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"Part app, part map" tracks Amazon forest loss

Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 6 Mar 2013 12:50 GMT
Author: Chelsea Diana
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By Chelsea Diana

As the endangered Amazon forest faces tougher challenges – deforestation, forest fires, and mining and oil drilling, among them – there must be a way to track the destruction. Gustavo Faleiros and his team of non-profits may have found a solution.

Aggregating statistical data and geographical information from South American governments, journalists and NGOs, the team – which includes O Eco, a Brazilian environmental news agency and Internews, a media non-profit - have created a mapping platform called InfoAmazonia.

Part app, part map, part news website, InfoAmazonia.org compiles spreadsheets with aggregated information to create interactive maps, documenting the Amazon’s changing landscape. Each map contains pins linking to news stories about the region aimed at improving knowledge about issues in the Amazon.

It is a new kind of journalism – a combination of data sharing and geojournalism that is “a good way of telling this story,” Faleiros, the project coordinator, said at a presentation of the software at the International Institute for Environment and Development.  

The website makes it easier to share stories with a “Submit” button (with linked URL) or upload a story of your own with the location. InfoAmazonia then inserts the information provided into a spreadsheet and uploads it to the map.

So far, the website has cataloged 500 stories from nine South American countries – all with corresponding pins - to create a visual narrative of the Amazon region. The majority of the submissions are from people living in South America, and a big part of the program is aimed at training citizen journalists with GPS and mobile devices to upload information about forest losses.

With financial support from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, Knight International and Development Seed, Infoamazonia.org aims to expand the website and create a distribution widget at the end of the month. The improvements should make it easier for citizen journalists to send in stories and for news websites to embed specific maps on their websites.

But, the concept may have some drawbacks. InfoAmazonia exercises no editorial control and features stories on their website in order of most recent. As the website grows and the number of stories expands, it may become harder to sort through the overload of information, the developers admitted. Further down the line, Faleiros said they might be interested in exercising more control.

Faleiros admits the map can make the Amazon basin forest look “quite doomed.” But the hope is that the information it provides can help influence policy to change that.

Chelsea Diana is an AlertNet Climate intern.

 

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