Fernando Trujillo has been studying pink dolphins in the Amazon for more than 30 years. He is perhaps one of the scientists most dedicated to his work. Remember that as humans we are not the owners of the planet, but dwellers in territories owned by other species.
Fernando Trujillo is the Scientific Director of the Omacha Foundation. The word “omacha” means pink or bufo dolphin. These animals inhabit the entire length of the Amazon, from its source to its mouth in Brazil. Pink dolphins are also seen in the Orinoco River and although their distribution depends on the season, the truth is that their population has been reduced by overfishing, nets and their use as bait to catch mota or piracatinga, a species that began to exist Commercialized after overexploitation of the fishery and pollution that destroyed the ability.
Politically, Trujillo has helped stop the problems identified. It has supported management plans for protected areas and endangered species, environmental impact assessments, monitoring plans, etc. These efforts have not only earned him prestige but also the 2007 Whitley Gold Award for his work in dolphin conservation.
On Amazon Day, Fernando Trujillo explains the challenges facing this vast area which, despite being referred to by many as the “lungs of the world”, for him is at the heart of a very important part of the planet’s biodiversity.
Infobae Colombia: The former Minister of the Environment pointed out that by 2021 Colombia would see a 1.5% increase in deforestation in the country compared to the previous year. In this sense, is this problem still the most serious in the Amazon?
Ferdinand Trujillo: Currently we have lost more than one million hundred thousand square kilometers of Amazon rainforest. That’s a lot, because the Amazon region covers a total of seven million square kilometers. Deforestation does not stop. There’s talk of stopping it, having goals, but this doesn’t seem to be coming true, it’s like a distant mirage that we’ll never reach. We see it at national level too. Last year it was thought that deforestation had decreased, but that has not been the case. Deforestation is one of the major challenges. Today we reach the limit of deforestation. The pelvis holds up to 25% and today we’re already at 22% or 23%. This means that a savannah process begins, that is, the temperature rises and the trees do not have the ability to withstand the heat and begin to die, affecting the rest of the ecosystem. All of this has another consequence, which is that trees pump water into the atmosphere. We call this flying rivers. So the fewer trees there are, the less water we have available to flow towards the Andes through the wicked winds of the Atlantic.
IC: Aside from deforestation, what other problems does the Amazon face today?
FT: After deforestation, there is another serious problem and that is the loss of connectivity of rivers. If we continue to build hydroelectric power stations and dams that block the natural flow, it is estimated that in about ten years there will only be three free-flowing rivers in the Amazon. This is very serious. I always say that the Amazon is more than a lung, it’s a lying heart. All rivers are the veins of this great heart. What happens when you clog the veins? A heart attack occurs. The system collapses What does the disruption of flows mean? On the one hand, the migration of the fish. They usually leave the tributaries to go to the main river, but when they encounter many barriers and are unable to migrate, they cause the fishery to collapse. This affects the food activities of thousands of people living in the basin and the regional economy, which is based on the sale of fish. In the beginning we were very concerned about the hydroelectric power plants in Brazil in the lower part, but recent scientific studies show that the dams in Andean countries like Peru and Bolivia may have worse effects because they cut off all the flow of nutrients that they reach the Amazon, and a river without nourishment is an environment without sustenance.
IC: Another problem is the increase in demographics. In recent years, more people have settled in the river basin, mainly driven by the mining industry. How can these populations affect biodiversity?
FT: It’s one thing to have a natural area like the Amazon where a few thousand people live. Another, very different, is the current scenario, in which there are 43 million people. Of these 43 million inhabitants, only 3.5 are indigenous, with the rest coming from other geographical regions. This is due to the construction of Amazonian highways around hydroelectric projects and oil exploration. Manaus, for example, has 3 million inhabitants, cities like Belém do Pará almost two million. Iquitos in Peru has almost a million. All cities are consolidating, and this is having a very big impact. We’re not talking about this jungle in balance anymore. The southern part of the Brazilian Amazon is quite transformed with large soybean crops, cattle ranches and these effects.
IC: But how do you stop a demographic process of this magnitude and what are the sustainable economic activities in an area of this size?
FT: Sometimes we speak naively and say “Let’s do nature tourism”, but that’s not going to get everyone a job. We’re talking about initiatives like Amazon Vision, which collect resources from countries like Germany, England and Norway. There was a very interesting learning curve in trying to build value chains around products and productive projects, but we now need to move from pilot projects to regional development.
From the cities it is very easy to say with a full refrigerator: “Not in the Amazon, don’t cut down a tree, don’t take out a gram of gold”, but then what are the economic solutions?
IC: What about mining? We also know that there may not be a single species in the river today that is free of mercury…
FT: One of the biggest threats in the region is undoubtedly the illegal economy. One of them is gold. A kilogram of gold is worth $45,000 while a kilogram of coca is worth $22,000. We are talking about a difference of almost double. Out of all the gold that is mined from the Amazon, there is a magic wand that will eventually make it legal, export it, make it to international markets, and behind the exploitation process is the use of mercury, a heavy metal that is toxic and stays that way Many fish in the Amazon have mercury, and many indigenous communities have it in alarming amounts. This means that in the years to come there will be diseases that we will have to see how to solve because these large amounts of mercury can cause cancer, birth defects and even memory loss, as happened in Minamata (Japan).
IC: How do you control activities like illegal mining, deforestation, coca cultivation?
FT: This is difficult unless there is an appropriate approach to economic development for each region. Today there are scenarios like the ACTO (Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization), but I think it has played a very weak role. I don’t stop concepts about these major threats and the plans they develop are slow. The Leticia Pact is a proposal that I find interesting because it involves the heads of state so that there is a more dynamic agenda between the regions. However, we don’t know how far that will go. The palliative continues to be the sanctuaries, sometimes under-resourced and sometimes riddled with activities that result in not even the officials themselves being able to enter. The situation is complex and the challenges enormous.
IC: Does that mean that the romantic idea you had a few years ago when you were told that the Amazon was the lungs of the world has already been sent to collect?
FT: The Amazon still has tremendous ecological value. One in ten species on the planet is found in the Amazon. The biodiversity that remains there is incredible. The number of indigenous human groups that exist is very diverse, but we have cornered them. There are caveats, but the situation for communities in each country is different. In Colombia, I believe the reserves are well established because they are inalienable, but in other countries, hydrocarbons are extracted and mined, and they can even expropriate indigenous lands for the economic benefit of the state. Therefore, we must continue to recognize this great value, both in terms of climate stability and biodiversity, as a repository for very important human groups, including those who are not contacted. We cannot throw in the towel because if we don’t act now, this will get out of hand and this is an international situation. Here’s a fight we can’t give an inch in.
IC: What can urban people do to take care of the Amazon?
FT: The first is to be responsible consumers. Knowing where the consumed fish comes from and under what conditions it is caught. The same applies, for example, to the purchase of jewelry, gold. There should be a Green Gold theme or just stop buying it because that is pedaling a wheel of gigantic environmental issues. I wish people could visit the Amazon in tour packages that involve local communities and can learn and get involved firsthand, because what’s happening in the Amazon not only impacts what’s happening in Bogotá, but also in remote places . The reasoning is this: when the sands from the Sahara that cross the entire Atlantic Ocean reach us, these drops of water from these flying rivers, how far will they not reach?