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Home » Satellite imagery offers new insight into isolated Amazon communities

Satellite imagery offers new insight into isolated Amazon communities

A long list of dangers threatens some indigenous communities that remain isolated. Settlers and industry workers often take tribal lands for mining, logging, drug trafficking, or hydrocarbon extraction,

which harms environmental groups and bring them into conflict with armed settlers. Careless invasion by outsiders can also bring disease to isolated groups that lack immunity.

How locate and maintaining separators in settlements is an important step in protecting communities from settler advances and even government-sanctioned development.

But often this involves direct contact or aerial surveys with low-flying planes, which surveys cost thousands of dollars per flight and cause undue stress for the people being surveyed. A series of aerial footage shows villagers firing arrows or fleeing into the forest.

In recent years, however, scientists have begun to exploit high-resolution satellite imagery to collect data on the location, population, and configuration of isolated communities.

Surveys using these images can cost as little as $10 per square kilometer and they provide higher quality, more systematic data than aerial surveys.

A study in the journal Royal Society Open Science uses images purchased from the high-resolution image database and mapping software, ArcGIS, to locate and measure villages, gardens, and homes in five isolated communities near the border between Brazil and Peru.

The west portion of site H was monitored during the study. From 2012 to 2013 this place showed an increase in the slash and burn of the fields that are designated by arrows, as well as the expansion of two large deforested areas in the center. In 14 months, the changes totaled 16 hectares of felling.

The study used news tips from Brazil’s indigenous agency, Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI) to get an idea of ​​where communities were located before focusing all attention and eventually acquiring high-resolution imagery for areas.

The researchers were able to learn a lot about the communities by analyzing the satellite images. For example, satellite images of a village were visible in 2006, but they appeared abandoned and overgrown in the 2012 images.

In 2014, an overflight showed that the community had been moved to a nearby location. And using Funai’s population estimates, the team calculated that the surveyed communities had about two square meters of covered space and 11 hectares of land for each inhabitant, making their living space an order of magnitude denser than the vast majority. of the tribes in contact.

“As indigenous peoples enculturate, density decreases dramatically,” Robert Walker, an anthropologist at the University of Missouri who conducted the study, told “We want to find and quantify more isolated villages and compare them when contacting villages… and see how [both] move and change over time.”

The approach could also be used to monitor the effect of external threats such as deforestation on indigenous communities and movements. 

Satellite imagery has the potential to significantly enhance FUNAI’s existing strategies to protect isolated groups, such as overflights and forest law enforcement at stations remote from military posts, the researchers wrote. 

“We could be much more vigilantly monitoring outside threats that encroach at a lower cost by utilizing a remote surveillance program that alerts a mobile team to help stop specific encroachments within protected Indigenous lands,” Walker said.

Satellite tracking did not identify individuals or faces and involved spatial analysis rather than direct interaction, alleviating concerns about privacy and consent, Walker said. 

However, he was careful not to reveal the exact location of communities in his article for fear that doing so “could facilitate harm to some people in these isolated villages”, he said.

According to the study, the main objective of this work is the security of isolated peoples and specifically “a longitudinal surveillance program across the Amazon that can facilitate enlightening decisions by policymakers to increase protection of isolated populations”.

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