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Santa Elena: Coastal Forest and Bird Lover Paradise is Declared Protected Nearly 30 Years After Ted Parker and Al Gentry’s Passing


Strategic Area: Species - Wild Places -
Content Type: Blog
Country: Ecuador -

Nearly 30 years after the passing of two prominent conservation scientists, the Santa Elena Provincial Protected Area has been declared.

On August 31st, 2022, the Provincial System of Protected Areas of Santa Elena was approved. This area protects 277,870 acres of both dry and humid forest and one of the last remnants of coastal forest in Ecuador. It also provides water regulation services for the entire province of Santa Elena. In addition to protecting 97.5% of Santa Elena’s water sources, the area stores 17 million tons of carbon and contributes to the mitigation of global climate change.

Ted Parker was the first to realize the importance of using audio acoustics to identify birds in neotropical forests. Image courtesy of The Field Museum.

Nature and Culture would like to celebrate this achievement in remembrance of ornithologist Ted Parker and botanist Al Gentry who reported deforestation in the area since the 1990s.

Ted Parker and Al Gentry were killed in a plane crash surveying these very forests. In fact, they were on a Rapid Assessment Program when they crashed. Their work in conservation, with members of MacArthur Foundation and Conservation International, inspired the development of the Rapid Assessments Program in 1989 which has led to the creation of many protected areas.

This new assessment model was an important milestone for helping to prioritize ecosystems for conservation.

The evaluation examines areas based on several factors including, uniqueness, total biodiversity, degree of endemism, and degree of risk. The Santa Elena Protected area is a prime example of a high priority landscape with positive conservation potential.

The Santa Elena Provincial Protected Area has one of the highest numbers of endemic bird species in the world.

56 unique species of birds have been recorded here. Parker was considered one of the world’s top ornithologists. He was among the first to realize the importance of using acoustics and behavior to identify birds in neotropical forests. In his lifetime, he contributed over 10,000 recordings to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds.

Al Gentry, a field botanist, published close to 200 scientific papers and collected nearly 80,000 plant specimens. He prioritized South America and collected data in several of the areas Nature and Culture still works to this day, including Nangaritza in Ecuador and Allpahuayo in Peru.

One of his studies focuses on plants of Northwest South America. In it, he describes woody plants in a new way, using vegetative characteristics (such as leaves, bark and odor) for identification, rather than relying only on fruits or flowers.

Within the country of Ecuador, the coastal region currently has the fewest terrestrial protected areas and increasingly fragmented coastal forest which leads to loss of biodiversity.

Al Gentry
Al Gentry. Image courtesy of The Field Museum.

The Santa Elena Provincial Protected Area is home to one of the last remnants of coastal forest in Ecuador.

Furthermore, it will establish connectivity with nearby national parks and other legally protected areas in the region.

The Santa Elena Provincial Protected Area is an incredibly unique and important landscape for conservation. Field scientists Parker and Gentry did not get to see this land protected; however, the Provincial Government of Santa Elena and the Sustainable Landscapes Foundation, with support from Nature and Culture and Andes Amazon Fund, will uphold the long-term control and monitoring, research and restoration to conserve this area for years to come.