The Amazon forest is the largest rainforest in the world, home to a rich biodiversity of fauna and flora. It represents 67% of the planet's tropical forests, according to Amazon Institute of Man and Environment (Imazon), distributed across nine countries in South America, with the largest share in Brazil (60%).
With such exuberance, it is not surprising that, in Brazil, the region attracts people from different parts of the country to study and protect its biodiversity. The forestry technician from Paraná, Lourival Tyski, for example, has been in the Amazon for over 15 years. Today, he works as curator of the Herbarium of Carajás, located in Vale Amazon Biopark, in the municipality of Parauapebas, Southeast of Pará.
Listen to the comment on this news
Despite having moved from so far away, from the South to the North of Brazil, from a region with such a different biome and habits, today Lourival feels at home in the Amazon. Although his accent from Paraná remains strong, as he walks through the Biopark he speaks fondly of each plant, as if they were members of his own family, and he is able to identify most species with the naked eye. “When we start studying plants, we see everything green. As we understand better, we begin to see everything in color. It's a sum of colors, textures and formats, and with this knowledge, we’re able to 'take a glimpse' and recognize each species", he says. “It's like learning a new language, a new language that we learn to master”, he adds.
The work performed by the Herbarium team, in general terms, consists of identifying and cataloging the flora species found in the Carajás region and surroundings. This work requires attention, organization and meticulousness, and one of the reasons it is so important is that, throughout the process, professionals may discover the existence of a species never registered before in that location or even worldwide. By identifying the existence of a new plant, it is possible to better study its properties and monitor the number of specimens present in the biome, in order to also map whether it is threatened with extinction.
The potential to discover new species and, along with them, new opportunities for solutions which impact human life on Earth, is one of the main factors that awakens Lourival's passion to this day and has kept his interest in staying in the region. “The Amazon is a reserve of a number of opportunities, both of knowledge about the species themselves, and the knowledge of new potential medicines and new products. Keeping the forest standing, preserved, we maintain diversity and these opportunities for evolution that can make a huge difference for the future, including in the field of health”, he reflects.
Animal protection coupled with environmental education
The Amazon Biopark, created in 1985, is maintained and managed by the mining company Vale, and is exclusively home to native species of Amazonian fauna and flora. It is located within the Carajás National Forest, in a Federal Conservation Unit, and occupies an area of 30 preserved hectares.
The same affection Lourival shows for plants, the biologist from Minas Gerais César Neto shows for animals of the Biopark. Since 2020, he has been the park’s supervisor and, under his management, César tries to convey to visitors the enchantment he, himself, felt when discovering the forest for the first time: “The experience we have here is of getting to know the Amazon forest, with the free life, with the sounds of the animals, the climate of the forest”, he points out.
The expert from Minas Gerais came to the Amazon for the first time in 2005, taking advantage of an opportunity to work with the fauna of the Carajás region. “Everyone who works with biodiversity wants to know the Amazon. At the time, I was already preparing to pursue an academic career in my state, but here I found a chance I couldn't let go”, he recalls.
Among the animals in the Biopark are some endangered species, such as the bush dog, the harpy eagle, the macaw and the jaguar. “Here, was the first place in the world the harpy eagle reproduced naturally, in 2015. Due to the quality of our space, human intervention was not necessary, to take the egg to an incubator”, he shares proudly.
César knows the stories of the animals living in that habitat and gets involved with the trajectory of each one. Some of them were rescued, like Chicó, a female monkey who had been trapped in a bar for 20 years by a collar, and didn't even know how to use her tail naturally. “It hurts to hear such stories, of course, but at the same time, I am happy to know that our work contributes to these animals to have a better life, when they are unable to return to nature, as in the case of Chicó”, he says.
However, the link established with these inhabitants of the zoobotanic park is never confused with ownership, he points out: “Whoever works with conservation needs to have a very clear view that the animals are not ours. We are just taking care of them at the moment, but they can be reintroduced to nature or sent to another institution to mate, and then we need to let them go, thinking about what is best for them”.
Weather monitoring also helps forecasts for other regions
Not only the Amazon rainforest incites the curiosity of professionals from all over Brazil. The oceanographer from Rio Grande do Sul, Cláudia Klose Parise, has been working for six years as a professor at the Federal University of Maranhão (UFMA), where she started to study the Amazon coastline. Fascinated by the sea and science, when the opportunity for a public tender for UFMA arose, she and her husband moved to São Luís, the state capital, and embarked on a new adventure.
Cláudia coordinates both the Laboratório de Estudos e Modelagem Climática [Laboratory of Studies and Climatic Modeling] and the Undergraduate Course in Oceanography at UFMA. She studies the interaction of the ocean with the atmosphere, basically observing how sea and air currents impact on the levels of humidity and temperature, and, as a result, impact on the level of rainfall and agriculture, among other factors.
“This field of research was not common here at UFMA. Studies in the area of oceanography used to be more local-focused, they were not contextualized globally, as we do now”, she informs. The professor's routine with undergraduate and graduate students is concentrated in the laboratory, where data provided by the tide gauge is analyzed, a device that measures sea level and wind variations. Using this methodology, the team was able to observe the effect of La Niña, a climatic event of unusual cooling that begins in the Pacific Ocean, but which impacts the entire world. “In 15 years, there has never been a La Nina event as long-lasting as it is now. And this indicates that less humidity is moving to the southern region of Brazil”, she says. The reason for this is that water vapors leave the air from the Amazon and carry humidity to the south of the country. Due to the uncommon cooling, the flow of these vapors also suffers interference, consequently, less humidity is transported.
“This is expected to cause drier summer and autumn seasons in the south of the country. We, from here, in the Amazon, by early monitoring the climate, can predict the impacts that there will be in a few months there [in the South] and, thus, people can prepare to avoid waste in the grain harvest in Paraná, for example”, she explains.
Ironically, the researcher says the main impact that she herself felt living in the Amazon was the climate. “In the South, there are well-defined seasons and, here, it's hot all year round. The funny thing is that I, as a person who studies climate, was impacted by the climate of the region”, she comments, laughing. “On the other hand, it was precisely the human warmth of the people here that enchanted me the most. Everyone here helps each other, friendship is amazing”, she reflects.
Nowadays, with a daughter born in São Luís, Cláudia reveals that she considers herself an honorary native from Maranhão. “It is our second home, a place of many possibilities and with a very strong popular culture as well”, she concludes.
Legacy beyond territorial limits and borders
Throughout history, many foreigners have also dedicated themselves to studying and acting for the preservation of the Amazon. One of them is the North American biologist Thomas Lovejoy, who dedicated more than 50, out of his 80 years of life, to the preservation of the Amazon. He passed away in 2021. One of his legacies was the Amazon Biodiversity Center, a non-profit organization located in Washington, in the United States (USA), but with a base for research in the state of Amazonas.
Also born in the United States, biologist Philip Fearnside is nowadays one of the most worldwide recognized researchers of the Amazon rainforest. He received the Nobel Peace Prize from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007. He first came to this region in 1973. At that time, he had just spent two years in India and intended to return to the Asian country to write his doctoral thesis, but the geopolitical relations between the US and India, then, were fragile and this made his return difficult.
Fearnside, who already wanted to visit the Amazon, traveled to some areas of the region, including other countries, such as Bolivia, but he decided to settle down in Altamira (PA). He lived for two years in an agri-village along the Trans-Amazon highway, to investigate how many families could be supported by that type of agriculture. “It was military dictatorship age in Brazil, a very dark atmosphere and, at the same time, in the Amazon, there were few roads, it was a very different scenario”, he recalls.
Shortly after completing his doctorate, in 1978, he received a job offer at National Institute for Research in the Amazon (INPA), in Manaus, where he is working to this day. Over the years, Fearnside has focused on deforestation, climate change and their varied impacts, including on human relationships. “Working on science in the Amazon means to face a great challenge in order for the results of our research do not remain just on paper, so that they have consequences for society and public policies. That's what motivates me. It is important not to be overly optimistic, thinking that everything is fine, neither to be pessimistic, thinking that everything is lost. We need to believe that by exposing situations of environmental degradation we can change the way things are done in the Amazon”, he reiterates.
Joining efforts is essential to preserve the biome
For Professor Henrique Pereira, from the Federal University of Amazonas (UFAM), the dialogue among professionals from different regions of the country and the world is fundamental concerning the production of knowledge about the Amazon. Born and raised in Manaus (AM), he is currently the Special Advisor to the International and Interinstitutional Relations Office at UFAM, and part of his routine is frequently dedicated to seek and mediate partnerships with other institutions.
“Science is universal and cannot be isolated from one group or another. It is via collaboration that we are able to expand. So, just as there is an intense flow of researchers from Brazil to other regions of the country and the world, we also welcome professionals from abroad here in the Amazon, which is something common nowadays”, he explains. The professor points out that there are rules for participation so that relations are equal, that is, the work on one side of the partnership does not stand out from the other. “We have to guarantee intellectual protection on both sides and protect the region from biopiracy, for example. This is built with ethics and the commitment of the researchers”, he highlights.
In his point of view, the arrival of people from another region is positive, but it demands respect for the place and the people who live there. “It is necessary to be responsible about science and the region where you are working. The Amazon is not just an object of study, there is a very complex socio-environmental and economic dynamic. If a researcher wants to study the region, it is not enough just to collect data or satellite images, doing everything from a distance, it is important to actually come here, live together and understand the local reality”, he concludes.