The Guiana Shield in South America is a massive granite dome that formed
2 billion years ago and now encompasses Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana
and parts of Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil. Throughout most of this area
there is a low human population density, and as a result, 2.5 million km2
of tropical rainforests still remain largely untouched, along with extensive
savannahs and wetlands.
The Operation Wallacea expeditions are working in Guyana – an English
speaking country with one of the lowest population densities and highest
per capita forest areas on the planet, as well as incredible savannahs and
wetlands. The expeditions involve trekking through undisturbed forests, where
jaguar, tapirs, giant otters, harpy eagles and many other charismatic South
American species are abundant.
Operation Wallacea has formed a partnership with the Iwokrama International
Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development (IIC) and the Amerindian
community of Surama. The IIC manages one million acres (371,000ha) of
lowland tropical rainforest in the centre of the country. The IIC represents
an international partnership between Guyana and the Commonwealth to
demonstrate how tropical forests can be sustainably used in the interest
of global scale climate change, local communities and biodiversity
conservation. Surama Village is a Makushi Amerindian community, which
has a vision to develop, own and manage a community-based eco-tourism
business by using the natural resources and their traditional culture practices.
Protection of rainforests is a matter of ensuring that surrounding communities
can have a financial benefit from conservation of those forests, and this is the
basis of many of the REDD+ type data collection monitoring projects being
run by Opwall, where funds are raised through preservation of the carbon
content of the forests. However, an alternative approach is to sustainably
exploit the timber in the forest using a reduced impact logging protocol
developed by Iwokrama so that communities can have financial benefits,
but the biodiversity of the forest can be maintained. Just under half of the
Iwokrama Reserve has been designated as a sustainable use area (SUA).
Within this area a 60 year rotation has been agreed where approximately 1%
of the trees in the blocks to be logged are removed with detailed planning
so that the cut and skid trails to remove the timber have minimal impact.
This level of cutting for the most part allows the canopy structure and overall
age structure of the trees to be maintained even in the harvested blocks, but
since the trees removed are the high value commercial species, it generates
substantial income for the local communities. This is a very impressive
harvesting system and if it can be demonstrated to have minimal impacts
on biodiversity whilst at the same time generating much of the income that
would have been achieved from much less sensitive ways of harvesting, then
this approach may have much wider applications worldwide. The Opwall
teams are helping to provide detailed and verifiable data sets on target
biodiversity taxa in the Iwokrama forests both to examine the impacts of
selective logging but also to quantify long-term changes in the biodiversity
of the forests.
An annual monitoring programme providing equal coverage of the SUA and
wilderness preserve (where no logging is allowed), as well as the forests
surrounding Surama Village has been initiated, and is being completed by the
Opwall survey teams. The purpose of this monitoring is to provide long-term
data sets on the abundance and diversity of key biodiversity taxa so that the
impacts of sustainable use within Iwokrama and the forest surrounding Surama
can be identified in comparison with the non-utilised wilderness areas.