EPISODE 3 | FRAGMENTS OF EXTINCTION
The first experiences on the field
6:00 am. In Quito we live for an hour and a half inside the outgoing traffic and black smog clouds of the old city. Then the pass at an altitude of 4200 was one of the most beautiful emotions which fortunately always feed on the underlying sadness of Fragments of Extinction. To our right, the volcano Antisana (5700 m), below us, is the entrance to the lungs of the planet, the green hell of 7 million square kilometres, where the immense biodiversity teems still largely unknown. The wind from downstairs made me weep for the thought as much oxygen generated by photosynthesis of the billions of plant forms down there. I glimpse in the fog the channels for descent, the various doors to the basin of life, the area where the only uncontacted tribes in the world still live in this day and age, which the conquistadors nor modernity have managed to undermine. So much it's frightening to think, how familiar it is the Amazon in which I am going to enter, from which we will try to seize and retain some sound fragment.
The journey of 10 hours by car passes through San Francisco de Orellana (Coca local name), operational "development" center of the area on the Rio Napo. Our two drivers are asking how to get to Limoncocha, east on the Napo, where we should meet a guy who makes us cross the big river in motorized canoe to Pompeia south, the door to area of the Yasuní Park, the oil area and Kichwa and Huaorani territories in the virgin forest that extends to the south and east.
The two-hour by van wagon to reach the research station it's a wonderful "vegetable" experience through the only "official" road in this area. Each plant you see is different from the next for kilometers. The biodiversity alpha (that measured over the hectare) is about 670 species of plants, the biodiversity gamma (measured over the entire area) is > (greater!) of 4000 species, instead. The few words with the driver giving a name to the Indians that we see walking on the roadside and to the scenes of everyday life visible in streams and trails that run through the forest. At km 42 begins the Huaorani territory and at 18, few kilometers later, we are finally at the station, just before dark. The people give us two rooms and a laboratory air-conditioned and humidity controlled, all for us.
The first days of work, finally in the forest, are so a big disappointment that I could doubt the whole trip. There are not those extraordinary soundscapes that should be there. At the first sound recordings, habitats appear poor, fragmented and uncoordinated. The dawn and dusk choruses are not that multi-species acoustic celebration, exuberant, that the primary forest, every day, in every tropical place intact in the world, for millions of years, offers. We doubt that the oil business, which produces low-frequency noise radiated concentrically from the many wells of the park, take away exceedingly the 10 species of monkeys or the 571 bird species that live here. Also we doubt that local tribes, with the advantage of by sophisticated firearms, make a clean sweep of edible mammals of the area, as unfortunately I've seen in Africa and Borneo. How we in fact someone say, hunting (permitted to natives in their territories) and sales in the most west markets (not allowed but practiced) has already radically depleted all areas adjacent to roads and navigable rivers, therefore almost all of the territory. In three days of work in the forest we heard 2 gunshots, one even at night when the animals are most vulnerable. The situation is dramatic for mammals and some birds, even in the depths of these forests distant and impenetrable: now we have seen at first hand, even with ear, which revealed here more than any other sense, the state of the ecosystem.
Also El Nigno, extremely strong this year, caused torrential rains on the Pacific coast and drought on the Amazon. No rain for more than 30 days. An exceptional event, the forest is in an emergency, we now see how the trees bow down, exhausted, their leaves, from watercourses and swamps completely dry, lack of fruit that move the birds where nobody knows, we see from total absence of vocalizations of the 139 species of frogs that are present here, from unexpected noise that makes dry undergrowth on your step, moving away the few remaining animals around you.
It's spooky experience, never felt in the Amazon that, in addition to human damage done directly, it makes you think about the subtle and tremendous force of climate change and that they will have not only in our way of life, but also in the power to silence gradually the most remote ecosystems on the planet.
Estación Científica Yasuní (0°40'26.28"S - 76°23'53.97"O), Ecuador,January 31, 2016
Photo by Alex D’Emilia e Nika Saravanja