Lotty Morey: “I want to help preserve the Amazon and its essential heritage”

In 2004, Lotty Morey applied to the Peruvian government for a conservation space concession and obtained it in 2006. The concession, “Yanayacu-Maquia”, represents 1% of the total area of ​​the Loreto region, which is four times the area of ​​the city from Paris. Since then, her association “Amazon Biodiversity” has been carrying out actions to protect the endemic ecosystem, which won her the Terres de femmes award by Yves Rocher in 2021.

What is the story of the creation of “Amazon Biodiversity”?

I created the “Amazon Biodiversity” association to preserve the Yanayacu-Maquía nature reserve in the Peruvian Amazon, an area of ​​almost 40,000 hectares of tropical forest. As for your story, it is closely linked to mine… I was born in Shapaja, in the Peruvian Amazon, on the banks of the Huallaga River. I arrived in France in 1984, at the age of 23, where I decided to settle down after meeting my husband. I often return to my homeland to work as I am launching a traditional Peruvian handicraft shop in Toulouse.

In particular, I work with a group of Shipibo women. They create and hand-paint magnificent anthropomorphic flasks, varnished with a natural coating extracted from forest plants that subtly enhances the natural shine of the ceramic. In 2002, during a visit to these Shipibo women with whom I became friends, an event left a deep impression on me.

I notice that ceramics now exude a strong smell and have lost the natural shine that characterized them. The women then explain to me that you have to go further and further into the forest to find the natural varnishes normally used, while in the city they find industrial varnish for €2 a box.

Shipibo community pottery
Shomo Ani Bemanaya, Pot Shipibo. National Museum of Anthropology, Madrid, Spain

Also, during my many trips back and forth, I fly over the rainforests of the Pucallpa area, where native Shipibo communities live. I am impressed with the voluntary fires seen from above, my heart aches to see so many fires ravaging the Amazon rainforest.

I see how the destruction of forests in Peru is also destroying the cultures of the native peoples. A question arises from this event. How can I help preserve these forests and their essential heritage?

It’s the early 2000s and Peru is opening up to the first private conservation experiences. Society is calming down after more than 20 years of internal conflict and the government is turning to civil society for the protection of its vast rainforests. Without waiting, I decide to look for a forest space for its conservation. I sell the store and dedicate myself to finding land to protect in the Amazon.

Map of the Yanayacu-Maquia Conservation Concession
Map of the Yanayacu-Maquia Conservation Concession

And it is one river, or rather two, that will guide my choice! During my third expedition into the Amazon jungle, I discovered the confluence of two rivers, the Yanayacu and the Maquia, in the midst of an immense area of ​​still intact forest. These two rivers will give the name to the nature reserve that I created “Concession of Yanayacu-Maquía Conservation” (CCYM). The first observations at the site are promising: many endemic species are present, with an important mosaic of natural habitats close to each other.

In 2004, I applied to the Peruvian government for a conservation space concession and ended up getting it in 2006. The concession represents 1% of the total area of ​​the Loreto region (40 million ha), that is, the equivalent of almost 4 times the area of intramural city of Paris. Since then, every day my actions and thoughts are for “Yanayacu-Maquia” and my association.

Endemic species of the Yanayacu-Maquia concession
Endemic species of the Yanayacu-Maquia concession

What is the particularity in terms of fauna and flora of the concession you obtained in 2005?

This 40,000 hectare area that we protect has a very varied mosaic of natural habitats. There are 7 out of 9 Amazonian forest ecosystems in the Loreto region – they are classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems. In particular, there are Aguaje forests (Mauritius flexuosa), which capture between 600 and 640T of CO2 per hectare, and other wetlands, including the largest peat bog in South America (7,000 ha), silty rivers and swamps, etc.

For wildlife we ​​observed schools of giant otters blooming in their natural environment, 5 varieties of felines including the jaguar (panthera onca), the largest fish in the Amazon basin known as the paiche (Araipama gigas), pink or gray dolphins, black alligators, tapirs, great varieties of monkeys…

Soon we will be carrying out studies and collecting samples with the French laboratory SPYGEN, which prepares an inventory of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity using environmental DNA. The results will confirm this data and we will learn even more!

Lotty Morey and her fellow rangers

What actions have you taken on this grant since it was obtained?

Our three axes are conservation, development of local communities and scientific research.

Since 2006, with the help of 4 rangers and the support of local communities, we have been protecting this natural reserve against deforestation, predatory fishing and poaching. The protection of lakes and rivers to avoid poisoning the aquatic ecosystem is also part of our action.

With communities, we work together to develop sustainable programs: reforestation, raising native bees and honey production, agroforestry for food diversification. Next month, 12 residents of the concession will undergo training to learn how to exploit the fruit of theWater (Mauritius flexuosa) without cutting down the palm, drying the pulp and transforming it into oil. The idea is that we can make responsible use of the forest without causing destruction.

On a scientific level, we work with the University of Arizona, which studies the role of large ecosystems in determining and reducing atmospheric levels of CH4 and CO2 and their importance in the context of climate change.

Currently, the French laboratory SPYGEN is carrying out analyzes in aquatic environments for an environmental DNA inventory of fauna. The biological results obtained will be compared with the results of environmental diagnoses carried out in the past to assess the contribution of the project.

The results will be shared with local populations and actors involved in the protection of the concession, in order to promote the emergence of natural resource management programs. Based on these analyses, it will be possible to highlight the needs related to the protection of fauna and the sustainable exploitation of resources in the different areas of the concession, especially for fishing practices.

Group photo: Amazon Biodiversity Association

Did you encounter difficulties with local communities, companies, lobbies?

Despite years of work on site, we still face some difficulties. The families consider that, given the richness of the wild fauna and flora of the concession, it is a pity not to be able to commercially exploit it. For example, the precious wood trees that flourish there have a high commercial value in the market, are no longer found elsewhere in the Amazon or are very difficult to find. Another example, they find it a pity not to be able to hunt wild animals, giant otters, black alligators, otorongostapirs, monkeys…

In 2011, we had great difficulties with Talisman Energy, an oil company that wanted to prospect in the concession in exchange for financial compensation. But thanks to a national and international mobilization, the company had to give up.

More recently, in 2021, Peruvian government officials informed me based on scriptures that this nature reserve is superimposed on private owners. According to them, the concession should be reduced by 60%! After verification and interviews with relevant institutions, and the active involvement of a law firm, the overlapping information was found to be false. The logging companies were behind this manipulation and this blissfully aborted attempt to get their hands on the forest to clear it.

On a global scale, peatlands are an important carbon reservoir, whose destruction would lead to an immediate release of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Did the reserve allow scientific discoveries to be made?

In 2007, we identified the largest open peat bog in Latin America and the best preserved in the Amazon in the reserve (Conservation Biology 2017).

On a global scale, peatlands are an important carbon reservoir, whose destruction would lead to an immediate release of CO2 into the atmosphere. Likewise, this swamp is accompanied by its own ecosystem, such as the forests ofWater (Mauritius flexuosa) capable of absorbing more than 600 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare, which is 3 to 5 times more than any other tropical ecosystem (Guzman, IIAP Peru 2005). This forest ofWater it covers 47% of the concession’s territory, representing a total area of ​​23,150 hectares (OSINFOR report).

Yanayacu-Maquia Concession River

What prospects do you envision for the Yanayacu-Maquia concession?

We hope to make local communities involved in the protection of this heritage, their heritage and that they can live from the direct conservation of their natural resources.

This medium-term project will help all inhabitants of the conservation area and its immediate perimeter. By preserving the endemic flora and fauna and their ecosystems, we will enable local communities to maintain the quality of their living environment.

Recently, we have worked with professionals (environmental engineers, agronomists) from the communities. They form a solid and lasting bond between residents and the Amazon Biodiversity Association.

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