Shark Loves the Amazon | Wilson Center
6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Shark Loves the Amazon

On February 14, 2012, the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars hosted a film screening of the documentary Shark Loves the Amazon¸ featuring film producer Mark London. Based on the personal accounts of London in the region over the last thirty two years, the documentary focuses on the history of occupation of the Amazon started in the 1970s when the country was under a military regime and the challenges and opportunities to build a sustainable model that preserves the world’s last major rainforest and supports the livelihood of the inhabitants of the Brazilian Amazon.

The film is made from the perspective of the twenty one million people who call the Amazon their home. London takes viewers into a historical account of the Amazon rainforest as Earth’s last frontier, and describes how unplanned development paved the way for destructive cattle ranching and growing rates of deforestation, which just recently declined. The building of Brasilia, which became the country’s capital in 1960, and the military takeover of 1964 brought renowned attention to the Amazon and its two major cities, Manaus and Belem. The establishment of a duty-free zone in Manaus attracted new foreign and domestic investment. The development of highways opened access to remote areas of the Amazon. Not all big projects succeed in the Amazon. An example of failure highlighted by London’s documentary was the Jari project of the American billionaire Daniel K Ludwig, who lost $1 billion trying to develop tree plantation for cellulose production in the state of Amapá and was scaled down after being purchased by a consortium of Brazilian companies.

The Amazon has long been littered with human ambition and abject failure.” Examples of such failure were the rubber industry, which was overtaken by production in Asia, and failed investments in pulp manufacturing by entrepreneurs. The opening of the Amazon by the government allowed families, predominantly descendants of European immigrants from Southern states, to cultivate parcels of up to 200 hectares of land, but many failed to understand the elements. Cattle ranching quickly took over as the trade of choice, but was enormously destructive, inefficient and expensive. After documenting such failures, the film moves on to discuss the growing concern of conservation and the role of sustainability.

London features the work of the Fundação Amazonas Sustentável (FAS) and their project in the Juma River, that was conceived with a group of visiting Amazonas officials, including then governor Eduardo Braga, at his dining room table in Chevy Chase, Maryland. The Juma Sustainable Development Reserve Project encompasses 589,612.8 hectares in the municipality of Novo Aripuanã, in the Southeastern region of the Brazilian State of Amazonas (Figure 01). The reserve is located at 227.8 km Southern of the city of Manaus. It offers a powerful example of the synergy between sustainability and conservation. Families in the reserve sign a contract not to cut down the surrounding forest, and in return they will benefit from the civil society safety net that has been created on the basis of carbon credits for environmental services that are traded . Families also take part a local conditional cash transfer program called Bolsa Floresta¸ and are taught methods of sustainable economies. The FAS programs give incentives for people to preserve rather than destroy the rainforest.

Drafted by Michael Darden, Program Assistant, Brazil Institute,

Edited by Paulo Sotero, Director, Brazil Institute