The Waterkeeper movement was started by a band of blue-collar fishermen on New York’s Hudson River in 1966.
Industrial polluters were destroying their way of life, and they were ready to fight back. Their tough, grassroots brand of environmental activism sparked Hudson’s miraculous recovery and inspired others to launch Waterkeeper groups around the world.
Today, over 300 Waterkeeper Organizations and Affiliates—including four in Peru–make up the Waterkeeper Alliance. These groups and individuals are on the frontlines of the global water crisis, patrolling and protecting more than 2.5 million square miles of rivers, lakes and coastal waterways on six continents.
Perhaps the most notable Waterkeeper in Peru is Marañón Waterkeeper, founded in 2015 by Bruno Monteferri and Benjamin Webb.
The Marañón is one of the last major free flowing tributaries to the Amazon. It is a vital link between the Andes Mountains and the Amazonian lowlands. The area has some of the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet. The area is also home to hundreds of thousands of people who rely on the river for fishing, irrigation, transportation and water.
Oil extraction in the Peruvian Amazon has led to occasional oil spills in the river. Small-scale mining operations leech pollution into tributaries which find their way to the Marañón. However, the greatest threat to the Marañón Valley is a proposed series hydroelectric megadams.
Marañón Waterkeeper is opposing the dam project. In a statement, the organization says, “We believe the communities and species that rely on the Marañón River have a right to exist. We believe the Amazon is essential to life on earth as we know it, and the source of this mighty river is a critical link in this interconnected ecosystem. The protection of the Marañón River is a global issue and to address we bring support from all corners of the globe.”
Part of that support was the production of a documentary film, Confluir (come together). The 42-minute film was produced by Waterkeeper Alliance, and directed by Henry Worobec. It spotlights the growing movement to protect the Marañón River and how ecotourism can play a role in that. You can watch the film on the Waterkeeper Alliance website here.
“Marañón Waterkeeper has been incredibly successful in connecting with the local communities,” says Maia Raposo, Waterkeeper Alliance Communications and Marketing Director. “They have a real passion for getting things done.”
Travelers to the Marañón Valley can get involved in all the efforts there by taking a river expedition with Marañón Experience, an adventure travel company founded by Marañón Waterkeeper originators Webb and Monteferri.
“Marañón Experience allows travelers the opportunity to give back,” says Ellen Simon, an Advocacy Writer with Waterkeeper Alliance. “Travelers pay a fee, which allows them to connect with the local people through a meal. But the impact goes beyond that. The money allows the community to purchase sports uniforms, stretchers and other things that are needed. Marañón Experience has knit itself into the fabric of the community, so rafters are able to meet and engage with the community.”
The three other Waterkeeper organizations in Peru are Ramis Riverkeeper in the Puno region, Central Huallaga Riverkeeper in the San Martin region, and the Rio Mapacho Waterkeeper, located in the region of Cusco.
The Rio Mapacho Waterkeeper was founded by Lima native, Ronald Catpo. The organization seeks to address water pollution from various sources, primarily, from legal and illegal mining. Catpo collaborates closely with local residents in the Río Mapacho watershed, including various indigenous communities. Capto also serves as Conservation Director for Protected Areas at Asociación para la Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica, the parent organization for Río Mapacho Waterkeeper. As such, he focuses on legal alternatives for the conservation of forests in the Río Mapacho basin.
If you’d like to be kept abreast of Marañón Waterkeeper, and its activities in the Marañón Valley, sign up for its newsletter here.
If you would like to take an exciting river adventure down the Marañón River, and see the work of the Marañón Waterkeeper yourself, check out the trip here from Marañón Experience.