Amazon Field School’s leaders share importance of forest conservation

With the goal of increasing scientific knowledge in the Lower Mainland, Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) partnered with Telus World of Science to create the KPU-Science World Speaker Series. In the third year of this successful partnership, the speaker series started with a journey through the Amazon on July 25.

Based on their recent trip to Colombia’s Amazon rainforest, Dr. Farhad Dastur, a psychology instructor, and Lee Beavington, a biology instructor, led the audience through a sensory tour of their trip with the Amazon Field School. With the aid of numerous photographs and vivid details, the audience got a chance to experience a taste of what the students saw, heard and learnt.

As part of the 2017 Amazon Field School group, Faculty Leaders Beavington and Dastur took a group of 14 KPU students, whose backgrounds spanned the arts and sciences, on a two week trip to the Calanoa Natural Reserve located on the shores of the Amazon River, at the southern end of Colombia.

Offered at KPU since 2013, the Amazon Field School is a fourth year course co-hosted by the Faculties of Design and Arts. While the program is hosted by KPU, the general public is welcome to apply.

The course provides students with opportunities to develop skills in ecology, conservation, cultural awareness and community development. Students gain field, global and cultural experience while learning from local Indigenous guides. Additionally, with exposure to local research centres and institutions along with guest lectures by local instructors, students are exposed to a range of expressive modalities, including writing, music, fine arts and traditions of storytelling from the Amazon region.

The event at the World of Science started with a presentation by Beavington. He discussed the importance of reconnecting to nature, what it can teach us and highlights from the trip to the Amazon.

Beavington explained that we have become “a sheltered species” that no longer needs to “hunt, harvest or gather things.” Additionally, by seeing the world through a screen, “kids aged eight to 18 will spend on average seven hours per day on a screen-based device,” while time spent playing sports or unstructured play is on average seven minutes.

Spending time in nature can have numerous beneficial health effects and can include reduction of stress, increased happiness and better outcomes for patients staying in hospital and students writing tests.

Beavington went on to explain that the Amazon “is one of the last places on Earth where you can still hear the voice of the wild ... and the voice of the rain.”

He hammered home the importance of protecting the forests we still have.

“Trees make the clouds. So when you cut a tree down in the Amazon, you’re also cutting a piece of the cloud out of the sky,” he said.

During his presentation, Dastur explained the Amazon is a broad-leaf tropical rainforest that covers approximately 5.5 million square kilometres and exists within the larger Amazon Basin. This region spans nine South American countries, and is around the same land-area size to the contiguous 48 United States.

Representing over half of the world’s remaining rainforest, the Amazon is the most diverse ecosystem.

“I think of the Amazon as a pattern of forest, river and sky. A place that tells the fascinating story of life’s adaptations and co-evolutionary relationships. Of geological and climate change and of the diverse human cultures that call this place home,” said Dastur.

Dastur went on to explain that the Amazon has been described as Earth’s biggest pharmacy and the role that the Amazon has in “enriching our diet and providing health benefits.”

Today, the Amazon’s cultural and biological diversity are under threat from climate change, colonization, deforestation and industrial farming (to name a few), and is 20 percent smaller than it was 40 years ago.

“What would it mean if we lost the Amazon?” Dastur asked.

Since rainforests are a vital component of the Earth’s climate, it is no surprise that rainforest destruction and climate change interact with each other. This causes negative feedback loops resulting in greater forest destruction if we pass ecological and climatic thresholds.

“If Amazonian rainforests die,” said Dastur, “and are replaced with fire prone savanna, rainfall will decrease leading to even further loss … which could occur during this century.”  

Sadly, forests around the world, including those in our backyard, face similar threats. With clearcutting taking place in forests of the BC Interior, Brazil, the Congo basin and Indonesia, more work has to be done to protect our planet’s forests and the diverse life they hold.

“This place is a place of awe and heart-aching beauty. This is wilderness and surely preserving places of such wonder is as good a reason as any of why the Amazon matters,” Dastur concluded.