Site location and ownership
Río Nea is located in south-eastern Ecuador. The reserve falls within a strategic ‘gap’ in the protected area network that combine to form Podocarpus-El Condor Biosphere Reserve. Key forests surrounding the gap are protected within the Podocarpus National Park and by a reserve established by the Zamora Municipality to safeguard water resources in sub-catchments of the River Nea.
In early 2011 the support of the Carbon Balanced enabled WLT partner Nature & Culture International, Ecuador (NCI), a community-oriented conservation organisation with a strong presence in southern Ecuador, to purchase the Río Nea property. It forms one of a group of properties that NCI aims to secure through land purchase and payments for ecosystem services.
Set on the eastern slopes of the Andes, but occupying a relatively lower-altitude ‘saddle’ within the mountain range, the area acts as a corridor through which a subtle east-west flux of plant and animal species can be seen.
Consequently, regional biodiversity levels are exceptional, with three distinct ecosystem types of exceptional global conservation priority – the Tumbesian Dry, Andean and Upper Amazonian Forests – being represented within the Podocarpus-El Condor Biosphere Reserve.
Over 5,000 plant and 800 bird species have been recorded within the wider Biosphere Reserve and this diversity is reflected at a micro-scale within the Río Nea project site, a broad stretch of cloud forest encompassing the headwaters of the Nea River. Exhibiting remarkable species diversity and endemism, flowering plants and ferns are particularly noteworthy. Large mammals and birds are also extremely well represented here, including White-necked Parakeet (Pyrrhura albipectus) (classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) and Coppery-chested Jacamar (Galbula pastazae) (Vulnerable).
Some 74% of the new Río Nea reserve remains covered by undisturbed primary forest. Unfortunately the high biodiversity levels of forests in this corner of Ecuador are almost matched by the severity of the threat of deforestation that hangs over them.
Logging, fires and demand for increased grazing and agricultural land are the dominant drivers of deforestation in this region, with logging the primary concern at Río Nea itself.
Around 7.5% of the property was cleared of trees by its owner prior to NCI’s intervention and existing logging rights would have been excercised had the property not been purchased for conservation.
Further forest destruction and degradation would result in huge biodiversity loss and the release of greenhouse gases. The forested slopes have also been identified by the downstream municipality of Zamora its key source of clean water. The initiative here is supported by the WLT Carbon Balanced programme.
Carbon Balanced Programme
The Carbon Balanced programme enabled the purchase of the 280 ha property at Río Nea late in 2010, allowing carbon storage and sequestration to be counted here from early 2011. This purchase provides a total allocable volume of offsets of 36,212tonnes of CO2 over the 20 year project life.
Most of these allocable offsets, 24,935t/CO2, are achieved by protecting 207 ha of high quality forest, achieving what is commonly referred to as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD). Natural regeneration of 52 ha of degraded forest within this property will sequester 7,920t/CO2.
Livestock that graze 21 ha of grassland on this property will be removed shortly, allowing commencement of further natural forest regeneration and sequestration of the remaining CO2.
Avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration are only two of the ecosystem services provided to local people and the global community by forests at Río Nea. The Nea River supplies 10,000 residents of Zamora and other downstream settlements with a stable flow of clean water throughout the year and the forests in its headwater areas are the key to this.
In 2010 the Municipality of Zamora (MoZ) became part of the southern Ecuador Regional Water Fund (FORAGUA), a financial trust developed by NCI and seven regional Municipalities. Through this, a levy on water users will be used to protect and manage habitats of conservation value that play a direct role in the supply of water to local residents.