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São Paulo, Brazil – Between September 13 and 17, the Amazon in Flames Alliance – led by environmental organizations Greenpeace, Amazon Watch, and the Climate Observatory – confirmed the warning and concern of many researchers: The southern Amazon, the largest and most conserved area in the forest, is the new frontier of deforestation.
“This region stands out for the rapid advance of deforestation, which is increasingly entering into well-preserved territories that are vital to mitigate the climate crisis and prevent the collapse of biodiversity on the planet,” says Cristiane Mazzetti, of Greenpeace, an organization that takes part in the alliance alongside Amazon Watch and the Climate Observatory.
Researchers, journalists, and Brazilian artists – Rafael Cardoso (actor), Giovanna Lancellotti (actress), and Vitão (singer and composer) – participated in the flyover. The group departed from Porto Velho, the municipality ranked second by the number of fires, recording 2,700 heat spots, from January 1 to September 18, according to data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). Lábrea in Amazonas is the country’s record holder on forest fires, with 2,946 outbreaks during the same period.
After flying over the Jacareúba Indigenous Land in Amazonas and the Mapinguari National Park (spanning both Amazonas and Rondônia states), the investigation identified extensive deforested areas, ranging from 1,550 to 2,450 hectares, equivalent to 2,012 and 3,181 soccer fields respectively, and which are among the five largest deforested areas ever recorded in the state of Amazonas. Under the Bolsonaro administration, Amazonas surpassed Rondônia as the third state with the worst level of deforestation, according to INPE’s Prodes system.
“We witnessed large-scale forest destruction, including large deforestation polygons, active heat spots, and illegal airstrips. In Porto Velho, we caught sight of large areas for the cultivation of grains, an activity that is becoming increasingly consolidated in northern Rondônia, and has been recently introduced in southern Amazonas, with soybean planting in Humaitá,” added Mazzetti, who has been tracking these activities.
On land, the expedition passed through Candeias do Jamari, the second most deforested municipality in Rondônia, according to data from August 2020 to July 2021, only surpassed by Porto Velho. There, the group found sawmills and multiple trucks loaded with giant tree logs, as well as cattle grazing near newly burned areas.
“We saw all the stages of the deforestation process one after the other: The extraction of high-value timber, the burning of vegetation to grow pasture, and cattle herds occupying areas that until recently were covered by forest,” says Rômulo Batista, spokesperson for the Greenpeace Brazil Amazon campaign.
In this region, there are two Conservation Units (UCs) — the Flona Jacundá and the Samuel Ecological Station — which have already registered invasions. According to specialists, the approval of the bill that reduced by 80% the limits of the Jaci-Paraná extractive reserve (Resex) by Governor Marcos Rocha, which benefited invaders, may have further driven invasions to the UCs. The Resex was the Conservation Unit that most suffered from fires in Rondônia this year, and the situation is expected to become worse in the coming months.
Ane Alencar, science director at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), was part of the group and was astounded by the indiscriminate occupation of public lands. “Deforesting large areas requires a lot of investment in equipment and logistics, which goes to show that invaders are going all out onto public lands and occupying them in an indiscriminate and highly capitalized way,” she observes. According to the researcher, one of the most notable specialists in the dynamics of forest fires in the country, another issue that stands out is that some areas which were deforested in previous years are abandoned, with no signs of agricultural activities being carried out. Alencar continued, “In other words, they are using deforestation to speculate on public land.”
Stela Herschmann, climate policy specialist at the Climate Observatory, also accompanied the expedition and noted the impact of the loss of forest. “While other nations use less carbon to develop themselves, Brazil goes against the grain, betting on deforestation, which is its main source of greenhouse gas emissions. Deforestation, fires, land grabbing, and mining take place illegally. Neither boosting development in the region nor distributing wealth to the peoples of the forest. We are literally burning our future in exchange for nothing.”
About the Amazon in Flames Alliance
It is a partnership between Amazon Watch, Greenpeace Brazil, and the Brazilian Climate Observatory that carries out flyovers to monitor and disseminate information on forest areas that have been deforested and/or threatened by deforestation, fire, and mining.