Yasuni National Park is a 9,820 km2 area of mostly rainforest located in Ecuador. The park’s conditions of warmth, rain, and sun are mostly constant over the year with little change indicating seasons. It harbors extensive biodiversity, including the giant otter, tapir, and numerous species of monkeys. Not only does wildlife make their home here, but indigenous tribes are also prominent and both face similar threats to their livelihood. Yasuni Park lies overtop a rich oil reserve that Ecuador’s president, Rafeal Correa, recently deemed open for drilling. Correa lifted the moratorium on drilling in the area, subjecting this biodiverse region and its people to the adverse affects associated with it.

A tapir swims in the river in the Amazon

The process of extracting oil from the ground is extensive and precarious. The metal pipes inserted into the ground can corrode and weaken, making them vulnerable to rupture. If this occurs, the pipe’s contents will leach into the surrounding soil and water resulting in contamination. The waste from drilling can also emit dust and natural gas (a by-product of oil drilling), which contribute to air pollution. Indigenous tribes living this area would be vulnerable to lung disease, brain damage, liver and kidney disease, and miscarriages, among other health affects.

Another by-product of oil drilling is water. However, the water is hardly potable. It is filled with metals like arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium, which are toxic to humans and animals. These metals bioaccumulate in body tissues and thus can infect organisms even if they do not come into direct contact with the source. This is critical for the indigenous tribes who rely on fish for food. If the fish are living in fouled waters, the contaminates will accumulate in the fish and be transmitted to the indigenous people through consumption. The indigenous people’s way of life is so closely intertwined with the rainforest that anything effecting one will ultimately have an impact on the other.

The Yasuni national park is a Unesco biosphere reserve, containing pristine Amazon forests and home to two uncontacted tribes. Photograph: Cecilia Puebla/EPA

The Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) initiative was protecting an area of the park from oil drilling and Correa agreed to it under the condition that the rest of the world do its part to fight global warming. He requested $3.6 billion as compensation for preserving the oil rich region rather than exploiting it to make a profit. Correa said this money would be used to finance alternative energy and community development, however, since this mentally goal was not met, Correa terminated the ITT initiative and approved oil drilling. Permits allowing the Petroamazonas, a state oil company, to start preparations for drilling, which is estimated to begin in 2016. A petition was submitted to the Ecuadorian government in an attempt to prevent drilling in the Yasuni area protected under the ITT, but it was rejected because it did not have enough signatures.

Both the people and the ecosystem of the Yasuni National Park are extremely delicate, surviving on very fragile systems that when tampered with for energy sources can have life threatening effects.