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Manicore (Brazil) (AFP) – In a remote part of the Brazilian Amazon, a scientific expedition is cataloging species. Time is of the essence.
“The rate of destruction is faster than the rate of discovery,” says botanist Francisco Farronay, from the National Institute for Amazonian Research (INPA), as he cuts through the bark of a huge tree and smells its interior.
“It’s a race against time”.
The largest rainforest on Earth, still largely unexplored by science, is under assault by deforestation for agriculture, mining and illegal logging.
According to a MapBiomas study from last year, the Amazon lost some 74.6 million hectares of native vegetation, an area equivalent to the entire territory of Chile, between 1985 and 2020.
The destruction accelerated under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, accused by environmentalists of actively encouraging deforestation for economic gain.
The rainforest is considered vital to curbing climate change for its absorption of CO2 that warms the Earth.
Since 2019, when Bolsonaro took power, the average annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased by 75 percent compared to the previous decade, according to official figures.
“Most of the plant species in the Amazon are found in invaded areas,” said Alberto Vicentini, another member of the expedition launched by Greenpeace.
It is estimated that “60 percent of tree species are not known to us, and every time an area is deforested, a part of the biodiversity that we will never know is destroyed,” said the INPA scientist.
For their research in this remote part of the northern Brazilian state of Amazonas, the team took a plane from Manaus, flying over hundreds of kilometers of verdant forest cut by meandering rivers, to Manicore.
From there, a five-hour boat ride down the river for a week-long expedition to collect plant samples and observe animal behavior, for which they set up cameras and microphones.
The group includes experts on mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish, trees and flowers. But it is a difficult time to be a scientist in Brazil, they say.
“We live in a moment of denial of science, as we saw with the pandemic in Brazil,” with Bolsonaro criticizing masks and vaccines, Vicentini said.
“Research institutions in Brazil are being attacked by the policies of this government, universities are suffering many cuts,” he added.
A sheet of newspaper used by one of the group’s botanists to press a flower bears the headline: “Logging in Amazon Increases” with a photo of two trucks coming out of the jungle loaded with logs.
“There are places where no one has ever been, we have no idea what is there,” said INPA biologist Lucia Rapp Py-Daniel.
“Without the resources to investigate, we don’t have the information to even explain why we have to conserve” the area, he said.
Resources have been declining for a decade, another phenomenon that has accelerated under Bolsonaro, according to critics.
In May, Brazil’s two main scientific societies, the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (ABC) and the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC), warned that funding for scientific research in the country would be reduced by nearly $3 billion. reais (about 560 million dollars). ) this year.
“We should be speeding up the pace of research versus destruction, but instead we are slowing it down,” says Py-Daniel.
© 2022 AFP