Ilha do Amor

Ilha do Amor

The Ilha do Amor and the Beaches of Alter do Chão

Project Status: We planted our first trees here in February 2022 (a small trial of ten trees). We are now planning for a much larger planting event, which will occur in early December 2022.

As indicated in our Mission Statement, one of ACRAA’s objectives is to assist the local indigenous Borari community in the management and restoration of the popular tourist beaches around Alter do Chão (this community having responsibility for these areas) – beaches that are of immense importance to this community and the local economy.

The most famous of these beaches, and the showcase of the entire Santarém region, is the Ilha do Amor – the Island of Love. How famous? – See 2009 Guardian aticle here.

The Ilha do Amor is not an island but a peninsula of sand, with the Tapajós river on one side and Lago Verde (Green Lake) on the other. As throughout the Amazon, there is a large annual fluctuation in the river level here. As a result, during the period of lower water levels (September to December), which also corresponds with the dry season, large expanses of sandy beaches are present. However, when the water level is high (late February-May), during the rainy season, much of this peninsula is submerged. Photos 1 and 2 show this variability. See links to photo sources below (other than ACRAA photos). 

Access to the Ilha do Amor is provided by a flotilla of small canoes, a short five-minute crossing that adds greatly to the romanticism of this magical place (Photo 3). Once there you can dine at one of the “barracas,” these being small thatched-roof restaurants specializing in locally caught grilled fish, and of course cold beer.

Each of these barracas is owned and operated by a family of the indigenous Borari community in Alter do Chão. The first barraca, and the one nearest to the end of the peninsula, was built by Neca Borari – who is now the Chief of this community. This group of restaurant owners has formed an association, The Association of Barraqueiros – with Evandro da Silva Ferreira the current president.

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Photo 3: Canoes crossing to the Ilha do Amor.

Sandy beaches surround Alter do Chão and much of the shoreline along the Tapajós river here, these derived from the ancient and deep sand deposits in the region. These shoreline areas form a unique biological zone –trees that live here must be adapted to survive weeks or months of inundation each year (we refer to this area as the “Inundation Zone”).

On the Ilha do Amor there are a variety of native tree species growing. We will highlight one of these, a species known locally as Comandá. This species is one of the most common in the Inundation Zone and is seen in the lowest elevation areas where trees are able to grow. This tree is also within the Leguminosae family and therefore able to fix atmospheric nitrogen, this important in these nutrient poor sands.

The seed of Comandá matures in February/March, at which time the pods dry and split open dropping their seeds onto the beach, or often directly into the water – as the river level is rising rapidly during this period. The large disk-shaped seeds float well, this clearly a dispersion strategy for this species. Photos 4 to 7.

Note that Comandá is the first tree species that we succeeded in propagating, although now we have others (see nursery section). The seedlings that resulted are also the first we planted on the Ilha do Amor, this in February of 2022.

See photos and a video from this first planting event here.

Although still spectacularly beautiful, environmental degradation is occuring on the Ilha do Amor. This is in two main forms – 1) A gradual loss of tree cover, and 2) Erosion/loss of sand, mostly from higher areas nearer to the end of the peninsular, leaving tree roots exposed and resulting in trees toppling over. These problems are of course interconnected, tree roots playing an important role in stabilizing the peninsula.  As a reference, Photos 8 and 9 show the peninsula 80 years ago, and today.

Loss of tree cover on the Ilha do Amor

The Ilha do Amor is gradually losing it’s cover of trees (Photos 10 to 15). This is not surprizing given the very heavy tourist use here, preventing natural regeneration of young trees from occurring. At the extreme, before the pandemic, up to 100,000 visitors came here during a one-week period each year  – for the 300-year-old Festival do Sairé. See here.

A number of the barraca owners, along with the Association of Barraqueiros, have been planting trees on the Ilha do Amor over the years to improve the situation (some as recently as January 2022). In many cases the species planted are ones native to the peninsula, but in other cases not. Also, as noted above, ACRAA too, working with Neca Borari, planted our first Comandá here in February 2022.

However more needs to be done in an integrated and coordinated approach. It is ACRAA’s goal to work with the Borari community and the Association of Barraqueiros, along with local government officials and environmental professionals – and providing our planting stock – to affect a thorough restoration of tree cover on the Ilha do Amor using only the peninsula’s existing native species [1][2].

[1] All the planting stock produced by ACRAA to restore tree cover on the Ilha do Amor and other beaches around Alter do Chão are grown from seeds of native tree species in the “Inundation Zone” of these and other nearby beaches.

[2] Note that we are making plans to plant a larger number of large Comandá (30 to 40) on the Ilha do Amor later in 2022, when water levels have receded – although financial support will be required to realize this goal.

Erosion/Loss of Sand

Residents of Alter do Chão old enough to remember recount as children how, many years ago, they could “roll down” the sandy slopes on the Ilha do Amor [3]. However, years of increasingly heavy tourist use have take their toll on the peninsula in the form of erosion of sand from some areas [4] – including in some places, as evidenced by the exposed roots of older trees, a meter of more of sand having been lost. If this trend continues, and it probably will without some intervention, and combined with the loss of tree cover – one can only imagine where the peninsula will be in a few years – likely on its way to being lost. Photos 16 to 19.

Therefore there is a strong need for a planning process to commence immediately, one that first calls attention to this problem among local officials and the entire Alter do Chão community (people working on the Ilha already recognize this problem) – and then assembles a team (that includes environmental engineers), to produce a plan to reverse this trend. We see two possible solutions – 1) lift the sand back up from lower elevations to higher elevations on the peninsula, and/or 2) bring/barge in sand from another location. One of the first steps should be the production of a detailed topographical map of the area. Also, any treatment to replenish sand should be combined with intensive tree planting.

But for ACRAA to continue developing and carrying out this and other projects, we need your contribution. Click on the “Donate” link above and collaborate with ACRAA, any value will be important to our continued work in defense of the Amazon Forest and the peoples that live there. Thank you!

[3] This recounted by an elderly Alter do Chão resident at one of our planting events.

[4] This erosion is especially, but not only, in areas nearer to the end of the peninsula. Continued heavy foot traffic is seen as the main reason for the loss/subsidence of sand in these areas, although a complex combination of natural and other anthropogenic factors may be contributing.