Northwestern jaguar subspecies - critically endangered in Ecuador
For five years, the Rainforest Information Centre and our Australian and international allies have been supporting rural and Indigenous communities to resist grand-scale mining in Ecuador.
This small country in the Andes region of South America is thought to be home to around 13% of the planet's species - that is, all phyla, including plants, fungi, amphibians, reptiles, birds, insects and mammals.
Ecuador's high altitude regions contain some of the world's rarest ecosystems. They provide water for huge rivers that run to the coast and the Amazon basin - controlling climatic and hydrological cycles for the entire continent of South America and beyond.
In a global climate and biodiversity emergency, you'd think all efforts would be in play to protect these species and landscapes, right? No.
100% of funds go to Ecuador to support frontline communities in their campaigning, scientific research, legal funds and community organising to protect their lands, forests and livelihoods.
Residents of the community of Gualel, Loja Province, southern Ecuador, survey mountains which have been considered sacred by their ancestors for hundreds of years. The land on which they stand - an important archeological site and water source area - is undergoing exploration drilling for copper and gold by Australian company SolGold.
An epic land grab
In 2017, around a third of Ecuador's land mass was sold by the government to national and transnational mining companies. Exploration is mainly for copper and gold (Ecuador is part of the fabled "Andean Copper Belt"), but other minerals of interest are silver, lead and uranium.
This sale was done with zero knowledge or consent from the public. Over two million hectares of the land under concession covers protected forests and Indigenous territories.
With several rounds of concessions awarded since 2017, the number of active exploration licenses has increased by the hundreds. The opening of the new National Mining Registry in early 2023 will speed the process up even more.
A third of the investment is from Australian companies, including BHP, SolGold, Fortescue Metals Group, Newcrest, Sunstone, Titan Minerals, and Hanrine (privately owned by Gina Rinehart).
To make the irony even worse, several of the above companies are greenwashing their Ecuador investments as being for "clean" copper for the global energy transition towards a fossil fuel free future!
This is not clean and green. This is a human rights and environmental catastrophe.
If even some of these mining projects go ahead, thousands of endangered species risk extinction.
Over the past five years, human rights abuses and contamination incidents have occurred in hotspots all over the country. Companies continue to aggressively pursue their exploration activities as we speak. And the resistance from the grassroots is growing.
To get a visceral feel of the size of the situation and the landscapes, biodiversity and communities who are being impacted, watch this trailer for a documentary film which is currently being created by our partners at the "Marrow of the Mountain" project.
Visit the website of our sister group of campaigners, Melbourne Rainforest Action Group, who have tirelessly driven the active part of our campaign since 2018, and have produced many media releases, maps and reports on the Australian mining company involvement in this disaster.
Los Cedros cloud forest
CAMPAIGN 2022-23 RUNDOWN
It's been a massive couple of years for RIC's campaign in Ecuador. We've supported numerous projects and campaigns throughout the country, made many new contacts, and are now expanding further with our efforts to help communities protect their lands, waters and biodiversity.
Los Cedros win
In December 2021 Ecuador's Constitutional Court decided in favour of protection for the Los Cedros Biological Reserve - a spectacular tropical cloud forest in the country's Chocó biodiversity region, of which only remnants are left.
Seven of nine judges voted to revoke the environmental license of mining companies Cornerstone Capital Resources and ENAMI, forcing them to cease operations within the reserve.
The Rainforest Information Centre founded Los Cedros in 1989, and ever since has supported manager Jose deCoux and a diverse local and international team of staff, volunteers and scientists to keep this irreplaceable forest and its myriad species safe from logging, poaching ... and now mining.
The Constitutional Court ruling was a world first precedent for forests under threat of major extractive industries. It upholds Ecuador's unique Rights of Nature constitutional laws, as well as protecting four major waterways and the rights of local communities to a clean and safe environment. Read more here!
Team at Los Cedros with international visitors and Constitutional Court judges, October 2022
April 2023 - Another Rights of Nature case win in Ecuador!
The Provincial Court of Imbabura has ruled that a mining company must immediately cease its controversial Llurimagua copper project.
This mine, if ever constructed, could destroy hundreds of hectares of cloud forests and waterways in the region of Intag.
The Court stated that the company's environmental impact statement, completed in 2014, was invalid due to violations of the rights of nature and the rights of affected communities to consultation.
This win marks a major milestone in a legal battle spanning three years to stop the mine from going ahead. Intag's local communities have been fighting one company after another since the 1980s.
Over the past five years, the Rainforest Information Centre and Melbourne Rainforest Action Group have been two of several organisations helping out with funds for community assemblies, mobilisations and legal costs around the Llurimagua battle.
Last year, we helped cover some costs for three biodiversity surveys in the Llurimagua mining concession. Many endangered species were catalogued, counteracting the pathetic "environmental impact studies" done by the companies. One monkey was put on the Critically Endangered list.
The herpetologists found a specimen of what was originally thought to be the critically endangered Confusing Rocket Frog (Ectopoglossus confusus) but since has been determined to be a new species - named the Resistance Rocket Frog by popular vote from locals!
Confusing rocket frog (Ectopoglossus confusus). Image: Carlos Zorrilla
Grants from Flow - Billions of Blossoms
In 2022, Flow’s Billions of Blossoms program provided a grant of $US 10,000 specifically to support the development of a management plan at Los Cedros, with all its pollinator richness. This was gratefully used by Jose DeCoux and the team for facilitation of local community meetings, and legal costs for future-proofing the reserve’s boundaries.
In January 2023, Flow granted RIC a further $US 15,000! This has provided much-needed resources for three frontlines.
At Los Cedros, the grant supported ongoing work of establishing a community-based management plan for the reserve.
In Buenos Aires, the grant helped pay for the writing of two new legal cases. Both are based on the precedent of Los Cedros: rights of nature, rights to prior consultation, and rights to live in a clean environment. The funds have also enabled lawyers to continue work to gain amnesty for local farmers and their families persecuted by the mining company, and to protect their rights to their own lands and water. Visit this page to read more about the situation in Buenos Aires and how you can help!
Finally, a third of the funds paid for training of citizen scientists to monitor water quality and identify endangered species in Junín, where the mining company Codelco had its environmental license rescinded in April.
One of Ecuador's 4000 known species of orchids - a plant family which contains an enormous amount of endemism and symbiotic relationships with insect pollinators, barely touched by scientific research.
Support of Waorani community with land rights and ecotourism work
Over the past five years, the Waorani community of Ñoneno, near the Yasuní region of the Ecuadorian Amazon, has been developing projects to protect their territory from numerous threats, including oil exploitation, poaching and colonisation. RIC has a long history with the leaders of this struggle for autonomy. In the 90s RIC volunteers worked extensively with the Waorani and helped with a massive project of physically demarcating their ancestral lands.
In June 2022, we provided $1000 for a laptop for community leader and old friend of RIC, Nanto Huamoni. Nanto has been using it to collate and write coursework for Ñoneno’s ecotourism and cultural education projects.
In November, a RIC volunteer crowdfunded another $500 towards maintenance for a tourism lodge now owned by the community, in preparation for their first large group of visitors in January 2023. This lodge is situated 4 hours by canoe from the nearest town, in one of the most biologically intense places on the planet!
Next year RIC hopes to raise funds towards solar panels for the lodge and Ñoneno.
Waorani leader, Alicia Cahuiya, with a rare tree marked to be cut down within an area gazetted for oil exploitation near Ñoneno
Field research trip
In October-December 2022, RIC’s Ecuador campaign coordinator took a field trip. Some travel costs were covered by the support of RIC, the Melbourne Rainforest Action Group, and a generous donor.
The trip was a two month whirlwind, involving travelling to nine different provinces –crossing the Amazon region, cloud forests and the high Andes – visiting activist groups and communities impacted by transnational mining companies.
This was physically and mentally exciting and challenging. Ecuador is a country where it is possible to gain or lose 3000 metres of altitude in a single day. Also not to be underestimated is the diversity of available transport methods: bus, 4WD, cattle truck, mule, canoe, foot, or any combination of these in one journey.
Alpine "páramo" grasslands at 3,800 metres above sea level - one of the most ecologically important landscapes in Ecuador, providing carbon storage and habitat for hundreds of rare and endemic plant, insect and bird species, and the water source for rivers running to the coast and Amazon basin.
The findings of the field trip are still being collated, but suffice to say there are many incredible, resourceful and passionate people in Ecuador, who are dedicated to protecting their lands, waters, livelihoods, and ecosystems for future generations of all forms of life.
With serious fundraising efforts, RIC has the opportunity to support at least three emerging legal cases with the potential magnitude of Los Cedros, as well as continue to support communities and collectives on the ground with their mobilisation, education and conservation efforts.
The community of Buenos Aires, northwestern Ecuador, gathers to send a public rejection of Australian-owned mining company, Hanrine
Between mid 2017 and mid 2023, we have raised and sent approximately $120,000 to communities in Ecuador who are defending their lands, waters, biodiversity and human rights.
Again - if you'd like to support us to continue this work through 2023 and beyond,
Toisán Range cloud forest, Intag, Ecuador - threatened by BHP
For more information about the damage that grand-scale mining will do to biodiversity and ecosystem services, read this 2018 research paper published in the Journal of Tropical Conservation.
For an overview of Australian involvement, written by members of MRAG, read: Australian mining companies plunder Ecuador's gold and copper
Visit here for more information, including news, media releases, reports and interactive maps, produced by our amazing volunteers at the Melbourne Rainforest Action Group (MRAG), who have driven the Ecuador Endangered campaign from its beginning.
MRAG has a focus on the Australian mining companies plundering Ecuador, and works to build solidarity in Australia as well as supporting frontlines in Ecuador.
Would love to help? We sometimes need volunteers for the following things:
- English to Spanish, and Spanish to English translation of documents
- Specialised skills such as GIS/KML mapping
- Video editing and subtitling
MRAG protests in collaboration with Latin American Solidarity Group at the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC), Melbourne, 2019
MORE MEDIA, REPORTS AND STUDIES
For an article addressing the broad neoliberal agenda behind Australian mining companies pushing their way aggressively into developing nations like Ecuador see here: Neoliberalism versus justice on Ecuador's mining frontier - published in FoE Australia's Chain Reaction.
John Seed’s March 2018 article
Jefferson Mecham’s comprehensive paper "Ecuador Endangered by Extreme Extractivism"
New mining concessions will severely decrease biodiversity and ecosystem services in Ecuador (Bitty Roy et al 2018)
Summary of tax and legal deregulations for mining made during Correa administration (Carlos Zorrilla, 2017) (pdf)