It was amazing that I had the opportunity to see Peru with my Chesapeake Semester group for two weeks as part of our Journey 3. One of the main reasons for going was so that we could learn about their ecology, socioeconomics, and culture. The Peruvian system is quiet different from the Chesapeake Bay however we’ve discovered a number of similar themes during our visit. We looked more closely at their environmental issues and how they were being addressed with the hope that we could try using their strategies to solve our problems with the Bay. It was clear to me that one of the main themes in which we both shared was stewardship, having the responsibility to protect our environment by using conservational and sustainable methods. During out visits to Punta San Juan, Parque de la Papa, and Machu Picchu; we learned a great deal of how they were trying to preserve their environment and culture. For each strategy that we learned about, there was always some good and bad implications from it that we discussed further in detail after our trip.
The Punta San Juan Project was an effort made by the CSA (Center of Environment Sustainability) to have a better understanding of the Humboldt Upwelling and to promote conservation of biodiversity. The Humboldt Current has the most productive marine ecosystem which supports a great deal of marine life and helps the Anchovetta fisheries. This project is implemented at the Punta San Juan reserve where we stayed for three days learning about the guano harvest and it’s inhabitants such as the fur seals, seals, and penguins. At this reserve which is 6 kilometers wide, volunteer workers come to harvest the guano poop and monitor the population of the marine residence. Susana Cardenas informed us about this project and introduced us to many of the workers who shared their experience working in the field. We got the chance to see the fur seals, seals, and penguins from a distance which was probably the most exciting thing I’ve ever known because it was only my second time ever seeing them in the wild. There was a great deal of talk about the implications of guano harvesting and what environmental problems they are facing. Guano poop is an excellent fertilizer and there is an international demand for it which is increasing each year allowing little to no time for the guanos to produce a suitable proportion. Harvesting is a labor intensive job that requires cautionary measures so as to not disturb the guanos during their breeding season. However, it’s becoming more difficult to recruit volunteers to do the job at the right time.
They are also experiences an influx of population sizes of the guano, seals, and penguins due to the slow decline of the Peruvian anchovy which has been over-harvested for fishmeal and fishoil. Steps to fixing this problem is the PSJ project but also turning the anchovetta into a gourmet food that can be served in homes and at restaurants. This is a means of becoming sustainable and improving the marine ecosystem. I was able to learn all about this in the confines of the reserve which is protected by a wall that was built in the 1930s to prevent illegal harvesting and/or poaching. This wall does not allow any sort of working relationship with the outside communities who should have an educational tour of why this reserve is so important. In my previous blog I had mentioned that it would be more ideal if there was some way to not have this wall because it has negative ramifications. However after discussing about it’s purpose there, I realized that the reserve would no longer exist like it is now with it’s marine inhabitants and guano harvest. There would be too many people who would try and harvest or poach to feed themselves or their family. After remembering the sheer population sizes of the fur seals and seals, it wouldn’t have been possible if not for the wall because it prevents human disturbances/contacts with these marine creatures. In short, the wall helps protect this reserve and it’s biodiversity.
Later in our adventures, we traveled to Parque de la Papa which is a bio-reserve potato park managed by the Quechua indigenous people. This place is located in the highlands of the Andes mountains, specifically in the Sacred Vally of the Incas. Six Quechua communities live in this valley and have for centuries been growing the potatoes and managing the Potato Park’s resources. Here there is very rich fertilizer which is excellent for growing the potatoes and the high altitude helps keep them cold. We had the chance to sample a few potato-based dishes from soups to salads and they were all scrumptious. It was evident that their culture is centered around the production of potatoes, it’s in their traditions and religion. However they do believe in science and know that global warming is happening. They’ve seen the minute changes in their agricultural practices where they are now growing their potatoes at different altitudes that were not possible before.
The Potato Park was one of the many conservational project underway that allowed the indigenous people to manage and protect their resources and their traditional knowledge. The CIP (International Potato Center) was a group of scientist who studied the native potatoes and helped to increase the variety of them by using scientific techniques. Currently the reserve has over 3,000 different kinds of potatoes, some of which are only unique to the highlands. A collaboration with the locals focused on promoting the crop and its uses in a sustainable way, on the one condition that their local knowledge, traditions, and property rights still belonged to the people. The ANDES was another group that worked with the CIP to promote market niches that would add value to the native potatoes being sold nationally and internationally. This would provide new income for the local people in Parque de la Papa. ANDES also helped to promote other commodities that were made without chemicals such as bars of soap, tea, and lotions. Of course we also had the chance to buy clothes and bracelets that were hand-made, all of them were beautifully woven with brilliant colors and patterns.
We had the extraordinary time visiting Machu Picchu and climb Hauyanapicchu towards the end of our trip. I had an amazing experience and learned so much about the Incas and their culture from our tour guide, Sonia. The architecture stonework that was done to the walls and arches of this once flourishing city was very interesting to see, everything from the stone steps to the lock systems. Looking at the stone temples that the Inca’s used to worshipped their gods was fascinating because they were exact replicas in shape of the surrounding mountains such as Hauyanapicchu. There were so many beautiful scenes that I saw as I hiked Hauyanapicchu and explored the terraces of Machu Picchu, I even got to see and pet some llamas. In those two days that I spent there, I couldn’t help but wonder about how tourism is possibly destroying this special place. It was stated that Machu Picchu in 1983 was declared to be a World Heritage site and has since then been cared for to preserve it. Around the clock there are workers maintaing the grounds of this city while regulations are put in place to keep the number of tourists from entering to minimum. This place is certainly a magnet for people to come and visit but it’s plausible that the business of tourism may help further degrade Machu Picchu. Not everything can be saved or controlled such as the number of people wearing away the stones steps each day. If Machu Picchu was never discovered though, it may have become lost to nature due to the overgrowth of vegetation and natural weathering like climate changes. For now we are simply prolonging the inevitable end where these ruins will disappear but it may not take long for this to happen.
The kind of stewardship that I saw in Peru is very similar to how we feel about the Chesapeake Bay. Right now it is facing an environmental crisis because of our actions from over the years, it’s been degraded so badly and populations of marine life have dwindled rapidly. Between over-harvesting the blue crabs and oysters to excessive nutrient pollution, we are in need of desperate measures to save the Bay. We’ve learned a lot about the different tensions that surround this environmental issue and how people would rather blame someone else instead of helping to preserve the Bay and the watershed as a whole. We need to find different sustainable practices that can bring everyone together so that the Bay can fully recover. It’s our responsibility to do this and we should try everything in our power to restore the marine ecosystems and clean the water.