Participatory Biodiversity Monitoring project aims to democratize knowledge in the Legal Amazon

USAID/Brazil, IPÊ and ICMBio work in partnership with the community to develop sustainable actions in 17 conservation units

Democratizing scientific knowledge and information in communities linked to 17 conservation units in the Legal Amazon to enable them to develop their own action plans: this is the current focus of the Participatory Biodiversity Monitoring project. Developed by IPÊ - Ecological Research Institute and ICMBio (Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation) in partnership with USAID/Brazil, the project supports biodiversity monitoring and promotes socioenvironmental engagement to strengthen the management and conservation of Brazil's conservation units.

Having completed the methodology development and data collection stage, with the engagement of the communities themselves, now is the time to focus on results and think about the future, including the monitoring and conservation of the areas. During the monitoring process, it is important that the community understands what changes may lead to the loss of local biodiversity so that they can manage natural resources properly and generate income in a sustainable manner.

Through Knowledge Gatherings, researchers, monitors, managers and community leaders engage with one another to ensure that all of them, with their own experience, may look at biodiversity through the lens of science. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, communities went into social isolation to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. As a result, conservation units had to close, and the project's face-to-face activities were suspended in March.

However, by the end of May, IPÊ will have implemented long-distance actions to maintain their relationship alive. The idea is to produce short videos – to be distributed via WhatsApp – to provide information on the pandemic and on preventive measures, as well as seek local participation to share what is being done in each region. 

"Biodiversity monitoring is a tool for bringing people closer to science. Our aim is to democratize information and science,” says Cristina Tófoli, IPÊ Project Manager. 

According to her, one of the benefits of involving society from the very beginning of the process is that they can identify with the monitoring activities. "This process is slower, more expensive, more laborious – but it is much more consistent. When dealing with environmental conservation, if you involve people and develop your actions together, they understand the importance of that,” she adds.

The Participatory Biodiversity Monitoring project is an extension of the Monitora program, which established three standard protocols for monitoring biodiversity in conservation units. In addition, in the context of participatory monitoring, additional protocols were developed for some of these units together with local communities, ranging from Brazil nut production to activities involving local animals, such as turtles, peacock bass and pirarucus.

In the case of fishing, engaging communities from the Médio Juruá Extractive Reserve and the Uacari Sustainable Development Reserve, both in the State of Amazonas, was important for the Participatory Biodiversity Monitoring project because it helped to develop simpler monitoring methods. 

An illustrated form is being developed to make life easier for community members to self-monitor their fishing activities. This work consists in collecting data in a participatory manner, after training volunteers in the communities. During a set period of time, they record the species they find, and both the volume and the total quantity of fish caught with a view to measuring a small sample per species. Protocols are in place so that we can have comparable control observation patterns over time.

Results – One of the first monitoring initiatives under this project began in 2014 at the Cazumbá-Iracema Reserve, which covers an area of 750,794 hectares in the state of Acre. The initial aim was to monitor the behavior of jaguars, but after discussions with the community, the focus was shifted  to Brazil nuts, instead. A production protocol was created, as it is considered an important extractive activity in sustainable forest management, and one of those that most contribute to income generation among local communities. 

That protocol is now being implemented in another four conservation units (extractive reserves) in the state of Rondônia: one on the Ouro Preto River, one on the Cuniã Lake, and two on the Cautário River.

Another example is the monitoring of turtles, which started in two neighboring conservation units, but has already been extended to another two.

At the end of the 2019 season of the Trombetas River Chelonian Program, for example, 5,000 Amazon turtle chicks were released on the spawning beaches within the biological reserve. Throughout the season, a record number of turtle chicks were released – over 50,000. In addition, there was also an increase in the number of spawning females on the Trombetas riverbanks: over 800 individuals, while in previous years it never exceeded 600.

Sharing experiences – In early March, before suspending its activities, the project also held a Knowledge Workshop on the Jamari National Forest, in Itapuã do Oeste (RO). The event served to assess data collection activities and present the 2019 monitoring results. In addition, a new calendar was proposed, taking into account the monitoring activities held at the Jamari National Forest and the Samuel Ecological Station.

In February, a meeting was held with the Tambaquizinho community, in the Abufari Biological Reserve (AM), which brought together 44 people. The event addressed the continuity of fishing self-monitoring projects, which assess the dynamics of fish diversity. “Community members really understood the importance of research. It was an opportunity to discover new things and develop an even stronger trust-based relationship,” said Marcela Juliana Albuquerque, a researcher at IPÊ at the time. Pedro Farias, from the Tambaquizinho Community, summarized his views as such, “Within the reserve, there is a protected area, and an area that we can use. I want to be able to go fishing, and have peace of mind when I return home.”