I first started working in South America 20 years ago. Without much outdoor experience, survival skills or even a passport, I made plans to explore the remote and virtually unexplored jungles of Guyana. Not only had I never left the U.S., I had never even been camping. Not even as a Girl Scout. While I didn’t know exactly what I would need in way of supplies, I knew that navigating through a green abyss on foot could not be easy. I also knew I had inherited my mother’s poor sense of direction. Twenty years ago, a journey like this meant a bunch of fold-out maps.
Trekking through the rain forest with a machete in one hand and a map in the other does not make for a leisurely hike. And accurately identifying boundaries? Almost impossible.
But a lot has changed since that time. I now have over a hundred expeditions under my belt, and in 2000 precision GPS navigation became widely available. We’re all familiar with GPS as a way to find our way around by car, but now even more innovative use of this technology is also changing the face of conservation.
Recently, I discovered the far-reaching impacts of GPS technology when I joined The Amazon Conservation Team (ACT). Founded 20 years ago, ACT has always aspired to be at the forefront of introducing and adapting innovation to conservation. ACT has long used GPS to map the traditional lands of local communities living in the Amazon region, focusing on land use, cultural cartography, and monitoring how that land is managed.
Among concrete results, the initiative has yielded comprehensive land-use maps for the Trio and Wayana indigenous communities and the six Maroon communities of Suriname. The maps are used with land-management plans to identify and monitor environmental pressures such as small-scale gold mining and pests threatening agricultural cultivation.
In Brazil, ACT worked with more than 20 indigenous groups to create land-use maps covering more than 44 million acres for tribal use in developing reserve management plans.
But now ACT is undertaking a significant upgrade to our field data collection efforts—and that of our community partners—by introducing Open Data Kit (ODK) smartphone and tablet data collection forms.
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