The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. Covering over 5.5 million square kilometres, it’s so big that the UK and Ireland would fit into it 17 times! It’s known as the ‘lungs of the earth’ and produces more than 20% of the world’s oxygen.
But the Amazon is under threat. Unsustainable logging has resulted in large sections being cleared—destroying thousands of trees and endangered wildlife. But, Crees Foundation is a Peruvian based not for profit organisation dedicated to supporting a sustainable Amazon. Its helping local people live more sustainably and working to preserve the forest for the future. We spoke with Bethan John to find out more:
Tell us about Crees Foundation. When did it start up and what is its aims?
Crees was founded in 2012 to protect the Amazon rainforest in a remote corner of south-eastern Peru. We’re based in the Manu Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. We run award-winning ecotourism that supports community and conservation projects in Manu, to create a secure future for people and nature. Our visitors–from conservation volunteers and interns, to wildlife-loving tourists–directly help improve the lives of people living in Manu, while having an educational and unforgettable Amazon experience.
What are some of the key challenges you / the rain forest faces?
Our scientists predict that in less than 30 years, all unprotected forest within the Manu Biosphere Reserve will be destroyed. Poverty and population growth drive the people of Manu to destroy the rainforest through logging and farming because they have few other ways of providing for their families. Communities live in isolation and poverty, with little access to fresh vegetables, medical services or higher education. They want to create an economically secure future for their children and see unsustainable logging and farming as the quickest and best way of achieving this.
We believe that the people of Manu must determine their own future, our role is to simply provide greater choice and show how a sustainable path can not only meet their needs but far surpass their expectations. Only then can we save the rainforest for the benefit of future generations.
What has been some of your most successful projects?
We’ve established the Manu Learning Centre (MLC), a research and educational hub, that hosts travellers from across the world. While living with a community of like-minded people and getting actively involved in scientific research, visitors learn about what can be achieved through biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.
Our MLC nature reserve was once farmland, selectively logged or completely destroyed to grow crops and graze cattle. Today, we are finding species new to science here. The forest has been regenerating for 30 to 50 years and our researchers have proven that 87% of biodiversity has now returned to our nature reserve. In a world where we are bombarded with news of rainforest destruction and species extinction, this proves that all is not lost. A rainforest can be reborn.
Other highlights include: discovering a species new to science within our nature reserve, launching the first bi-lingual field guide for the amphibians of Manu (a much needed educational resource for a place that has the highest level of amphibian diversity in the world), and using innovative technology to run the largest-scale camera trap monitoring project to answer questions about the behaviour and ecology of rare and elusive species.
Why is it so important to protect these eco-systems?
Manu is the most bio diverse place on Earth. It is home to a wealth of rare and endangered wildlife. Undoubtedly, it harbours undiscovered species. It is one of the few places in the world where un contacted tribes can live their traditional lives, undisturbed by the outside world.
Rainforests provide people across the planet with natural resources that are used everyday–from timber, to foods and medicines. They store hundreds of billions of tons of carbon, making their protection crucial in our fight against climate change. The alarming rate at which we are loosing the rainforest of Manu is not only a tragedy for local people, who will directly suffer, but also one globally.
Along with these practical reasons for protecting this ecosystem, Manu rainforest is simply an awe-inspiring place to be: it nurtures the soul.
How can governments / people around the world do more to help?
We believe that sustainable tourism can provide local people with an economic incentive to protect their rainforest. Carefully choosing where to go on holiday is a way for consumers to directly support community and conservation projects that will benefit local people long-term.
The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism: a year dedicated to making tourism a global force for good. According to UNWTO, 1.2 billion people travelled internationally in 2015. It’s ever on the increase and by 2030 is estimated to double. That’s over two billion people, spending over $2trl, travelling all over the globe.
Sustainable tourism can have a positive impact in developing countries by combating poverty and protecting the environment. If well designed and well managed, the tourism sector can be used as a powerful and transformative force for good: economically, socially and environmentally. That’s what we want to achieve here at Crees for the people of Manu.
Tell us about some of the partners you work with and how they help you.
Our most important partnership is with the local people; they drive our sustainable development initiatives and become empowered through alternative livelihoods and micro-enterprises. The sole purpose of our mission is to ensure that they can have fulfilling lives by living in harmony with nature. Our other crucial partnerships are with the University of Glasgow, who have helped develop our research projects, and the Darwin Initiative that have provided much needed funding.
What are your plans for 2017?
To keep progressing, to do more to meet the needs and aspirations of local people, to provide every visitor with an unforgeable Amazon experience.
Featured image of the Amazon Rainforest. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT for Center for International Forestry Research