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Project January 6, 2023

Taking a River’s Pulse



When the Juruna people in the Brazilian Amazon forest saw their sacred Xingu river drying up after the construction of the controversial mega-hydropower dam Belo Monte, in Pará, in 2015, they turned to science. In partnership with researchers, they have been monitoring the environmental impacts of the dam in the 130-kilometer stretch of the river close to where they live, called the Big Bend of Xingu. The water volume was reduced by up to 80% in this portion of the river, home to 63 endemic fish species, 26 of which were found only in this region.

The Juruna learned to measure impacts on fish and turtles species at the base of their food system, and scientists learned from their deep understanding of nature. Together, they have developed an alternative water management plan that would mimic the natural river’s annual flood pulse to minimize the effects of the reduced water flow on biodiversity.

This project tells the story of this collaboration to produce knowledge and protect the Amazon forest, and the challenges that it entices. It’s a timely and important topic: According to the U.N. Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, Indigenous knowledge should be used to help limit biodiversity loss. And the threats to the Amazon are growing: The Brazilian government has planned more than a hundred sites for future power plants and mining.



a yellow halftone illustration of a truck holding logs