What shocked me most was the silence.
The return to the Pantanal in early December after the worst wave of fire ever reported was to find a discolored, lifeless land where parrots and macaws roared, alligators and capybaras plunged violently. subtle dance of the blue herons.
When I was brought to the Pantanal for the first time in 2014, the farmers talked about the great disaster of the Taquari. The huge river, which had already been sailed by the pioneers, had flooded its banks and permanently inundated much of the area, destroyed farms and created floodplain fields in a shallow lake with little life.
At that time, threats to the Pantanal came from the waters of the rivers, traces of archaic agriculture that did not know how to contain the alluvium of the sandy areas on the plateaus. The Taquari flood in the late 1990s was one of the country’s greatest environmental disasters. Outside the Pantanal nobody knew or cared about it.
I was asked to make a visual statement, a warning, a manifest. But the Pantanal revealed a different message: I wanted to be incredibly beautiful once again, spectacularly different from the pictures I already know.
It was as if I had heard his wish not only to show destruction, but to show Brazil what was silently lost and what has to survive.
In a poem, Carlos Drummond de Andrade described the Pantanal as the beginning of the first day of creation. With this picture of the primeval paradise or the immaculate land, I built my book “Pantanal” (Edições Sesc SP). It is a festival of nature that also includes records of liquid disasters and other threats to the biome.
In 2019, I took strong, impressive photos, including the one on the Taquari river bed, which dried up completely on its middle path in September of this year. The cover photo prevailed: a 30 km line of fire that advanced devastatingly and inexorably across the fields of Rio Negro State Park (MS).
The Pantanal burned with unconscious brigaders and astonished birds that flew in circles without leaving the burned area in disbelief and aimlessly.
But we never would have thought, neither I nor the farmers, scientists or environmentalists who have supported me in six years of work that the Pantanal 2020 would be the stage for an environmental disaster that could carbonize fauna and flora from large parts of the territory.
The book, which was supposed to be the record of a slow degradation process, became a desperate call for help for one of the most beautiful and biodiverse regions in the world.
I have just returned from the region. The entire area flooded by the Paraguay River at the foot of the Serra do Amolar is dry and its forest capons – or mountain ranges – are reduced to burned sticks. Old bays, diverse and vital water levels, are as dry as beaches or the Wadden Sea, while schools of Tuuiuiús and herons wallow in despair.
A region that amazed visitors, photographers and poets with an incredible harmony of water and forest, lagoons, Corixos and rivers, looks completely disfigured today.
The wind throws up soot clouds and gray-ocher-colored dust every day, which when whirling traumatizes children and worries mothers. At the height of the fires, the air there was breathless, frightening.
It is true that the Pantanal is slowly recovering and the green is already sprouting because it rained a little in October.
The Pantanal is fireproof. This time around, however, experts warn that the scale of the fires besides vegetation cleared an excessive number of animals and that it will be a long time before life is put together in any way.
It is illusory to believe that it is just a criminal act by some and an omission or lack of prevention and fire fighting. All of this has only helped catalyze a slow and seemingly unstoppable process of warming and drought in the region that is a reflection of global climate change.
Experts have warned us for decades that something very serious is happening on the planet. The Pantanal is just a more fragile and sensitive region to these changes triggered by the Anthropocene (geological era marked by the effects of human activity).
The Pantanal won’t cease to exist or be beautiful and welcome visitors, but it does serve a vigilant mission. This fascinating region, which I learned to love when I met it, presents itself as a victim and urgent testimony to a fate that awaits everyone when we do not know how to change.
As the American chief Seattle (1786-1866) said in 1855: “Everything that hurts the earth hurts the children of the earth”.