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José Márcio AyresAn Amazonian legacy

Published in 2002Time to read: 0min 53s

The late José Márcio Ayres devoted his life to the challenge of combining protection of the Amazon forests with improving the living conditions of its indigenous people.


Despite the Mamirauá ecological station’s protected status in the heart of the Amazonian rainforest, illegal deforestation and intensive fishing were exhausting its resources. In 1996, Brazilian José Márcio Ayres, a specialist in the ecology of tropical forests, stepped in and established a 2,600 km² sustainable development reserve, the first of its kind in South America.

Thousands of people are benefiting today from the dream of one man who gave himself the means of making it come true.

Before he died in 2003, Ayres had campaigned for more than 15 years for conservation methods that encouraged local people to remain in their Amazon homelands rather than seek work in Brazil’s big cities. He helped them earn a living by managing the natural resources of the region through ecotourism and other programmes. This tour de force earned Ayres a Rolex Award, enabling him to extend the Mamirauá project to the adjacent Amanã Reserve, creating the most extensive protected corridor of tropical rainforest in the world.

Since his death at 49, a dedicated team has kept alive his passionate commitment. They work on a continuing basis with inhabitants of the reserves to preserve this precious environment. Today, his sustainable development model is gaining ground in Brazil, where it has been adopted by nine other reserves. It has also spread into neighbouring Argentina and Guyana, and as far afield as Tanzania in East Africa.

  • 57,000 km²

    Extent of the world’s most extensive tropical rainforest corridor protected by Ayres’s team

  • 12,500

    Inhabitants of the two reserves who are helping preserve the exceptional rainforest habitat

  • 150

    Researchers living at Mamirauá devoted to studying and monitoring the reserve’s biodiversity


Rolex Awards for Enterprise

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