Educational Bridges: Understanding Conservation Dynamics in the Amazon through The Calha Norte Portal

Hannah Mabel Reardon (, McGill University, Canada

Calha Norte is the northernmost region of the Brazilian Amazon, and the largest mosaic of protected areas in the world, encompassing nearly 14 million hectares. Given the vastness of this area, government enforcement of parks and conservation zones can be poor, and scarce resources prevent authorities from providing much-needed support to the inhabitants of protected areas. This poster focuses on the Calha Norte Portal, a digital project that constitutes a personal initiative to encourage awareness of conservation efforts in the region. The portal is an educational tool intended to demonstrate the power of digital technologies for fostering greater transparency in conservation management. It also aims to provide a clearer understanding of the social, political, economic and historical dynamics which have shaped the challenges to protecting the Amazon forest today.

The data for the Calha Norte Portal was gathered during my work with the Social Policy department of the Amazonian Institute for Man and the Environment (Imazon), an environmental NGO based in Belém. In accordance with the department’s focus on communities in the Calha Norte region, I compiled information from various sources about the region’s history, cultural diversity, transportation networks, governing bodies, development indices, demographics, economic activities, protected area implementation, and accessibility. This data was then used to create the Calha Norte Portal, a website and blog with an interactive Google map of the municipal capitals and protected areas in the region. The Google Earth application allows the user to navigate through protected areas, indigenous territories, maroon communities, and municipalities. At a click, each area on the map displays a pop-up window with historical information, demographic statistics, economic and political data, photos, deforestation figures and an implementation index for protected areas. Furthermore, users can look back in time at satellite images from 1960 to the present and visualize patterns of deforestation, and urban sprawl over time.

Ex. 1&2: A bauxite mine in the Saraca-Taquera national park. Top, a satellite image of the mine in 1986, bottom, the same mine in 2017.

The project focuses mainly on political, economic, historical, cultural and social data for populations in protected areas and the surrounding municipalities. As an anthropologist, I am particularly interested in dispelling the myth of Amazonia as an uninhabited biological entity, and exposing the important historical dynamics which have shaped the Amazon region as it is today. Understanding the human forces which have pushed the economic development of the region is a crucial first step for conservation policy which can protect both human livelihoods and biodiversity, in line with current sustainable development benchmarks. I also hope to draw attention to the power of digital technologies for overcoming communication barriers between isolated regions and institutional bodies, a major issue in developing informed and tailored conservation policy.

My hope is that, in breaking down the collected data in a visual, interactive format, the uninitiated user will be able to play with the information and learn about the region in any way that suits their interests. The user’s guide and tutorials available on the portal offer a guided introduction, but the stand-alone map itself is meant to be played with, manipulated and explored, in ways that dismantle a traditional historical narrative. This poster presentation will elaborate on the features of the Calha Norte Portal and its contribution to greater awareness of regional conservation efforts. The overarching aim is to convey the importance of transparency in the institutionalization of protected areas and to encourage a more thorough understanding of the cultural fabric of the Northern Amazon region, so that research and conservation initiatives might be better tailored to the realities of local communities and their involvement in the protection of the natural resources upon which their livelihoods depend.

Ex.3: Calha Norte in Google Earth. The portal offers users the opportunity to navigate through the online version of the map, or the option to download Google Earth and the Calha Norte KMZ file, for a more complete user experience.

Appendix A

  1. Reardon, H. (2018). Calha Norte Portal. [Online]
    Available at: