Rafting for a Reason on the Marañón

11/8/2019

Benjamin Webb was working as an environmental engineer in his native Australia when he decided he needed a change of scenery. After doing some research, he discovered, “there was just something about South America that called to me.” Soon afterwards, he learned about the Marañón River.

The Marañón is one of the last major free flowing tributaries to the Amazon River. It is a vital link between the Andes Mountains and the Amazonian lowlands. Each year at high water the Marañón runs brown with sediment flowing down from the mountains. The sediment is deposited in the rainforest, essentially feeding the Amazon with soil and nutrients that the ecosystems need to survive.

For hundreds of thousands of people, the Marañón Valley is home. A significant population relies on the river for fishing, food production, transport and water. Groups who live by the river include peasant farmers, towns and villages; many of these people identify as indigenous Awajún and still lead a largely traditional way of life.

Not surprisingly, the Marañón Valley has abundant wildlife, as well. The area has some of the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet. Thanks to its unusual location, the Marañón Valley has allowed many species to evolve without interaction with species from other areas. This has led to extremely high levels of endemism in the valley with new species regularly being discovered.

Not surprisingly, Benjamin Webb fell in love with the Marañón Valley, and figured that if people came to visit it, they would too. So in 2016, Webb and Luigi Marmanilo opened Marañón Adventures, a tour company that takes guests down the river—sometimes gently drifting, and sometimes shooting through a cauldron of white water rapids. Along the way, guests also visit indigenous communities, and get a look at their traditional way of life and unique cultures.

Marmanilo, who is originally from Lima, was working as a safety kayaker in Cusco, but now is thoroughly enchanted with the Marañón. “It’s non-stop work, and non-stop fun,” he says.

Through Marañón Adventures, tourism is helping to conservation efforts in the valley. After covering running costs, a large portion of Marañón Adventures profits are used to support river conservation projects and sustainable development in local communities. And those efforts are needed.

All is not well in the Marañón Valley. Oil extraction in the Peruvian Amazon has led to occasional oil spills in the river. There are many small-scale mining operations scattered throughout the Andes that leech pollution into tributaries which find their way to the Marañón River. However, the greatest threat to the Marañón is a proposed series hydroelectric megadams.

The potential impact of these approximately 20 proposed dams could be catastrophic to both the wildlife and the people of the Marañón Valley. Many riverside villages stand to be flooded out of existence, and it is likely that the livelihood of native communities downstream will be severely impacted.

Standing in opposition to dam development is Marañón Waterkeeper, a non-profit organization Webb and Monteferri founded in 2015. To learn more about Marañón Waterkeeper and the Waterkeeper Alliance, click here.

Webb and Marmanilo encourage every participant on their trips to become a steward of the river; whether hosting a presentation about the Marañón in their local community or completing fundraising for river protection initiatives.

Caring about the Marañón Valley is caring about the Amazon rainforest, which is often referred to as “the lungs of the world.” As such, the work being done by a handful of small business people–and their guests—in a remote part of northern Peru, is having global impact.