In the Amazon, protected areas often lose out when the search for energy is on

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Addressing policy “blind spots” that allow energy production and mineral exploration to trump environmental protection could help improve the outlook for conservation in the Amazon Basin, according to a new study.

The production of new dams and the search for oil and natural gas, while often beneficial for people, can harm the environment. Dams block the natural flow of water and prevent fish from going up stream to reproduce. Oil and gas exploration can be messy, with spills contaminating the water and food supplies of people who depend on river fisheries.

Researchers led by assistant professor Elizabeth Anderson of the FIU Institute of Water and Environment are calling on countries in the Amazon Basin to grant Indigenous peoples subsurface mineral rights, establish protection for freshwater systems and limit energy and infrastructure development in protected areas.

“There is still a lot to protect in the region, it just requires a new way of thinking about it,” Anderson said.

But the protections offered to Amazonian ecosystems differ from country to country. To start, researchers suggest:

Increasing awareness of cultural connections to natural areas could offer further support for Indigenous peoples’ stewardship of ecosystems and the need for subsurface mineral rights.

Amazonian countries could ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of International Watercourses, to work collectively to increase protections for freshwater ecosystems in the Amazon.

Making energy and infrastructure development off-limits in protected areas could help maintain standing forests, buffer climate change, and meet biodiversity conservation.

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.


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