Changing Planet

Islands of the Amazon

The Amazon is not typically a place one thinks of as insular, but the Parque Nacional de Anavilhanas in Brazil has over 400 islands in the Rio Negro. My visit to the national park coincided with the end of the dry season, when the river is at its lowest – up to a staggering 10 metres below its normal high level. This fluvial morphology creates the large number of islands which I was able to visit.

A violent storm approaches down the Amazon basin (Photo by James Russell)

Tagging along with an ICMBio base re-fuelling mission, not more than a few minutes in to our boat ride up river, a huge thunderstorm typical of the region descends up on us; the wind picks up, the thunder claps in the distance, and not longer after lightning and torrential rain bear down upon us. As it clears, we come upon the Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA) base, currently at the top of a very long set of stairs where it is protected on the drylands (land not seasonally flooded).

View from the ARPA base safe in the dry lands looking over the Rio Negro
View from the ARPA base safe in the dry lands looking over the Rio Negro (Photo by James Russell)

We share strong black coffee with the base camp team, who despite this isolation are still managing to watch via satellite and generator Brazil play Bolivia in the football. Out back I am introduced to Romeo and Juliet, a pair of one year old tapirs rescued from hunting in the forest and being rehabilitated before release. This pair are not yet the largest mammals in the Amazon (as my friend says they look more like all the best bits of other cute baby animals squished into one thing), but they will be given time.

A baby tapir rescued from hunters in the Parque Nacional de Anavilhanas, Brazil
A baby tapir rescued from hunters in the Parque Nacional de Anavilhanas, Brazil (Photo by James Russell)

We finish by taking a walk through the forest track out back, where there is more biodiversity (species richness) on one of these small river islands than on the entirety of some of the island archipelagos I work on. I struggle to even begin to comprehend the identification of all the species, but a few more thunderclaps in the distance makes it clear its time once again to return to the boat and our home base.

The staggeringly diverse Amazon forest
The staggeringly diverse Amazon forest (Photo by James Russell)

Read All Posts by James Russell

Conservation biologist Dr. James Russell works throughout the world on remote islands and other sites to provide conservation solutions by applying a combination of scientific methods. Follow James on National Geographic voices for regular updates on his own work or other exciting developments in island conservation.

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