Earthwatch in Brazil
Earthwatch in Brazil
Byron Chard's three part blog series highlights his experience as a 2012 Earthwatch Ambassador in Brazil.
I finally arrived in Brazil after 25 hours of various flights from Vancouver to Curitiba. I easily found three other Ernst & Young volunteers in the Sao Paulo airport during my layover, as they were the only people in the airport speaking English. We spent our first night in the town of Curitiba before heading to the farm to start our volunteer work. We went out for a traditional Brazilian meal with the entire volunteer team and Earthwatch researchers. At the beginning of the meal, we were told we were going to try different types of soups. After three kinds of soup, we were all starting to get full. We soon learned that we still had three more soups to go. Needless to say, by the end of the meal we were all stuffed! We finished our dinner with a traditional dessert called brigadeira. It is literally a bowl of melted chocolate, butter and condensed milk. It was amazing, but I am confused about how Brazilians are in such good shape.
We woke up early to head to the Guyra farm to begin our expedition. It was a three-hour drive from Curitiba to the Guaraquecaba region, half of which was on a very rough road. We were welcomed with a very large lunch, and met the rest of the research team associated with Earthwatch. After lunch, we learned about the schedule and rules for the week. One of the rules is to watch out for poisonous snakes, scorpions and spiders. However, if we see African snails (about 12 times the size of snails at home) we are supposed to kill them, since they are not indigenous to this area. The snails were originally brought over to Brazil to produce escargot, but after realizing that they are poisonous, farmers released them into the wild. There was a continued trend of learning about dangerous animals that inhabit the rainforest around the farm which we will be exploring. I will be on the lookout for pumas (the mountain cat, not the brand of shoes) while out in the forest! The region around the farm is in a federally protected ecosystem, which allows the researchers to receive various grants from the government to conduct their work in preserving the rainforest.
We later met with a founder of the ecotourism company, Cooperguara, to learn about its business operations, the basis of our skill-based project. This cooperative comprises different business owners in the Guaraquecaba region, and offers one- to three-day ecotours incorporating the business owners’ different services. The members’ businesses range from bed and breakfasts, to a bee farm, to restaurant establishments, among others. Their goal of working together is to help promote each others’ businesses and to share fixed marketing and insurance costs. Cooperguara is currently having difficulty with cash flow, as its biggest source of funding has come from grants, which recently have run out. We need to access the revenue sources for this tourism company, helping Cooperguara with its marketing plan to attract tourists to the small town of Guaraquecaba. We are very lucky to have two team members who speak Portuguese and are able to translate for us. Although I wonder at times if they are just making fun of us when they speak to each other!
Today was focused on preparing for our environmental research efforts in the rainforest. The purpose of the research efforts is to track which mammals inhabit the area. We walked two trails, one 2km and the other 8km. The trails were very muddy and wet, so tall rainboots were critical. We all received a reality check when we asked our leaders why they carry machetes. While we initially thought they were to potentially defend our group from animals, we learned that the machetes were mainly for protection if we encountered ill-intending hunters or poachers in the forest. We set up cameras along the trails to capture photos of nocturnal mammals that roam the forest floors. We were also on the lookout for animal tracks, and made plaster moulds of some of the different tracks we found.
We had a very interesting night, as the power in our cabin went out for most of the evening. Since it’s winter down here, it has been cold in the evenings, so we hung out in the living room of our cabin with blankets, brainstorming solutions for the Cooperguara ecotourism company by flashlight. You can visit the website of the ecotourism company at http://visiteguaraquecaba.com.br/.
I woke up to a surprise in the washroom! I was shocked to see a frog taking a bath. I decided it would be better for all parties involved if I used the other washroom and left the frog alone. We headed out on a two-hour drive along a very bumpy road to the town of Guaraquecaba. Guaraquecaba is a quaint coastal town at the edge of Brazil’s largest rainforest, offering a rustic Brazilian experience. The town has a limited number of B&Bs and a town centre where small boats depart for the surrounding islands and fishing trips. Our mission of the trip was to gain the perspectives of local members of the cooperative on how they can increase revenue and drive more tourists to the area. As part of the tour, we visited the Salto Moranto Natural Reserve, home to a 100-foot waterfall and many creatures. We came across a coral snake, which is beautifully marked and very poisonous. We finished the tour at a restaurant that is a member of Cooperguara, where we enjoyed a delicious meal featuring local food, sourced from the surrounding land and ocean. Today we were able to conduct qualitative research and gain a better understanding for our ecotour consulting project. It was awesome to see the tourism offerings of the rainforest that we are conducting our research in.
Today was our first morning collecting research data in the rainforest. A team of six of us hiked into a specific plot set out by the scientists. We measured the width and height of all the trees in the plot, as well as the density of vegetation on the forest floor and forest canopy. It was a warm day, but we wore long-sleeved shirts and pants due to the abundance of insects. I wanted to take off my long-sleeved shirt, but the constant buzzing of thirsty mosquitoes and the clouds of cobwebs reminded me to stay covered up. The researchers we are working with are conducting this testing in many different areas in the rainforest. They are also collecting data on mammal inhabitation, which I will help with tomorrow. The data will be used to identify habitats where mammals are abundant, and will then be used to support added environmental protection from the Brazilian government. Currently, my observation is that the mammals are better at watching me than I am at watching them.
In the afternoon, we started our analysis for the ecotourism company. We will be presenting our recommendations on Friday to a founder of the cooperative. The interesting aspect to the project is the dynamic interaction between all of our team members in the development of a solution and implementation strategy. We are all at similar seniority levels at Ernst & Young and were all selected to be on this expedition based on our specific skills. However, the cultural difference between team members is very obvious. Some individuals were very strongly opinionated, while others worked independently to create a solution. By the end of the day, we had come up with a rough outline of potential solutions that could aid in the growth of this small company.
The alarm went off at 5:45 a.m. this morning, which felt very early. We had a quick breakfast of cake, similar to every other morning, and as soon as the sun began to rise, we headed out to begin our search for mammals. My small team was looking for foot prints, signals or noises of mammals. We were able to hear howler monkeys, which sounded very familiar to my stomach growling when I get hungry. We were unable to locate any of the monkeys but it sounded as if we were surrounded by them. In the afternoon, I headed into the town of Antonina in an attempt to get internet to make a blog post. The town is very beautiful. It is located on the ocean surrounded by large, lush mountains.
This afternoon, we were able to complete the slides for our presentation. Our solution was threefold: optimize cash flow, expand sales and marketing, and improve internal controls. We want to decrease the company’s costs by bundling services that the owner is currently paying for separately. We have suggested to increase sales by optimizing search engine searches, staying in contact with existing customers and contacting universities for class tours to this unique location. In order to improve internal controls we have instructed the owner to maintain documentation and records and to create a budget and update it regularly. We would like the owner to present the financials of the company to the members of the cooperative in order to remain accountable. It is our hope that with these ideas and our unique implementation plan we suggested, that the cooperative grows to be a sustainable and profitable business.
After another early alarm, I was on the hunt for more mammals. We were very lucky this morning to find a footprint of a Leopardus Pardalis, which is a smaller version of a jaguar. We knew that the Leopardus had moved on from the area where we located the footprints as there were a large amount of mammals making sounds around us that were very loud. When a cat is in the forest, the researchers told us the rest of the animals will go quiet and the forest will appear to be empty.
We finished our long walk of the rainforest by picking up the cameras that we had set on our first day. On the cameras, we were able to capture a picture of a Cerdocyon Thous, which is a crab-eating fox, and a Leopardus Tigrinus, a small wild cat. The two photographs we captured are attached below. (Credit to the: Project Conserving Brazil’s Atlantic Forest – Earthwatch Institute). In the photo of the small cat, you can see that it was running, from the position of the tail, and that the camera was unable to take a photo of the head as it was moving too fast. We finished off our final day by presenting our solution and implementation plan to Cooperguara. Our two team members from Brazil presented the proposed ideas in Portuguese in order to reduce the amount of translation required between the representatives from Cooperaguara and ourselves. The presentation was very well received. It was interesting as our simple ideas were the most well-received. I am excited to hear how the Cooperaguara ecotourism company grows and to see which of our ideas they follow through with.
We finished our day with a traditional Brazilian barbeque. It consisted of meat, meat and more meat. It was absolutely delicious!
We concluded the week with a presentation on how our field work aided to the overall project in sustaining the Atlantic Rainforest. It was a great re-cap to the week. At the beginning of the week, I was unsure how measuring trees and looking for mammals over the duration of only a couple of days would truly help this research project. However, we realized in this final presentation, we were able to locate eight of the 32 species of mammals that roam the Atlantic Rainforest. Some of these mammals are very hard to discover, especially the wild cats. We measured more than 1,000 trees, which aided in the researchers hypothesis that the more lush areas of the forest are more conducive to a higher variety of mammals.
Our morning ended as we said goodbye to the team and made our way to the airport where we all parted ways, satisfied with the job we did. After many early mornings, lots of cake and creating some amazing friendships with those from all over the world, the week had come to a bittersweet end.