Doing research on the world’s biggest freshwater wetland: The Brazilian Pantanal

Christopher shares his insights gained during his research stay in Brazil.

Pantanal is Portuguese and means “swamp”. However, the Pantanal wetland of South America is much more than just a swamp – in fact it is a complex mosaic of different landscapes that are regularly flooded during several months every year. The two Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul hold the largest share of the Pantanal, which is more than double the size of Scotland.

The Pantanal is home to a large number of endangered species and it is especially well-known for being one of the best places in the world to see jaguars. Being a social scientist, I had little hope to meet the local wildlife though, when I set out for Mato Grosso as part of my PhD research on water values and water governance in the area. Most of my work involved interviewing researchers, policy makers and other professionals from the water sector in the air conditioned offices of Cuiabá, the capital of Mato Grosso.

As a matter of fact, I had spent almost two years reading about the Pantanal, written an MSc dissertation, and published a paper on it, before I was finally able to get to know this fascinating place. The paper, written together with Klaus Glenk and my other two PhD supervisors Antonio Ioris and Julia Martin-Ortega, evaluates the prospects for Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) to contribute to large-scale environmental protection in the Pantanal and was published in the Journal of Environment & Development. Click here to access the paper.

We analysed all factors that may influence the success of potential PES projects, ranging from climate change to traditional local culture and from economic development to environmental awareness among decision-makers and the general population. On the basis of these factors, we created four different scenarios that captured possible alternative futures for the Pantanal, and evaluated the chances for PES. While we found that PES may be a useful instrument at small project scales, we concluded that it is unlikely to have an impact on a large scale, making a difference for the Pantanal as a whole.

Having moved on to researching water values and water governance more generally now, it remains interesting to follow the larger trends around economic growth, urban development, and environmental conservation in the area. Mato Grosso is a state under construction, continuously re-inventing itself, and at the same time proud of its ecological treasures.

Eco-tourism may be one of the most promising strategies towards sustainable development, believes Douglas Trent, head of research at the environmental project “Bichos do Pantanal” (Pantanal Wildlife Program), where he is in charge of studying the Pantanal’s biodiversity and ecology. I joined Douglas for a 10 day research trip on the Paraguay River, doing interviews with local people from the tourism and fishing sectors – and: spotting two jaguars!

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Brazil boat

Special thanks go to Douglas Trent and the project “Bichos do Pantanal”, sponsored by Petrobras through its programme “Petrobras Socioambiental”, for the support provided.

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There is one response to “Doing research on the world’s biggest freshwater wetland: The Brazilian Pantanal”

  1. Douglas Trent Says:

    It was my great pleasure to have Christopher with me on one of my monthly 10 day research trips!


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