Satellites Aid Sustainable Land Use in Amazon

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"They had a few plants that grew like weeds that had market value," said Bishop. "We helped them come up with ways to help market them, rather than tear down forests."

Camu Camu is a medicinal plant from the rain forest that is rich in vitamin C. GIS technology allowed the scientists to input data describing the habitat best suited to the plant—everything from the type of soil in which it grows to the other plant and animal species in the area—to a computer program that combined the data with geographic information.

The result is a map showing where Camu Camu is most likely to be found in the rain forest surrounding Iquitos. Land-use planners have used the information to change an economy based on unsustainable logging to one based on ecotourism and the sustainable harvest of Camu Camu, a renewable resource.

Today, Camu Camu is successfully exported to sports beverage companies in the United States, said Mustalish.

Looking to the Future

Similar GIS conservation success stories are becoming more common in the Peruvian Amazon, but ACEER cautions that the region is far from protected.

"In part of the Amazon basin, the rate of deforestation is the same [as it was a decade ago] or even accelerating," said Mustalish.

"At the same time," he added, "what I've seen starting to emerge is development in the form of tourism as opposed to going in and clear-cutting or doing oil and gas exploration."

The National Geographic Society recently awarded ACEER a $300,000 grant to expand its research facilities and GIS applications to southern portions of Peru. The project will focus in part on developing a sustainable economy in the region of Manu National Park, a World Heritage Site established in 1987 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

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