No tropical area on earth is as vast and untouched as the Amazon Rainforest, and no other is home to so many and such a variety of animals and plants. The forest’s dimensions are colossal, as is the importance of its natural dynamics to all of our planet’s inhabitants. But the truth is that we know little about the wildlife of the Amazon.

Sheltered under the immense suspended carpet of the canopy and hidden in the shadows of the dense forest, much of the animal life in the Amazon passes unnoticed by satellite sensors and the attentive eyes of biologists and local residents. The fact is that to this day there is no effective method for observing wildlife in tropical forests on a large scale. This is about to change.

Now the Amazon Rainforest is the venue for a revolutionary remote monitoring system: Project Providence will ultimately create technology capable of monitoring the fauna of this vast and iconic biome.

In practice, Project Providence will spread modern equipment throughout the entire Amazon that is able to capture, identify and transmit images and sounds of the thousands of animals that live in the forest. This revolutionary equipment is the fruit of the providential union of five institutions: the Mamirauá Institute of Sustainable Development (Brazil), Amazonas Federal University (UFAM – Brazil), The Sense of Silence Foundation (Spain) and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (Australia), with financial support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (USA).

What we do 

Our mission is to create a system that will revolutionize the way the Amazon’s biodiversity is monitored. How do we achieve this?

After working for 12 years at the Mamirauá Institute of Sustainable Development in Tefé, Amazonas, the group led by biologist Emiliano Esterci Ramalho realized that the procedures used to register animals in the region were in check. The photographic traps only captured images of large-scale animals and, even so, with a limited number of registers.

Meanwhile the protocol for visual counting that is currently most utilized by researchers, known as line transecting, is painstaking and inefficient: it consists in opening up trails in the dense forest, walking them taking count of the animals viewed, as well as recording indirect indicators of their presence: footprints, feces and scratch marks, as well as the sounds emitted by animals.

The logistical difficulty is evident and, in the tropical forest, the vast majority of species have evolved to remain unseen, as is the case with the stealthy spotted jaguar. Project Providence’s pioneering and overall audacious approach is to develop an unprecedented module of remote transmission that will use cutting edge technology that will end the exclusionary nature of the Amazon’s biological inventories.

The images and sounds are recorded in high definition. At night, infrared devices allow creatures to be recorded in the middle of the dark forest. Audible signatures of animals and even insects are captured by microphones at frequencies that the human ear could never hear.

A computer installed in the module will catalog animals and insects, identifying them by their species in real time, and also registering the date and exact time of their passage.

Far reaching high technology

The Providence modules, which are currently in the test phase, are like an extension of our eyes and ears. Little will escape from their lenses and audio sensors. From the tapir, the largest terrestrial mammal in Brazil, to the small bird uirapuru on dry land, to the pink river dolphin and manatees that populate the rivers and lakes – though the gathering of aquatic recordings is limited to sound, since the module will remain out of the water, but with microphones to capture underwater audio. Not to mention the innumerable species that are remain unknown and which scientists hope to discover through the project.

The transference of data (in other words, recordings of animals and insects) will occur in real time through the internet, even in the most remote parts of the forest, where transmissions will take place via satellite. In places closer to the cities, the transmissions will be conducted by cellular networks (GSM) and Wi-Fi.

Intelligent and effective, the Providence module is moved by solar energy and also by powerful, long-life lithium batteries. The device is also capable of changing its system of information transmission in order to save energy. On rainy days, for example, the module will send the data collected in text form, being that large audio and video files consume much more energy.

The first phase of the project foresees the construction and testing of ten prototypes. The field tests will be conducted in the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reservation, located 600 kilometers west of Manaus, in the middle stretch of the Amazon River. The objective is to perfect the model and reduce the costs of construction. The initial stage of the project should be concluded in February of 2018.

The second phase of Providence consists in democratizing the information. The central idea is not to merely generate data, but to create an online communication platform that allows the general population, and not just scientists, to make use of these precious recordings. The compiled collection, whose interface will feature friendly, interactive language, will be shared with schools, universities, local communities, indigenous villages and the general public. Also in this second phase the implementation of a system of rehearsals will be planned for the different environments of the Amazon, including the flooded forests, dry land and mountainous regions.

Ultimately, Providence aims to propose, in the near future, the consolidation of a new system to monitor the Amazon’s biodiversity which can be replicated in the other important ecosystems on our planet.

Institutional Leaders

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