Lençois Maranhenses

The rainy season brings winds of change.

By Ephemera documentary

Angelo Chiacchio

Lençois Maranhenses (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The Lençóis Maranhenses is a protected area in northeastern Brazil.  For most of the year, it exists as a network of large and discrete sand dunes. The rainy season fills its valleys with water and unique freshwater lagoons find their place next to the white sand. 


The locals have long worked as fishermen and farmers. An emerging tourism industry has gained a foothold, bringing forth unexpected change and opportunity. But things will never be the same if climate change alters the water and sands of the “bedsheet of Maranhano.” 

Aerial view of Santo Amaro (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

In August 2018, photographer Angelo Chiacchio - in his journey to the world's most fragile places and cultures - crossed the wet desert from Santo Amaro to Atins.

People of Santo Amaro (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

It’s a typically calm afternoon.  The villagers of Santo Amaro take advantage of the Rio Grande, which is at its fullest just after the rainy season. 

Santo Amaro (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Santo Amaro’s low and sandy land occasionally floods during periods of heavy showers. 

Cows in Lençois Maranhenses (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Walk east and you are suddenly in a desert. Thousands of years ago, strong winds blew in from the  Atlantic Ocean, creating these big sand dunes.

Flight Of Guaras (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

A flock of guaras flies in search of fresh water and some soft mud in which to catch a meal. 

Aerial view of Lençois Maranhenses (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The Lençois Maranhenses is far from an ordinary desert. During the first six months of the year, rain pours into the valleys amongst the dunes. 

At the edge of the lagoon (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Lençois Maranhenses at sunset (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

In early July, the lagoons appear.  At their fullest, the lagoons become interconnected when nearby rivers, such as the Rio Negro, cut through the dunes.

Dawn in Lençois Maranhenses (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Fish now find a route into the lagoons, where they feed on the larvae of insects buried in the sand and smaller fish. The wolffish spends the dry season laying dormant in the mud until the rains come.

Fisherman in Lençois Maranhenses (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Those who live on the dunes provide for their families by catching fish.

Sunset over Baixa grande (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

There are two small municipalities situated amongst the dunes.  Neither has more than ninety residents.

Aerial view of Baixa grande (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Soundscape in Baixa Grande
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One is called Baixa Grande. It is home to a few local families.

Local couple in Baixa Grande (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Maria and Manu were born and raised in Baixa Grande. Today they are married and have transformed part of their palm-roofed house into a dormitorio in order to welcome the ever-increasing number of foreign tourists. 

Portrait of fisherman (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Manu used to be a fisherman and a farmer. Today, his main occupation is guiding tours of the dunes. He has seen an increase in income, which has improved his family’s prospects in Baixa Grande. 

Tousim in Atins (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

A highway was constructed in 2002 between the capital of Maranhão, São Luís and the city of Barreirinhas, providing a main entry point into the Lençois Maranhenses National Park. Since then, tourism has increased to more than 60,000 park visitors annually.

Aerial view of Lençois Maranhenses (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The small coastal town of Atins sits on the eastern border of the Lençois, where sand meets saltwater.  It has been transformed into a popular tourist destination.

Progress in Lençois Maranhenses (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Huge windmills now dominate the landscape on the other side of the river facing Atins, foreshadowing yet more growth and change. The same winds that formed the valleys are now harnessed to generate energy for its future.

Aerial view of Lençois Maranhenses (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Conclusion


Lençois Maranhenses is one of the most fascinating and unique landscapes on Earth, sculpted by sand, rain and wind. An increase in economic activity brought on by a developing tourism industry has transformed the lives of the locals and placed demands on natural resources. Will sustainable development preserve this special place or will the demands of growth and the impacts of climate change forever alter the Lençois Maranhenses?


Terra by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Partnership by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

This story was created with the support of Art Works for Change, a nonprofit organization that creates contemporary art exhibitions and storytelling projects to address critical social and environmental issues.

Credits: Story

Written, shot and produced by Angelo Chiacchio
Copy editing: Al Grumet, Rajesh Fotedar

With the support of: Google Arts & Culture, Art Works for Change

Thanks to: Maria Loza (Paraiso dos Lençóis), Pousada Tia Rita, CN Turismo,  Ligia Vanessa Botao Saraiva

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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