Seeing the Forest beyond the trees: An integrated vision of the Amazon
It is home to one in every ten terrestrial species in the planet and it provides invaluable environmental services, locally, regionally and globally. Given its vast extension, and in order to ensure the sustainability of its biodiversity and the array of benefits it generates for the planet, the Amazon’s conservation and development can no longer be addressed through a local or national lens, but instead, an integrated biome vision must be advanced.
Four years ago, a team conformed by experienced WWF scientists identified this need. “The challenge seemed both huge and pretty obvious, but still wasn’t being efficiently tackled by most of our conservation efforts. Us, conservationists, had proven to be pretty effective in fostering successful local conservation endeavors, but the scale of the threats showed us the new way to go. We could no longer work on site based projects alone, but instead, had to take a broader look at the Amazon region, and this is how the Ecological vision concept arose”, states Juan Carlos Riveros, Head of WWF’s Living Amazon Initiative Science component.
A biome approach
As a science based organization, WWF worked for years on identifying the main threats and opportunities for the biome. Given that the threats jeopardizing the Amazon know no political boundaries, an efficient long term conservation / development strategy had to take into consideration biome scale natural dynamics, human related activities, among others. “This led to the identification of conservation priority areas, and later on, to the development of a river basin data base, which brought together hydrological and ecological statistics and figures to characterize the river basins throughout the Amazon region”, adds Riveros.
Based on Geographic Information System tools, further information was gathered and produced, including data on vegetation types, natural protected areas, etc., until a decision support system was conceived: the Hydrological Information System - Amazon River Assessment methodology or HIS / ARA.
A step forward: using science to promote a greener development model
“There are no silver bullets in conservation, especially in an area as rich and complex as the Amazon, but this new tool provides better opportunities than ever before to dialogue and support better informed decisions based on objective scientific facts”, says Pedro Bara Neto, Head of the Free Flowing Rivers & Forest Friendly Roads strategy of WWF’s Living Amazon Initiative.
The Amazon River basin comprise a network of over 100 000 Km of rivers and streams which connects the Amazon ecosystems with one another representing the vascular system of this unique region. If the river flows are cut, life in the Amazon is interrupted and the system as a whole is imperiled.
In this regard and with the aid of the HIS / ARA, WWF’s Living Amazon Initiative is working side by side with the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment in providing the necessary input to orient the best possible decisions regarding hydropower projects. The first steps are being taken to foster a close collaboration relation with the government by which scientific tools such as HIS / ARA may provide guidance on how may infrastructure and other projects be best developed. The aim is to foster a fluent dialogue between such stakeholders as the Private sector, Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Mines and Energy, among others to support better negotiations as to ensure a sustainable development for the Amazon.
“We just took the opportunity, but this was possible because a solid scientific foundation existed, thus it was easy to obtain positive results”, says Bara Neto. “Hydropower is just the first application we’ve seen so far for such a methodology, but this is just an initial step which should evolve to assist in decision making process regarding natural protected areas, agro commodities, etc.”, he finalizes.
Although still a work in process, the HIS / ARA is already a concrete example on the urgent need and opportunity to promote an integrated vision of the Amazon, and on how science can assist in making the best possible decisions towards a greener development model for the Amazon.