Ecology and Politics: Punta San Juan

IMG_6178On the tip of a peninsula after miles of winding mountainous and desert road, lays San Juan field station. The CRA works through this field station as Proyecto Punta San Juan in order to protect the wildlife and habitats for the species there. They are there under contract from the Guano Reserve which harvests the guano from this point. Their relationship creates an interesting intersection between ecology and politics.

The harvesting of guano has become more and more difficult recently as few want to do the work and the company makes little to no money. The work is extremely strenuous with little pay and tradition is what keeps most coming to harvest. Even though the company is bankrupt they continue to harvest because it is used as a political ploy for agriculturists to vote for candidates. With minimal staff and incentive the guano harvest continues to become less efficient and is delayed into the bird’s breeding season. While they obviously need the birds to stay in this location to continue to harvest, they are unaware of the full consequences of this delay.

IMG_6117This is where the field station comes into play, using their research and education to make suggestions on harvesting times and methods that will have the least affects on the birds. In many ways the intersection works perfectly, both with the same goal of the birds staying on Punta San Juan, sharing the area and information.

Unfortunately a the end of the day, one group has politics in mind while the other has ecology. The guano harvesting company wants to harvest get out everything they can where they want and when they want. Proyecto San Juan, on the other hand, wants to protect the species and habitats with minimal human interaction. When the harvesters want to push back the time in which they are there, the field station must prove the research that it will interfere with the breeding season. When the harvesters want to move into prime locations towards the point, the field station must prove the research that the birds will flee the breeding ground.

IMG_6194While these two organizations must work together for a common goal they are also both forced to make sacrifices in order for the relationship to work. It does not come without difficulties but overall the example seems to be more positive than many intersections between politics and ecology at other times. Susanna, a CRA researcher with the project, explained that the harvesters forget that they are not the enemy. The issue is the Anchoveta fisheries that have drastically reduced the guano bird populations. This outside factor based solely on economy creates another intersection with many more conflicts added to the situation.

Unfortunately between the three factors I fear the ecology may not be able to win if the situation becomes a battle. While their fight is for not just guano birds, but for an entire niche, habitat and web of interwoven species of the area, they do not hold the power that politics and economy do. With what little money and resources they are given they continue to fight for the ecology and prove their research but the politics that runs the harvest can do with it what they want.

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