As you can see on the map above, Guyana is a relatively small country–about the size of the state of Idaho. It is also biological hotspot. The reason: a combination of factors, including the tropical climate, proximity to both the Atlantic Ocean and the Amazon Basin, and geology unique to this part of South America, known as the Guiana Shield.
The North Rupununi region, in particular, where Karanambu is located, is an extraordinary natural area. Seasonal flooding of the savannahs and wetlands adds to the diversity here. There may be as many as 600 species of freshwater fish–more than anywhere on Earth.
Guyana is also a developing country whose leaders have pledged to do something other than develop its forests, savannahs, and wetlands. Instead, the government of Guyana, in partnership with the government of Norway, is in the process of implementing a “low carbon development strategy, LCDS.” As a result, Guyana is increasingly in the news. There is a link at the end of this post to a recent article as an example in which the author offers an update on the status of LCDS.
To summarize the article, and my own experience in Guyana, it’s far too early to tell if the strategy will be successful, but there is plenty of reason for optimism, particularly if those of us working on behalf of conservation in Guyana collaborate with each other, and with the government, to identify the most important areas to hold back from development. This is what we–at the Karanambu Trust–have been working on for the past several months.
The following photos show some of Guyana’s diverse landscape from the air taken on the flight from Georgetown to Lethem via Karanambu. I took the first one just after take off. Georgetown is located right on the coast–and below sealevel–protected from flooding (most of the time) by a series of canals and a sea wall.
The next shows where the mouth of the Essequibo River, one of Guyana’s five major rivers, flows into the Atlantic Ocean.
As the plane banks and turns inland, toward the west and south, we and fly over fields of rice and sugar cane; some of these crops are exported, but most of the yield is sold within Guyana, including the rum and beer.
Within minutes of leaving the coast, the scenery changes to bushy low forest with sandy soil. Some of this sand is exported to replenish Carribbean beaches.
Then the rainforest begins – and continues for nearly an hour. Trees fill the landscape. From a distance, their tops look like the heads of broccoli with yellow and orange highlights.
The clouds are gorgeous, especially when it has just rained.
The Essequibo is a still a major river as it winds through the lowland rainforest, fed by many smaller tributaries; as it winds through the trees, the water looks simultaneously dark red-brown and clear.
Suddenly, the scenery changes. Instead of trees there are brown patches.
Trees are harvested for their wood to be sure. But the main activity is mining–for gold; also bauxite; silt from these operations flow into the river–along with chemicals, no doubt.
As we continue toward the border with Brazil, the Pakoraima mountains begin to emerge. There forest here is once again largely intact, due in large part to the existence of the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development, and its patron, the Prince of Wales (the link to Iworkama is to the left.)
After flying over the Iwokrama forest, we reach the North Rupununi wetlands. Aside from the road, a few villages and ranches, the landscape here remains relatively intact. But this, too, will change. There is a company (four companies, actually, that work together: Groundstar, Canacol, Sagres, and Takutu Oil and Gas) drilling for oil near Karanambu and Yupukari village. More on this in a future post.
There is also the threat of large-scale monoculture agriculture. These photos, also from the air on the flight from Karanambu to Lethem, show crops being grown just on the other side of the border in Roraima, Brazil.
Below is the link to the story from yesterday, April 1, about Guyana’s low carbon development strategy, “A historic move in the battle to save tropical rainforests” by Tony Juniper of the guardian.co.uk
More soon about the oil drilling.