Feature

There is still time to help the Amazon rainforest

May 09 2024

The Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world, covering an astonishing 6.7 million square kilometres. It has a population of roughly 47 million, including more than two million indigenous people and 400 different indigenous groups.

There is still time to help the Amazon rainforest

It is also one of the most important habitats on the planet; an estimated 400 billion trees stand in the rainforest. The trees influence rainfall cycles throughout South America by releasing 20 billion tonnes of water into the air each day. 

An estimated 150-200 billion tonnes of carbon are stored in the Amazon’s forests and soil, meaning it plays a vital role in fighting the climate crisis and limiting the rise of global temperatures. 

The Amazon spans eight countries and one overseas territory in South America. The largest section can be found in Brazil. The country has aimed to protect this valuable ecosystem for almost 60 years, when it passed its first Forest Code in the 1960s – a law that required landowners in the Amazon to maintain 35-80% of their property under native vegetation. 

Deforestation then became a major issue in the Amazon – in the early 2000s, deforestation was at a near all-time high. In came President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who made it his mission to reduce this destruction. Through the strict enforcement of environmental laws, deforestation was reduced by almost 72% by 2010. 

Following some twists and turns with deforestation over the next 10 years or more, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva returned to office once again to enforce the protection of the Amazon. 

Last year, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) began raids in the rainforest state of Pará to stop loggers and ranchers illegally clearing the forest.

Despite vast efforts from a number of organisations, the combination of global climate change and deforestation continues to have a devastating impact on the Amazon basin. This has resulted in vast sections of Amazonian rivers losing more than 130 million litres of water in 2023, alone.

Research by IPAM, the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, found that half of the countries in the Amazon region have seen a 30% reduction in surface water in the last 40 years.

Climate change and deforestation have had an impact on local climates, causing increased temperatures, reduced precipitation and longer dry spells. Drier forests also pave the way for forest fires.

Using sport… or not?

Dry riverbeds have prompted a group of indigenous people and the Stock Car Pro series to utilise rallying to showcase the impact that climate change and deforestation is having on the rivers, and the Amazon region as a whole.

A campaign was created centred around the idea of an ‘Amazon Desert Rally’, with a group of rally drivers zooming down tracks of dried riverbeds. The message? “Don’t sponsor this race!”

The premise was to showcase what could happen if precautions are not taken to support intrinsic ecosystems such as the Amazon rainforest. Should climate change continue to have such a major impact, dry riverbeds (perfect for rallying) will be inevitable.

“Everyone loves sport and sport is the way we think we can get this message out to the people of the world about the huge environmental crisis we are facing in the Amazon region,” said Paulo Moutinho, senior researcher at IPAM.

While the ‘Amazon Desert Rally’ was a great metaphor in a bid to protect the rainforest through sport, others are aiming to use actual sporting events to spearhead conservation and sustainability efforts.

The ‘Amazon Triathlon: The Race Against Time’ is a prospective international event that aims to highlight the need to protect the rainforest. Additionally, the event would showcase ways to support the more than 40 million residents through sustainable sports tourism and social initiatives.

Roger de Moraes, Chief Executive of Ecofiex Produções, university professor and advisor for the Amazon Triathlon project at producer Mana Group, explains to Global Sustainable Sport that the idea of the Amazon 2030 project was born a few years ago.

“It is an initiative that brings together scientists, philanthropists, sports people and fans to think about the Amazon,” de Moraes explains.

The plan is to introduce a series of events between 2025 – coinciding with UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 30) next year, which is due to take place in the rainforest state of Pará itself – and 2030, a year in which many objectives are due to be re-evaluated.

The sporting spectacle has been specifically designed for television and digital media, to truly engage as many global spectators as possible. Not only will the event encourage support for the Amazon on an environmental sustainability level, but it will also demonstrate how the region can provide a backdrop for international sporting events to aid the area financially and socially.

Triathlon is an endurance sport that encompasses running, cycling and running over various distances, with triathletes competing for the fastest overall completion time. The sport was first included in the Olympic Games in 2000.

 

De Moraes explains that he used to be a promising triathlete before an injury forced his hand. He may have turned his attention elsewhere, but his passion for triathlon remained.

His love for the sport was not the only reason to choose it as a platform to support the Amazon, but also because it combines all natural elements and sustainable aspects; running and cycling are natural and great low carbon ways to travel, while the importance of protecting rivers and water sources will be highlighted through the swimming segment.

Additionally, within the sport of triathlon, triathletes are racing against time. This idea of ‘time’ presents a great strap line for an international sporting event that is aiming to save the Amazon rainforest before time runs out.

“The idea here is to draw attention to the narrative of time, that’s the main issue for the event,” says de Moraes. “The time is obviously important for the athletes, but time is also running out for the Amazon. However, there is indeed still time.

“We wanted to create a spectacle with international visibility, focused on celebrating the opportunities to swim, cycle and run in the Amazon. Beyond sport and competition, we aim to promote investment opportunities in infrastructure for sports tourism in the Amazon.”

A further reason that triathlon was chosen as the sporting spectacle for the Amazon 2030 project was because of its steady growth – races regularly feature on free and paid-for television channels across all continents.

A “postcard” for the Amazon and sustainable sports

The Amazon Triathlon would invite the world’s top 20 triathletes to compete, to bring as much attention as possible to the rainforests and the Brazilian state of Pará. The chosen backdrop for the first race is Alter de Chao, a beautiful village with some of the most incredible freshwater beaches in the Amazon rainforest. A true “postcard” destination, says de Moraes.

With the aim of reaching as many people as possible, the team behind Amazon 2030 and its triathlon series – the Mana Group – has been holding conversations with various organisations, brands and companies for backing.

De Moraes explains that the next steps have also included speaking with several producers and companies to help with potential global advertising campaigns, live broadcasts, content distribution, and the promotion of the Amazon Triathlon.

The team will also consider utilising ‘celebrity triathletes’ to really highlight the importance of supporting the Amazon rainforest.

There is still time

Triathletes may be competing against the clock during an event, but so is the global population when it comes to fighting climate change.

According to the WWF, figures have suggested that approximately 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been lost already – this is equivalent to the size of France.

If we do not continue to tackle the climate crisis, this percentage will only increase.

Images: Jose Eduardo Camargo from Pixabay/ Steven Muñoz from Pixabay/ Neil Palmer (CIAT, CC BY-SA 2.0)/ Tony Pham on Unsplash/ Markus Spiske on Unsplash/ Victoire Joncheray on Unsplash

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