Brazilian ecologists in an isolated section of the Amazon aimed to create a model of success for preserving an azure haven that has suffered from the lack of governance. The project covers an area of land that invites both local communities and scientists to keep the globe’s largest tropical forest in good health. The goal is to defy the destructive forces that wiped out 10% of the jungle in under four decades and emerge with a transferable solution that could benefit other parts of the Amazon.
In 2016, a four-month-long exploration carried out by researchers in the Juruá river’s course led them to 100 neighboring communities. The investigators discovered that while the groups’ basic layout appeared uniform, living conditions were inimical to any attempts to preserve the environment. According to a study by the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment, roughly 29% of the Amazon, spanning an area thrice the size of California, is public land with no particular safeguarding or publicized information.
These areas are susceptible to deforestation. Opportunists evict the residents and pillage the land with the expectation that the government will declare them as landholders, which happens more often than not. The tropical socio-ecologist João Vitor Campos-Silva said the region beyond the protected areas is lagging behind by four decades. Hence, the researchers decided to explore the Medio Juruá, a famous stretch of land near the city of Carauari, which people sustainably manage through the extractive reserves, enabling them to fish and cultivate crops.
Instead of selling the forest’s forest products or engaging in illegal activities such as logging and overfishing, the researchers concluded that the region could include the riverine communities in conservation. The researchers created the Juruá Institute, which is a non-profit organization that bought a 13-kilometer (8 mile) rainforest property alongside the Juruá River. They discovered around 20 stunning lakes, including several that are ideal for raising the pirarucu, the world’s largest freshwater scale fish that weighs up to 440 pounds.
Apart from promoting high-quality science, grounded in collaboration with the people of the region, the Institute’s objective is to design a conservation model based on basin scale. It would enable community residents to protect and harvest forest produce and fish and maintain the environment to refrain from moving to cities or falling into illegal activities. The region has twelve non-indigenous communities of former rubber-tappers called “ribeirinhos.”
Destruction in the eastern Amazon has become such a significant issue that it has changed the jungle’s status from carbon sink to a carbon source, making the Amazon region critical in countering climate change. To ensure that riverine communities can manage governance, the Institute initiated a steering panel and organized various public meetings, called “community of dreams,” where locals could prioritize necessary improvements. The Municipality of Carauari controls the community land designation, and it is divided into forest reserves, extractive reserves, and settlement projects.
The president of the river communities’ association, Fernanda de Araujo Moraes, aims to prevent the departure of river people towards urban areas, where violence and unemployment plague the low-skilled population, primarily due to drug trafficking. Hence, she entered into a collaboration with the Institute to seek better opportunities. The Institute constructed a houseboat and a wooden house that researchers can occupy to study issues such as conservation ecology, social arrangements, and other topics.
The Institute’s objective is to integrate traditional knowledge with the Western scientific models and create transferable lessons for other parts of the Amazon. The study reveals that approximately 5% of adults residing within protected areas aspire to migrate to urban locations. This figure rises to 58% for unprotected areas. The non-profit Institute won the “Frontiers Planet Prize” and received $ 1.1 million, which will be reinvested in the project.