How Species Surveys Help People

Earlier this week, Trond Larsen described his experience participating in a Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) survey of southwestern Suriname. Today, CI-Suriname Executive Director Annette Tjon Sie Fat discusses what the RAP results will mean for Suriname’s people.

The 2010 Suriname Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) team — 53 scientists, students and indigenous Trio people working together to document biodiversity in the region. (© Piotr Naskrecki)

Whenever we at CI talk about our RAP surveys, we tend to focus on the amazing biological results of these assessments — and rightly so. However, this particular RAP in Suriname was not only unique because of the 1,300 exceptional species that were found, 46 of which are new to science. It was also special for the team at CI-Suriname for being the third and last in a series of training RAPs, which aimed to strengthen the capacity of Surinamese scientists and students to carry out biological field assessments.

Situated on the northeast coast of South America, Suriname is the greenest country on Earth, with more than 90 percent of its land area under forest cover. These forests harbor a wealth of biodiversity, protect some of the world’s most pristine freshwater sources, absorb carbon from the atmosphere and provide other benefits for people near and far.

Suriname’s population totals about half a million people, with nearly 80 percent living on the coast. There is currently very little capacity available in the country to conduct scientific field studies, and few professionals with high-level degrees and experience to provide training in the rapidly evolving environmental development areas of climate change, ecosystem service markets, biodiversity conservation and forest cover monitoring.

In our series of trainings, the first group of scientists and students was introduced to the RAP methodology during a week-long training at the Brownsberg Nature Park in June 2008, which is easily accessible by road from the capital of Paramaribo. The second, two-week survey in 2009 took the students to Raleighvallen in the Central Suriname Nature Reserve, an area that had been previously studied, but can be reached only by river or small airplane. The third and ‘real’ RAP paired each student with a scientist and took the team to a remote and rugged area in southwestern Suriname, where they joined a team of local indigenous people and had the opportunity to share knowledge and expertise. (See the RAP team at work in the video below.)

The expedition set out from Kwamalasamutu, a village of about 1,000 inhabitants near the Brazilian border. This community made up of members of eight indigenous groups — predominantly Trio — is physically isolated and the only transport connection is by small charter plane. The high cost of air transportation results in a limited supply and high prices for everything, including education and health supplies, and restricts the potential of the community to develop income-generating activities.

Several years ago, the village leaders of Kwamalasamutu declared an 18,000 hectare (44,500-acre) no-hunting area around a number of caves, where hundreds of petroglyphs were discovered in 2000. They called the area the Iwaana Saamu-Werehpai Sanctuary; CI-Suriname then helped the community to set up an ecotourism lodge in the sanctuary, and to develop rules and regulations for the use of the area.

Annette Tjon Sie Fat

This RAP survey indicated that the no-hunting rules the Trio developed are working — there is more wildlife inside the sanctuary than the surrounding areas. The RAP recommendations will be used to improve the original rules and regulations of the sanctuary — and help CI-Suriname and the local community to further develop ecotourism in this area for more adventurous tourists who enjoy trekking through the rainforest to explore the natural world.

Annette Tjon Sie Fat is the executive director of CI-Suriname.

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