor the skill to understand its true value, for which reason it must be preserved for future generations, and for the intrinsic sake of its own continuation.

  • Antoinette Amegbletor

    If scientist according to Ken should find an alternative means to help save the planet from distuction,i also think that businesmen should also fine alternative and lucreative means of making money and not only relay on oil. engineers should find a way of manufacturing automobiles that depend on our sources of fuel so the over reliance on oil will be lessoned. i do know that there are alternative means of fuel to power these machines but the question is why are they not as popular. Prudent management of mining sites very essencial indeed.
    Experts must do well to meet one another half way so in a collective approach these proble will be solved. Again on the matter of the people in volutary isolation. I think we who have decided to in with all the build environment around us must respect the sapce of these special people. They are not invading our space, why should we? We are all human and so i respectfully as the human right institution to take a look at the case of these beautiful souls out there in their chosen natural environment.

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