Economic diversity

Ecuador is the most biologically diverse country on Earth, due to its location on the equator with elevational changes from sea level to 20,000 feet at the top of the Chimborazo Volcano. In the eastern part of the country, the elevation drops back down to 600 feet above sea level on the Amazon, 2000 miles from the river's mouth. And don't forget the Galapagos Islands!

With the Galapagos Islands, exceptional mountaineering, and substantial cultural attractions, Ecuador will always be a hot spot for ecotourism. Historically, visitors to Ecuador, especially birders, have included an extension to the Amazon to places like Cuyabeno, Yasuni, and lodges along the Napo River. Though Cuyabeno and Huaorani territory in the Yasuní have become increasingly difficult places to operate, ecotourism remains viable along the Napo at several of Ecuador’s highest-end lodges such as Sacha, Yarina, Añago, La Selva, and historic destinations such as Pañacocha. With the buffer provided by Cuyabeno and the Aguarico River, ecotourism remains an economic engine along the Napo River. Recognition of the ecotourism as a source of continued forest conservation is one of the strongest tools available to the conservation community. Immediate support for this fact would come in the form of a proposal, building on the stated interests of the Ecuadorian Ministry of Tourism, to establish a “chain” of ecotourism lodges along the Napo.

For example, Sacha Lodge has just recently invested almost $500,000 in the construction of a quarter-mile canopy walkway at their facility, and other well-known and new lodges of similar caliber are heavily invested not only in their own self-preservation but the survival of the wildlife and natural settings of their lodges. This chain of ecotourism lodges along the Napo River would also serve as a much-needed planning tool for local municipalities The conservation community could depend on the support the many and most influential tourist operators in the region and, since the policy of “decentralization” of regulatory authority has vested the power of regional planning and development partially in the hands of the municipalities, these local entities recognize that the “boom and bust” cycle of petroleum is not a long-term solution. Planning around ecotourism and partial conservation is a good place to hang a political hat. There is no reason why ecotourism as a form of economic diversification cannot co-exist with appropriate petroleum extraction. The latter is something that has yet to be demonstrated.

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