In a move condemned as paving the way for an environmental disaster, the environment minister of Ecuador on Thursday authorized permits for oil exploration to begin within the Yasuní National Park, an area home to two indigenous communities living in voluntary isolation and an area some consider the most biodiverse place in the world.

Oil production in the area could happen as soon as 2016.

In August last year, Ecuador announced that it was abandoning its plan to use international funds to leave the oil in the ground in the preserve, citing a lack of necessary funds raised. Then in October the parliament gave the green light to drilling in the park.

That decision was followed by widespread criticism. “Yasuní is exceptionally rich in species and home to diverse cultures — including some living in voluntary isolation,” stated Stuart Pimm of Duke University. “Its protection defends nature and peoples: destroying it would be a particular tragedy.”

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