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Posted: 2017-03-17 20:00:00
Sepahua, Peru

Sepahua, Peru in 2012, one decade after Natasha Calderwood completed the research project that set her on a conservation career path. (© Asier Solana Bermejo/Flickr Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: In honor of Conservation International’s (CI) 30th anniversary, this is the third post in an occasional series called “ My ‘aha!’ moment,” in which CI staff reflect on moments of insight or discovery that paved the way for their careers in conservation. For Natasha Calderwood, director of projects for CI’s Carbon Fund, that moment came during a summer she spent in the Peruvian Amazon. Read other posts in this series.

In 2002, I was completing my second year of an undergraduate degree in French and Spanish literature. But by the end of my first year I already knew a career in publishing or academia was not for me. So that summer, with a sense of adventure and a love for nature nurtured during my childhood in Mexico, I joined a seven-student research expedition to the Peruvian Amazon.

We were headed to a frontier riverine town called Sepahua, a settlement of 4,000 residents sandwiched between four ecologically important reserves rich with teak and mahogany. Fifteen years later, these forests are still home to a number of indigenous tribes who choose to isolate themselves from the outside world. Our team’s goal was to complete additional research on the threats — namely illegal logging and mining and gas exploration — that were putting increasing pressure on these forests and on the indigenous peoples who lived there.

Street sellers in Sepahua

Street sellers in Sepahua. (Photo courtesy of Natasha Calderwood)

Armed with a photocopied map of Sepahua that we had sourced from the Royal Geographical Society in London, and an official invitation letter from the town’s head missionary, we began the two-day journey to Sepahua from Lima. With no road access, we made the final leg of the trip squeezed into an eight-seater plane, landing on the local football field.

Sepahua was home to a military base, a religious

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