At Think Galapagos, responsible travel is at the heart of what we do. This means amongst other things, taking responsibility for the carbon generated by the trips we create for our guests.
After much research and taking into consideration the complex and thorny arguments around carbon offsetting we have decided the best way to do this is through Forest Credits, a scheme run by Rainforest Concern. From today, Think Galapagos will be offsetting all the carbon generated by the holidays we organise for our guests. We will also be encouraging our guests to offset the carbon generated by their international flights to reach Ecuador through Forest Credits too.
Rainforest Concern is a fantastic charity close to our hearts here at Think Galapagos. They do amazing work in Ecuador, in areas of cloud forest that we know and love, and it is in an area that many of our guests visit. Not only do Rainforest Concern protect threatened areas of exceptionally biodiverse forest, but they also support the communities in the project areas through sustainable income generation and environmental education which is critical to the long term success of any forest conservation.
To launch this important commitment, Think Galapagos invited Sarah Fraser, one of the team from Rainforest Concern to write a guest blog for us, to explain a little bit more about how Forest Credits and how it works.
Carbon Offsetting with Forest Credits
Our not-for-profit carbon offsetting programme, Forest Credits, allows you to offset your carbon emissions whilst helping to protect native forests, their biodiversity and the important environmental services they provide, creating a lasting legacy. Our carbon calculations are carried out by respected independent third parties, are verified at regular intervals and include calculations of carbon stored in the trees and the degree of deforestation threat.
By protecting carbon stocks in trees compared to a baseline deforestation rate, the project satisfies the first criteria of “additionality”, the main principle of carbon offsetting. Calculations concluded that protecting the core 1,310 hectare reserve against deforestation would result in 366 hectares of avoided deforestation, saving the emission of approximately 253,873 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over a period of 30 years.
The first Forest Credits project is at our Neblina Reserve, a threatened high-altitude cloud forest in North West Ecuador. Located in the Tropical Andes global biodiversity hotspot, this bioregion is one of the most biologically diverse of all the hotspots, containing about one sixth of all plant life in the world, and having the largest variety of amphibian, bird and mammal species.
Sadly, the Neblina Reserve is also situated in a region under threat of deforestation from agriculture and large-scale extractive industries. Our work at the Neblina Reserve aims to help protect this vulnerable area, making a critical contribution to the Chocó-Andean corridor project’s southern phase, at an ecological corridor between two larger protected areas.
The Neblina Reserve
Rainforest Concern’s Neblina Reserve is a montane cloud forest in the Intag region of North West Ecuador. The reserve links the last vulnerable cloud forests between the Cotacachi-Cayapas National Ecological Reserve to the North, and the Quinde Taminaga community reserves to the South.
Cloud forests are rare – making up less than less than 2.5% of the total area of the world’s tropical forests – but under threat. Tropical montane cloud forests occur on humid mountain slopes where topography generates conditions for ground level clouds. At higher altitudes the warm, humid air, begins to cool and therefore condense. These forests are defined by persistent daily cloud and mist, resulting in dense vegetation and a humid atmosphere.
Cloud forests play an important role in conserving watersheds and maintaining the natural flow of rivers. They act like sponges, absorbing water and then gradually releasing that water into the watersheds.
These fragile ecosystems are centres of endemism and biodiversity, with 85% of cloud forest sites being identified with Global 200 Priority Forest Ecoregions. The ecosystem is ‘of exceptional importance as a repository for a disproportionate part of the world’s biodiversity’ Gentry (1992). Ten per cent of the world’s 2,609 restricted-range bird species (those with a range of less than 50,000 km2) are confined to or mainly found in cloud forests.
Among the endemic species found in the Neblina Reserve are the Andean (spectacled) bear, puma and cock of the rock. According to DECOIN, no less than 28 species of mammals and birds are seriously threatened in this region.
Highly threatened bird species include plate-billed mountain toucans, the Esmeraldas Woodstar hummingbird, and the umbrella bird. In addition, a significant portion of forests are part of the buffer area of the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, which has among the highest level of biodiversity of any of the world’s officially protected areas.
These cloud forests face many threats, including climate change, unsustainable agriculture, extractive industries, road building, and logging – all causing habitat loss and fragmentation. With fragmentation and deforestation, endemic flora and fauna become susceptible to extinction, partly through loss of habitat, and desertification of the ecosystem. Fragmented forest is more easily accessible, for hunting, logging and other activities, further damaging biodiversity.
Camera trap data from a research project we have been conducting into Andean bears (listed as vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List) in the Neblina Reserve, has revealed that no fewer than ten different bears currently travel through the reserve. This gives us evidence that our reserve is providing crucial habitat corridor for this threatened species, helping preserve their range, and in turn ensuring that they continue their vital function in the overall ecosystem of dispersing tree seeds as they roam.
Why carbon offset with Forest Credits?
According to 2019 UN reports, biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history. Habitats are vanishing, and a million species are now threatened with extinction. It’s easy to think that this catastrophic news is not relevant to daily life. But biodiversity is not separate to human society.
We all emit CO2 and other greenhouse gases in our daily lives – using energy at home and work, when we travel, or buy goods. Even the food we eat has a lower or a higher CO2e footprint.
Marine and terrestrial ecosystems are currently the sole sinks for anthropogenic climate change. Nature is our life support system. Without our seas and our forests climate change will accelerate faster than ever. Without stable ecosystems we undermine our food security. We risk changing rainfall patterns, eroding soils and losing vital access to water sources.
We have a responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint as much as we can by changing how we travel, by changing how and what energy we use, or by making sustainable choices as to how we shop. But, any activity in an oil-based economy is always going to emit CO2e, and it is impossible to reduce our carbon emissions to zero. This is where carbon offsetting comes in.
With your support, Rainforest Concern can continue to protect our beleaguered ecosystems. Carbon offsetting with Forest Credits helps preserve rare Andean cloud forests, not only providing essential carbon storage, but also preserving watersheds, and protecting the incredible biodiversity of these unique forests.
How we use your offsets
Rainforest Concern’s Forest Credits programme is about far more than simply carbon storage. As a charity Rainforest Concern is committed to protecting vulnerable native habitats and their biodiversity, and funds from our Forest Credits carbon offset programme not only preserve the carbon in the forest but the entire ecosystem, and also reaches out into the wider area to further protect the habitat by helping and involving the local communities.
1. Direct protection of forests and their biodiversity
Our mission is to conserve vulnerable natural habitats and fragile ecosystems to protect the biodiversity and endangered species they are home to. One of the ways we do this it to establish ecological corridors to create habitat connectivity and to put in place long term measures to safeguard vulnerable habitats into the future. Ecological corridors mitigate the effects of habitat de-fragmentation, allowing species to seasonally migrate, allow natural seed dispersal, and maintain larger gene pools, making them more resilient.
The Neblina Reserve forms a critical ecological corridor between other areas of protected forest, and over the years we have gradually added to reserve, expanding the ecological corridor. The area assessed for the Forest Credits programme was a core 1,310 hectares. Over the years, we have increased the size of the reserve to 2,270 hectares, creating more buffers around the original assessed area, and thus expanding the ecological corridor. Small areas of deforested land are allowed to naturally reforest.
Once we have purchased land for the reserve, we go through a lengthy process of applying for protected forest status with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment. The Neblina Reserve now has over 1,700 hectares legally protected and we are currently applying for more increased protection.
Our projects are private reserves and without our active management and protection, these areas would be at risk of deforestation from agriculture, mining, and other infrastructure development, such as road building. The Neblina Reserve is protected and patrolled by two teams of forest guards employed by Rainforest Concern from the nearby communities.
The work of the forest guards is vitally important. Working in twos for safety, they regularly patrol the reserve to check for threats from hunting, illegal logging or opportunistic cattle grazing, thus reducing the risk of deforestation. They also provide valuable information on the recovery of the forest and its wildlife and particularly on sightings of key species. The guards also collect information on newly acquired areas of the Reserve, help with the collection of camera trap data and act as ambassadors, explaining the importance of the forests to their own communities.
2. Expansion of other areas protected from deforestation or degradation
We work with our partners to help purchase community watershed and forest reserves, as well as providing support to help communities register and protect their land. This means we further expand the protection of the cloud forest and its biodiversity. Around the Neblina Reserve we have worked with our partner DECOIN to help create 38 watershed and community forest reserves. In some instances this has meant getting local communities involved in reforesting degraded and deforested land.
3. Promotion of sustainable livelihoods and environmental education
Our projects are based on strong partnerships with local organisations, communities and landowners, to ensure that your offsets have a lasting environmental legacy. We work with partners to develop projects which provide alternatives to deforestation through support of sustainable livelihood initiatives and we help local people become custodians of their forests by educating both school children and the wider community about the importance and vulnerability of the forests.
Offsetting the CO2 from your holiday with Think Galapagos
If you are going to go on holiday to see the amazing biomes of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands or Peru you could consider offsetting the CO2e emissions of your international flights. At Think Galapagos we will be offsetting the emissions generated by your internal flights in Ecuador and Galapagos, and any services they will be providing, but another key part of it is also offsetting your international flights. It’s a small amount of money to try to minimise harm.
For example a return economy flight from London to Quito would emit around 3.33 tonnes of CO2e, and cost £36.63 to offset. To make the journey from Sydney would be 5.41 tonnes, costing £59.51 to offset with Forest Credits, and a return from New York would emit around 2.35 tonnes, costing £25.85.
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