Trip to Amazon Reveals Threats to Ecosystem
Alma College Associate Professor Mark Seals is back in Alma after
spending 10 days deep in the Amazon rain forest where he caught and
cooked a piranha for dinner, took more than 500 photos and learned
first-hand about an ecosystem that is severely threatened due to the
expansion of petroleum company exploration.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Seals, who teaches science to education students. “I came back with lots of phenomenal facts and teaching tools that can impact students at Alma. This was an eye-opening experience that makes you realize how fragile the environment is.”
Seals, second from left on top row, was one of eight educators who
spent 10 days at the Tipuini Biodiversity Station in eastern Ecuador.
Seals was one of eight science educators from across the United
States who received a grant to travel to the remote Tiputini
Biodiversity Station in eastern Ecuador. Seals flew to Quito on Dec.
31, where he met up with his colleagues. The group ventured more than
six hours, mostly by motorized canoe, to reach the 1,500-acre rain
forest site operated by the University of San Francisco-Quito in
collaboration with Boston University.
With no roads or villages for dozens of kilometers, the Tiputini site is considered to be one of the most biodiverse areas remaining on earth, according to Seals. More than 10 different species of monkeys regularly pass through the station area. Plants dominate with a rich distribution of palms, legumes, lianas and bromeliads, including many still unnamed or even undiscovered. Insect life is profound, and more than 2,000 species of fish are speculated to exist in the Tiputini River.
However, the Northwest Amazon biodiversity is at risk because of expanding oil exploration, says Seals. The sounds of pumping and drilling can be heard from a petroleum operation about 12 kilometers away, and recent plans supported by the Ecuador government call for another plant and pipeline expansion just across from the Tiputini Station.
“I learned some phenomenal facts, such as one year of oil removal from the region only supports four days of energy used in the United States,” says Seals. “It’s one thing to hear statistics like that; it’s another to really face it and see the effects first-hand.”
Most of the U.S. companies have pulled out of the Amazon because the good oil is depleted, says Seals. But China and other third-world countries have purchased large tracts of land to drill for the mid-grade oil that remains.
“Every drilling platform that goes in has a bleed-off of propane gases, much like you see when driving on U.S. 127 by Clare,” says Seals. “But in the rain forest, there’s no capture of these gases. You’ll see flames 40- to 100-feet tall.
“Image a dark space, with millions of insects, and this large light,” he says. “There are insects there that pollinate plants used for medical cures, but many of these insects are being destroyed. It’s very scary how the chains of the food web there are being impacted by oil exploration.”
The research station where Seals stayed consisted of a cafeteria, a small dormitory for workers, and sets of bamboo huts or cabins with cots and showers.
“It was actually quite comfortable,” says Seals. “It sits on the edge of the beautiful Tiputini River. We did a lot of neat things, such as catching a piranha and cooking it for dinner one day.”
As part of the grant, Seals will integrate rain forest ecology and related conservation knowledge and issues into coursework for Alma College students who seek to become teachers.
Joining Seals in the project were science educators from Bard College, Bethel University in Minnesota, Brooklyn College-CUNY, Muskingum College, Olivet Nazarene University, San Diego State University, and Tufts University.
Posted: Mon, January 26th, 2009 at 10:52AM