Global biodiversity hotspot faces mining threat
Endangered amphibians, including a toad new to science, are at risk from planned copper extraction in Ecuador’s cloud forests
Part of the most wildlife-rich zone in the world could be turned into an open-cast copper mine, if a recent ruling in Ecuador stands.
A group of 12 research, conservation and environmental organisations has condemned the judgement by the Cotacachi canton court, and a legal team representing local communities is now appealing the decision.
Intag, in a mountainous region of northern Ecuador, is part of the Tropical Andes Biodiversity Hotspot, which is unequalled for biodiversity. The cloud forests of Intag are home to many critically endangered creatures, and rich in rare amphibians.
These include the longnose harlequin toad, rediscovered here in 2016 after decades when it was thought to be extinct. A new species of rocket frog, whose name is being chosen in an online poll from two suggested by local people, was discovered in 2019 within Intag’s Llurimagua area, now earmarked for mining.
Local communities have opposed mining here for decades, but recent national policy could now be working against them. Last year, Ecuador’s president, Guillermo Lasso, signed a decree supporting the development of mining in the country and said that he cannot allow indigenous groups “motivated by ‘political interests’ to ruin the nation’s economy.”
Ecuador’s state mining company and Codelco, the National Copper Corporation of Chile, hope to extract the metal over 27 years, with their joint venture now at an advanced exploratory stage.
Codelco is the world’s largest producer of copper, with pre-tax profits boosted by billions last year because of high global prices and demand, including for use of copper in electric vehicles.
An environmental impact assessment conducted for the mining companies did not include all the threatened and endangered species in the Llurimagua concession, such as the longnose harlequin toad, say campaigners. Despite this, the canton court declined to in March to provide more details on the reasoning behind the judgement.
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Carlos Zorrilla, an Intag farmer and environmental activist who is helping to lead local opposition to the mining, says that it “will turn out to be one of the world’s worst environmental catastrophes, if we allow it to go forth.”
Main image: A Longnose Harlequin Toad. © Gustavo Pazmiño