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Naziano Filizola, teacher-researcher at the Federal University of the Amazonas and coordinator of Rios On-Line


Rios On Line: a project carried out by and for the people of the Amazon  


During IFGR’s journey to Brazil in April 2023, Sophie Gardette and Clémence Aubert met Naziano Filizola, a teacher-researcher at the Federal University of the Amazonas and coordinator of Rios On Line, a community project that fired their enthusiasm. Between participatory research and spreading awareness about the river, the goals of this project intersect with those of our association. We interviewed Mr Filizola live from Manaus, so he could tell us more.


Could you introduce yourself briefly?

Basically, I’m a geologist, but I currently work as a hydrologist. I have been studying the Amazonian rivers of Brazil and other countries for 28 years. I was born in Manaus and grew up in Brasilia. When I was little, I sailed on the rivers of the region with my father. I first worked for the Ministry of Mines and Energy in the National Electrical Energy Agency. I wrote my PhD thesis at the University of Toulouse with the Research and Development institute IRD after which I decided to return to Brazil.

I saw at the time that there was no one based in the Amazon region who focused on studying rivers.

I work with the H2A (Hydrosystem and Humans in Amazonia) group, which depends on the Federal University of the Amazonas and the National Council of Scientific Research. I’m the coordinator of the Rios On Line project on which four other professors of the university and five students are also working.

When was the Rios On Line created? What does it consist of?

The project was created in 2005, following an unprecedented drought. We had sensors that measured the water but they didn’t work. So, my colleagues at the university and I started to phone observers located next to the rivers so they could send us information. We then sent it to the Water Agency in Brasilia. That’s how the project began. It’s both a participatory and community project and one of scientific popularisation.

We started the river observation project using whatever came to hand.

However, we didn’t have the resources to set up a network; Internet didn’t work very well then. We found the solution in 2019, with the expansion of Internet in deepest Amazonia. We brought together observers, created a website, and opened an informal group on WhatsApp. The latter, which is technically less cumbersome, allows people to send us information in the securest way possible, whether it’s about the state of the rivers or deforestation, illegal gold prospection or another problem encountered on the river. It allows us to answer their questions to calm their worries relating to floods and droughts, for example.

Our network is not very big but it’s composed of people attached to the issue of rivers in Amazonia.

We started with a network of eight people in 2019 but now we have 32 observers. We also have an Instagram account with 680 followers who can also be contributors by sending photos and videos of the rivers. All the resources are made available to everyone to allow better understanding of what’s happening on the rivers. We share the information relating to the Amazon a well as the Rio Negro, the Rio Solimoes, the Rio Branco, the Rio Purus and the Rio Madeira. Thus, we document different places in the Amazon basin. We want to build a “fluvial” society, a mixture of academia and the community.

What are your projects and what do you need to carry them out?

We operate with very little money; it’s the participants who allow this project to exist. We sometimes organise exhibitions in small towns, in the street, a square, café or school, with the photos sent to us on Instagram. It’s an opportunity to dialogue with the local population. The aim is to put the river in the street. We take advantage to explain to people how to use the GPS on their telephone to collect and send us information when they are on the banks of the Amazon: it allows us to improve the forecasting model of river height changes. We also show them what river data are already available on the internet.

Regarding our funding, we’re discussing it with the local research funding agency in Manaus. The problem is that this agency only finances projects linked to the State of the Amazonas. However, we cover the region of the entire Amazon River, whether for other Brazilian states and even outside the country. We don’t have a very strong presence in Spanish speaking countries but we nonetheless have contacts in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. I hope we’ll soon be able to translate our website into Spanish. We also have a project to develop a smartphone app to facilitate exchanges of information.

The challenge for us is not to develop science: we already have a great deal of knowledge. In particular we benefit from the HYBAM observatory, a unique structure funded by the IRD, the National Institute of the Sciences of Universe (INSU) and the Midi-Pyrénées Observatory of Toulouse. This service carries out hydrological, sediment and geochemical measurements in the Amazonian rivers from the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean. What we lack is the political will to use science to develop the region. The community is aware that solutions are available but don’t know who to contact, or they don’t know how to explain the problems they observe.

The team of Rios On Line aims to make the link between the population and researchers to connect these two realities and develop a local public policy.

Our project is simple and small. We simply want to keep it alive and that the local populations and new generations make this initiative and the subject of rivers their own.



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