Environmental activists are protesting the government of Ecuador's decision to allow for oil exploration in a previously protected portion of the Yasuni National Park.

The nearly 4,000 square mile park in the Amazon rainforest has been a site of oil exploration since the 1970s, but a portion of the park's core has since been untouched. Criticism of the move to explore for oil in the previously protected area is not unfounded -- Yasuni National Park is perhaps the most biologically diverse area in the world, home to a staggering array of distinct species. The park was designated as an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989.

The move to proceed with oil exploration comes after a failed conservation campaign, wherein the Ecuadorian government contended it would refrain from green-lighting the oil exploration if the international community could raise $3.6 billion dollars, a sum said to be 50 percent of the value of the reserves in the park's Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) oil field.

But after raising only $13 million, the campaign was not anywhere near its target, which prompted President Rafael Correa to say Ecuador had no choice but to proceed with the drilling.

"I have signed the executive decree for the liquidation of the Yasuni-ITT trust fund and through it, end the initiative," the president said in a televised address, as reported by the BBC.

Ecuador, the smallest OPEC nation, will likely see $7.2 billion in income from tapping the previously protected reserves, which hold more than 800 million barrels of crude oil.

Correa downplayed the reaction to the news that Yasuni will be drilled, saying that it would only affect 0.01 percent of the Yasuni basin.

But environmental activists are nonetheless unhappy with the decision, contending that park's ecological worth is greater than the financial rewards for exploiting it.

"Yasuni is important for humanity and as Ecuadorians, we can make the difference," protester Adrian Soria, a 38-year-old biologist, told Reuters. "Yasuni must be preserved and that is more important than the oil," he said.

An estimated 400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere as a result of the drilling, the BBC reported, citing the United Nation's Development Program office dedicated to managing the Yasuni-ITT trust fund.

"The Yasuni-ITT Initiative was the lone exception to the relentless expansion of hydrocarbon projects deeper into the most remote tracts of the western Amazon," Matt Finer of the US-based Center for International Environmental Law, said to The Associated Press.