Carbon stocks and cultural mapping in the Amazon Rainforest

5/17/12 | 4:11:00 PM

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(Cross-posted from the Google Latlong Blog)

In 2008, the Google Earth Outreach team visited the Surui tribe in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest for the first time, upon request of Chief Almir Naramagoya Surui. Their goal was to learn how to share and preserve their culture using Google Maps, Google Earth, and other online tools including Picasa, YouTube, and Blogger. We were honored to play a role in empowering the indigenous people of a region that had been ravaged by illegal logging to tell their stories to millions of people around the world. Filmmaker Denise Zmekhol documented this experience in a video called Trading Bows and Arrows for Laptops.

Then, in 2009, Rebecca Moore, head of the Google Earth Outreach team, returned to the Amazon to teach the Surui about Open Data Kit (ODK), a new suite of open-source tools that streamlines the process of data collection in the field with Android phones. Using ODK, the tribe takes pictures of what’s happening on the ground for proof of the illegal logging that is taking place on their territory.

The Surui also began using ODK and Google Earth to visualize the carbon reserves of the forest they live in. This process is part of their 50-year sustainability plan, and serves as a model for how indigenous tribes who have lost much of their ancestral land to logging and deforestation can thrive with the help of a new emerging market based on carbon credits.

Chief Almir, in his joint presentation with Rebecca Moore, celebrated the validation of the Surui Forest Carbon Project on Saturday, May 12th at TEDxBeloHorizonte in Brazil. This is a groundbreaking outcome for the Surui people for two reasons. First, this is the first indigenous-led project in the world to be validated. Equally important, it’s also the first REDD+ project in Brazil to get certified by both the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) to sell stocks in the carbon market, and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) Gold Standard to get extra gains from other ‘co-benefits’ of forest preservation, such as increasing biodiversity for a region, or preserving the livelihood of local communities who depend on the forest. The project was validated by Rainforest Alliance and the Brazilian NGO IMAFLORA.

The Surui and their partner IDESAM have already measured a baseline of carbon stored in the indigenous reserve and will avoid the emission of 6 million tons of carbon over the 30 years of the life of the project by avoiding the deforestation of 40 thousand hectares of forests and protecting an additional 200,000 hectares. Coordinated by Forest Trends, the Surui will work with the Brazilian government and those who want to neutralize their emissions to develop financial mechanisms to ensure the forest is protected and well managed, while also assuring the quality of life for the Surui community. The primary financial vehicle has been designed by FUNBIO, a Brazilian NGO specializing in creating financial mechanisms for conservation.

The TEDx talk was made on the heels of another Google Earth Outreach workshop held in Cacoal, Rondonia in May -- this one intended to teach the Surui people how to create a cultural map using Google Earth. Creating a new platform for storytelling online and an interactive repository for shared memories, the Surui students have interviewed their elders to map their ancestral sites, such as the site of first contact with western civilization in 1969, places where the tribes battled with colonists in the 1970s, as well as places of interest, like sightings of jaguars, capybaras and toucans. Once the Surui students have completed the first version of the map, it will be available for all to explore both as a Google Earth KML, powered by Spreadsheet Mapper 3.0, and as a narrated tour in Google Earth.


We are very excited for Chief Almir, the Surui people, and their partners, including ECAM, Amazon Conservation Team, Forest Trends, IDESAM, Kaninde, FUNBIO, among others, who are entering into a new phase of global significance with the validation of the Surui Forest Carbon Project and the Surui Cultural Map.