Joäo Campos-Silva Is Saving The Amazon, One Fish At A Time

Rolex Laureate João Campos-Silva Is Saving The Amazon, One Fish At A Time

Rolex's Perpetual Earth comes to life in Brazil, protecting an endangered fish.

By Hyla Bauer
Contributor & Special Projects

Rolex has been awarding outstanding environmentalists and explorers since 1976, the 50th anniversary of the iconic Rolex Oyster Chronometer. Grants from Rolex have enabled the winners of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise to advance their research, climb Mount Everest, and save endangered species, to name a few. The five 2019 Rolex Awards for Enterprise laureates were chosen by a team of independent experts from a field of 957 entrants. In addition to a grant, the five laureates will receive a Rolex watch. 

Making the World a Better Place

A total of 10 finalists were nominated for the final stage of the selection process. Each candidate presented his or her project during the National Geographic Explorers Festival last month in Washington, DC. Brazilian ecologist laureate Joäo Campos-Silva was awarded with a grant for his work in the Amazon, preserving its largest fish, the arapaima

The grant will help him to extend the reach of his program, with extra resources to educate people, creating a culture that can perpetuate. But his work has had a tremendously significant impact for local communities and other endangered species.

The Importance of the Arapaima

After he finished his master’s degree, Campos-Silva planned to work with birds, but “then I went to the Brazilian government to work in protected areas, and I was introduced to the arapaima,” and he hasn’t looked back since. “Since pre-Columbian times, [Brazilian] people have been eating the arapaima,” Campos-Silva says. The fish can weigh up to 400 pounds, and grow to 10 feet in length. At this size, it’s easy to see why the arapaima is such an important food source.

In addition to its prominence as a food source, "many of the indigenous families believe that people evolved from the arapaima," says Campos-Silva. This may be in part because the fish breathes air. "It's really interesting and very important in the Amazon."

Due to commercial overfishing over the last century, the arapaima's population has declined steadily. "The fish became almost extinct in many places," says Campos-Silva. "It used to be very hard to convince people to protect the environment, but they now can see a clear benefit from protecting [it]. Because they see other communities flourish, they become engaged."

Building Community Support

“The biggest challenge that we have is to show local communities that they have social rights. In the past, many people worked in the rubber tree industry, they lived in almost slavery conditions,” says Campos-Silva. “So they don’t know that they have rights, that they can grow and harvest for themselves. Through this fish, we can work with other issues, like human rights. Working with the arapaima is a way to work with other human issues and human needs."

Expanded Impact

In saving the future of the Amazon’s largest fish, Campos-Silva has extended the environmental benefit beyond the survival of the arapaima. The local populations that survive in part due to eating the aquatic creatures are now being educated to think long-term about the fish. Newly-designated no-fish zones provide a safe place for the fish to breed and their young to hatch. 

How it Works

More and more, local citizens are taking charge of the arapaima's protection. "We have hundreds of lakes in the region. We've built wooden guardhouses in the entrances to lakes where the arapaima live, protected by full-time patrols. The lakes work like a bank account. The fish has a very high value, so protected lakes are like social security for the communities." These lakes, in turn, are "like islands of protected biodiversity, there are giant turtles, manatees, and many other animals that have been overexploited," that can now live there safely.

The Future Is Bright

“When you protect the environment, nature can take over,” says Campos-Silva. That’s something we should all take to heart. While wearing our Rolexes, of course. 

(Images provided by Rolex)

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