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High in the Andes, Seacology protects pristine island habitat

November 23, 2021

Because Seacology works exclusively on islands, most of our projects are pretty close to sea level. Our latest one in Peru is a little different. At an elevation of more than 12,000 feet and spanning the border of Bolivia and Peru, Lake Titicaca is widely considered the highest navigable lake in the world. This massive body of water—more than 3,000 square miles—provides habitat for hundreds of plant and animal  species. Many are found nowhere else on Earth, including the endangered Titicaca grebe, a flightless bird that lives in the lake’s shallow marshes.

Amantani Island, on the Peruvian side, is one of dozens of small islands that dot the lake. Inhabited primarily by indigenous Quechan-speaking people, the sparsely populated island has cultural significance going back to the time of the Incas.

Our project there takes a holistic approach to the environmental challenges facing the island. The island’s communities are banking on  a combination of improved land use, reforestation, ecotourism, and education to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy all the natural splendor the island has to offer.

An endangered Titicaca grebe. Photo © Ryan O'Donnell, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The lake has sustained indigenous communities for centuries.

The people of Amantani practice a traditional form of agriculture on the island’s terraced hillsides, growing quinoa, potatoes, and other crops. Unfortunately, many of these farms were abandoned after heavy rains and flooding, and the resulting erosion and pesticide runoff have contributed to pollution of the lake. Our project funds tree planting to prevent erosion, encourages restoration of the damaged terraces, and promotes pesticide-free organic farming. 

The project also tackles another form of pollution, solid waste. Seacology funded large waste bins to collect plastic bottles and other refuse, and will soon deliver equipment to sort recyclable materials, which will be sent to a waste-management center on the mainland. The first bins were installed in early November around the island, including at the center of the largest town and the dock where visitors arrive. 

Amantani's rolling hills are covered with traditional farming terraces.

One of the Seacology-funded waste collection boxes, full of plastic bottles collected from the island.

Finally, Seacology is investing in ecotourism and environmental education across the island. With funds from our project, our local partners built a new interpretive center and trails connecting the island’s nine communities. At the interpretive center, visitors and students learn about the area’s rich history and how to care for the sensitive island environment. Work on the trails is ongoing, and our partners are working with a local artist to develop engaging signs and maps for key cultural and environmental sites along the path. Recycling bins will be placed along the trail.

There is strong enthusiasm for conservation across the island. Meetings with the local communities at the launch of the project were well attended. A volunteer organization called Campuvarayoccs is monitoring the sensitive nesting grounds of the Titicaca grebe, protecting the birds’ eggs and nests during their long breeding cycle. Many of Amantani’s residents and small business owners are excited about the interpretive trail bringing ecologically conscious visitors to their communities. 

Members of local communities visit the new interpretive center built as part of our project.

The interpretive trail will link the island's nine communities and provide visitors with information as they take in the island's stunning views.