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Brazil

Behind the science with Anita Diederichsen

Anita Diederichsen is a senior scientist for The Nature Conservancy’s Atlantic Forest and Central Savannas Conservation Program in Brazil. Anita is a Brazilian biologist and holds an MS in Environmental Science from the University of São Paulo.

Anita joined the Conservancy in 2002, initially working in the Brazil program and then in the Atlantic Forests and Central Savannas. Anita concentrates her efforts in the identification of priority areas to preserve as well as establishing measures over conservation progress. Anita has also helped the Conservancy establish partnerships with local governments and universities to help inform conservation projects.

Nature.org:

What do you love most about your job?

Anita:

I love being able to dedicate my time to something that I really value, which is nature. Ever since I visited a national park in the Brazilian savannas, when I was 15, I realized that there was a lot to learn about nature. During that same trip, I realized that I could keep on learning and contribute to nature conservation. That was when I decided to become a biologist.

When I was 17, I went from an 18-million-person city, São Paulo, to live for a year in a city of about 300 inhabitants and thousands of deer in Montana. While I was there, I went to visit Yellowstone, a park that has been so important to the conservation movement all around the world. I loved the experience of being s connected to nature in Montana so much that it further confirmed my decision to become a biologist.

When I started attending São Paulo State University, I kept visiting and exploring protected areas, sometimes for leisure, other times for summer jobs or courses. I had the chance to go to parks in South Africa, Thailand, Europe, the United States and all over Latin America. I saw the “arribada” of the olive ridley marine turtle nesting season, and the macaw and spider monkey reintroduction project in Costa Rica, where I worked for 3 months. I learned that achieving long term results for conservation wouldn´t be an easy task.

All these experiences prepared me to start working at the Conservancy 8 years ago. Since then, I´ve brought all this love that I have for nature into the work that I do. It is great to see that several of my colleagues, with a different backgrounds and histories, also found their place at the Conservancy, and can be so devoted to their love for nature. I see that I´m not alone!

During my free time, I also spend time outdoors as way to be close to nature. I love to scuba dive, I´m learning how to climb, and hiking is my number one activity when I feel the need to get to places where no internet and no mobile phones work.

Nature.org:

Where is your favorite site to work?

Anita:

Wow! The more I discover new places, the more I learn that I don’t have one favorite place in the world. To be sure about that, I need to visit even more places! Each time that I visit a new place, with its unique ecological process and landscapes, it makes, in comparison, all the others that I visited even more special. This realization makes our conservation work more challenging, because it is not up to us to really decide which one is more important than the other--our work is about trying to ensure long- term conservation of each of the word's landscapes.

I really wish that everybody could respect and enjoy nature as much as I do. But I´ve been learning that this is not the reality, and I need to understand that what is important to me is not necessarily important to others. I need to always keep this in mind, as here at the Conservancy, we work with a wide variety of partners—including some who haven’t traditionally been committed to conservation.

A big challenge for me is that even though I respect nature, I still have a significant footprint. I have a car, I travel, I eat meat and fish, and I consume mass-produced goods. So, even though I’m a conservationist, I need to keep searching for a way to be a better world citizen.

Nature.org:

What's the newest, freshest approach you are bringing to your job?

Anita:

Lately I’ve been working with students from the 5th grade to increase their awareness about water quality and how a forest can help produce and protect the water we drink. I´m working with partners from a university and from themunicipality to run a water monitoring program with the local school.

The kids are taking samples of the water in different sites in the watershed where we have conservation and restoration activities. After that, they use an ecokit that allows them to measure water quality.

I´m having a lot of fun with this project, and it’s giving me the chance to learn more about the local reality in the area. These kids are going to be the region’s future landowners, ranchers and farmers—and how they treat the forests on their lands will either help produce clean water, or help degrade fresh water. So giving them the chance to understand the importance of forest maintenance for water quality and flow regulation now will help them make choices that benefit nature and the society that depends on the water that runs through their lands in the future. Hopefully, they will be the next generation of water guardians. We’re hoping to leverage this pilot project to other schools and to involve high school students, too.

Nature.org:

Have you ever feared for your life at work?

Anita:

No, not really. What sometimes scares me is whether all the work that we all are doing will ensure long term nature conservation. And when I get scared, I realize that we need to keep working, more and more, and I get back to my job with renewed energy.

Nature.org:

What do you do that might surprise us?

Anita:

I'm currently learning to rock climb. Well, this is surprising me, at least! At the beginning, I thought it would be impossible, but now I have been doing it for three years.

On December 31st of 2008, I went Brazil’s first national park, to Itatiaia National Park, established in 1937 in the state of Rio de Janeiro. There, we hiked and climbed the Agulhas Negras peak, which is 2791,55 meters high. To get up there was so hard that my friends and husband had to be very patient with me, especially when I balked and started crying. But in the end, we made it to the top. I was able to sign my name in the notebook at the top of the mountain.

When we got back, we were so exhausted that we ignored New Year's Eve, which is usually a big party for Brazilians, and went straight to bed, even though it was before midnight.

On the way back from Itatiaia to Curitiba, we stopped in São Paulo and I treated my friends to sushi in the Japanese neighborhood. This was something that I promised up there, during one of the moments when I had had to compromise.

Nature.org:

If you were stuck on an isolated preserve with one person, who would you want it be and why?

Anita:

Do I have to name a person? I think that having the chance to be isolated in a preserve is such a special and unique opportunity that I would love embrace the opportunity to be there alone, just nature and me. Every day, it is harder to get lucky enough to getstuck in an isolated preserve. I would love to have this happen to me.

Nature.org:

When was the last time something on the job brought you to tears?

Anita:

It was in a meeting with a donor in regards to the work that we are doing to restore the Atlantic Forest in Brazil. We presented our teams' achievements at the place where his donation is supporting trees being planted and the restoration of the forest. At the end of the meeting, we thanked him for his support and for making all of this possible. Then, he thanked us for our work, we replied saying thank you, and then he said thank you again. We could have gone on and on and on…

I realized that I have the chance to dedicate my life to do important things that others also consider very important. This is why they decide to support our work. But as much as I enjoy what I do, I really wanted to thank him for giving us this opportunity. On the other hand, he was grateful to see that we were doing what he expected from us. This is what we call a symbiosis!



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