From above, the Amazon River resembles a thick thread sewn into the land. Other rivers and tributaries join with it, forming a great moving tapestry of water that sustains and supports life across South America. Like threads, these rivers form connections between people and places. At the same time, they tell stories and carry memories, histories, sacred beliefs, culture and the traditions of those people and places.
Elizabeth Anderson doesn’t want to think about any river gone dry. The water no longer moving and flowing. The thread unraveled. The connection cut. The river dead. Especially not the Amazon River.
The FIU assistant professor of Earth and Environment and researcher in the Institute of Environment has long had a dream that’s both simple and complex — she wants the rivers in the Amazon to remain free-flowing and alive. The main focus of her research in this region has been on the critically important Andean headwaters where water, sediment and organic materials originate and flow downstream into the lowlands. Anderson refers to this area as the brain that controls much of the Amazon, and most importantly, keeps it alive.
This brain is having a difficult time, though, doing what it’s always done. Dams being built near the headwaters are disrupting the natural movement and flow of water and sediments, possibly even changing the channels and floodplains downstream. They also threaten migrating fish trying to reach important spawning areas upstream. The 33 million people who live in the Amazon basin rely on fish as a primary source of food and income. A loss of any species would be devastating.
“Changing the flow and connectivity of rivers means we’d lose the Amazon we know today,” Anderson said.