Wake Forest University Receives $10 Million to Continue Rainforest Research

WINSTON-SALEM—Wake Forest University will be able to continue groundbreaking research in Peru's Amazon region, thanks to $10 million from non-profits and government funds.

The university's studies are already having an impact right here at home.

The Amazonian province of Madre de Dios in Peru is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world, but is threatened by a mining boom.

"In southeastern Peru, there's a big gold boom that's just like the one in California in the 1850s and 1860s,” explained Miles Silman, who is a biology professor at Wake Forest.

Because of that, three out of four people in the area have mercury levels above maximum health limits.

Silman, along with Michelle Klosterman, help Lead Wake Forest University’s Centro de Innovación Científica Amazónico (CINCIA).

Thanks to $10 million in new support money, they'll continue efforts to try and turn that around.

"We've been called in to help develop scientific capacity to deal with both environmental issues to understand how mercury moves through the environment, and also to give people to the tools and enterprises once that landscaping has been restored,” Silman said.

Destruction of the area's rainforests is also a threat.

"It's one thing to take all of the trees down, which causes a huge environmental risk for the entire world,” said Klosterman, who also leads the university’s center for global programs and studies. “You may not realize that something being so far away can have an impact on you here."

Research from the center is being used locally.

"The impacts that deforestation and degradation have on their land also can inform us about the impacts of the same type of practices we investigate here,” Klosterman said.

Students in the university's biology department will also be traveling to Peru to study at the center, continuing the next generation of environmental sustainability.

"The hope for the center is that it becomes a part of Peru and the university there,” Silman said. “Our goal is to put ourselves out of business and leave a functioning entity in place."

Grant money for the center came from a number of organizations and government agencies including the World Wildlife Fund, The Amazon Aid Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

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