Rolex and the National Geographic Society have partnered on a novel multi-year expedition to better understand and protect the Amazon River Basin.
A two-year Amazon River Basin National Geographic and Rolex-led expedition aims to “illuminate the diversity and connectivity of the people, wildlife, and ecosystems that make up this magnificent region.”
The 2022 Perpetual Planet Amazon Expedition, which is being supported by luxury watchmaker Rolex’s Perpetual Planet Initiative, is focused on the world’s largest freshwater basin, a part of the Amazon often overlooked when discussing the rainforest, according to National Geographic.
The project comes after the National Geographic Society announced it will posthumously award its highest honor, the Hubbard Medal, to Thomas E. Lovejoy, an American ecologist and conservationist and an outspoken advocate for the protection of the Amazon rainforest. Lovejoy passed away on Christmas Day 2021 at the age of 80.
According to National Geographic, Lovejoy was both National Geographic Explorer at Large and a longtime advisor to the Society. The Perpetual Planet Amazon Expedition is launched in his honor, the organizations say.
The new effort builds on the 2019 Rolex and National Geographic project that created the Tropical Forest Vulnerability Index. That project found that each rainforest reacts differently to various stressors, which means a diverse range of solutions are necessary, according to National Geographic.
Rolex has had an altruism focus since its beginning in 1945 when Hans Wilsdorf established The Hans Wilsdorf Foundation. The Foundation owns and controls Rolex, the most sought-after luxury watch brand in the world, and donates much of its income to charity and social causes.
The 2022 Perpetual Planet Amazon Expedition will include a series of research studies across the entirety of the Basin, which stretches more than 2.896 million square miles from the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean. The Project says it will leverage local National Geographic Explorers, multiple science disciplines, storytellers, local community members, and photojournalism to relay its findings.
“The Amazon is one of the most complex and essential environments in the world and it is increasingly at risk of losing its most valuable resource: water,” National Geographic Explorer and Rolex Laureate João Campos-Silva said in a statement.
“It’s deeply important to respectfully explore this environment while partnering with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) so that we can have a holistic understanding of what those communities need and the steps we can all take to better protect the Amazon.”
The 2022 Perpetual Planet Amazon Expedition
Campos-Silva along with Andressa Scabin are investigating the habitat and migratory conditions for aquatic wildlife throughout the Amazon River Basin. This will also be the first-ever effort to develop a community-wide basin conservation model.
Other explorers on the project include Angelo Bernardino and Margaret Owuor, who will focus on mangroves at the mouth of the Amazon river, conducting the first-ever mapping assessment of the region’s ecosystem services.
The Andean bear will be tracked by Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya and Andy Whitworth, as the researchers aim to better understand the impact of deforestation and climate change on the animal. The Andean bear plays a critical role in the elevated rainforest region, also called the cloud forest.
Fernando Trujillo will assess mercury and other contaminants in the diets of pink river dolphins, as well as support local communities with fishing agreements and tree-planting efforts to help prevent run-off.
Deforestation’s impact as well as that of mining will be the focus for Hinsby Cadillo-Quiroz and Josh West alongside geologist Jennifer Angel Amaya. It’s the first carbon and mercury evaluation directly related to mining run-off.
A weather station near the peak of Nevado Ausangate will assess meteorological data from one of the highest forest points. Baker Perry and Tom Matthews will also assess black carbon and snow water to better understand the impact of climate change on the water tower and its effect on downstream ecosystems as well as Andean communities.
Thiago Silva is expected to study the forest’s ability to withstand flooding and how that impacts carbon sequestration capabilities of the forest. It will mark the first use of remote sensing to create 3D models of a flooded Amazon.
The efforts will be documented over the course of two years by Thomas P. Peschak, National Geographic Explorer and photographer, who will create the first-of-its-kind comprehensive visual documentation of the aquatic and wetland habitats of the Amazon rainforest.
“His storytelling will spotlight the threats and showcase the solutions, the science, and the communities working to secure the future of the Amazon,” National Geographic says.
The Amazon River Basin
The Amazon River Basin is home to more than 40 million people and more than 3 million known species of plants and animals. The region channels the largest volume of rainfall on the planet, flooding an area equivalent in size to 70 percent of the world’s countries, National Geographic says.
“The land, ocean, atmosphere, people and animals are all connected by its hydrological cycle and its natural ebb and flow affects nearly every living organism near it,” National Geographic says. “However, repeated and increased degradation such as deforestation, poaching, commercial agriculture, and climate change decreases the Amazon’s ability to adequately provide these critical ecosystem services for the planet.”
The Amazon rainforest has been under siege in recent years. In Brazil, home to the largest section of the forest, current President Jair Bonsonaro has relaxed regulations for industries including agriculture, mining, drilling, and logging, which has led to forest loss and increased carbon emissions. Recent data suggest that the Amazon is nearing a tipping point of losing forest status and becoming a delta. It’s now producing more emissions than it sequesters, researchers say.
There are signs of progress, though. In Ecuador, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Indigenous groups in February. Fourteen groups were awarded the right to governance over the future of the forest where they live, which makes up about 70 percent of the Ecuadorian Amazon. That decision-making power gives them the authority to reject drilling, logging, and other projects that have been degrading the forest.
Another recent ruling in Ecuador gives rights to wildlife, which includes the right to exist in their natural habitat. It’s expected to bring increased forest protections.
The Rolex-National Geographic project will work across countries in the region aiming to showcase the diversity and the “intricate connectivity of the entire system.”
“The combination of photojournalism, scientific fieldwork and partnering with local communities is critical to providing a holistic view of this wondrous environment. This will also highlight the effects of climate and environmental change, and the people that are doing something about it,” said Nicole Alexiev, Vice President of Science and Innovation at National Geographic Society.
”This Expedition underscores the importance of our longstanding partnership with Rolex, its Perpetual Planet initiative, and our joint goal of studying and exploring our planet’s life support systems and highlighting solutions to ensure their protection, restoration, and renewal.”