The Amazon basin is home to the largest rainforest on earth. One of the planet’s greatest treasures, it covers 6,000,000 square kilometers (2.72 million square miles). The Amazon is home to more species of plants and animals than any other terrestrial ecosystem on the planet, many of which are yet to be discovered. In fact, the canopy of the Amazon is less studied than the ocean floor. In many areas of the Amazon, the canopy is so dense that the forest floor beneath it remains in complete darkness, casting a virtually impenetrable veil of mystery on what lives inside.
The Amazon is estimated to foster 16,000 tree species consisting of 390 billion individual trees, and to influence rainfall patterns as far away as the USA. Commonly referred to as ‘Lungs of the Planet’, the Amazon represents more than half of the world’s remaining rainforests and absorbs 1.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide in a typical year.
Efforts to protect this precious resource have been relentless, but so have been the threats. Before 1960, the Amazon rainforest remained mostly intact due to the restricted access to the forest’s interior. In the past 57 years, however, one fifth of the Amazon rainforest has been razed due to resource-hungry human activity. Since 1970, over 600,000 square kilometers (232,000 square miles) of the Amazon rainforest have been destroyed.
Recently, the Brazilian president attempted to abolish the protection of Renca, an area of 46,000 sq km (17,760 sq miles) that has been protected since 1984. His attempt to open the vast mineral-rich area to mining companies was blocked by the Brazilian court, following the furious uproar of environmental activists. But many fear this may only be a temporary reprieve.
Both the immense beauty and the widespread devastation of the Amazon have been captured by countless photographers. They help us appreciate the tremendous value, and recognize the plight of the world’s largest and most diverse rainforest.
The Amazon rainforest covers 40% of the land in South America.
It grew around the Amazon River, the second largest river in the world after the Nile. The Amazon River runs for 4,000 miles and can reach 120 miles in width in the wet season.
The river is punctuated by breathtaking waterfalls like the San Rafael Falls, located at the foot of the highly active Reventador Volcano.
One in ten known species on this planet lives in the Amazon Rainforest, like these red and green macaws.
Or the Amazonian dart frog.
The green Iguana
The howler monkey
One in five of the world’s bird and fish species live there.
This local villager caught two piracurus, the largest freshwater fish in South America. These fishes are only allowed to be caught once a year.
The Amazon is also home to many people. 350 ethnic groups live there.
Some of which are completely isolated and have never made contact with the rest of civilisation.
These Indigenous communities rely on the health of the Amazon rainforest to survive.
For them, the impacts of deforestation, mining and the consequent water contamination are immediate and catastrophic.
Some local communities, like these Munduruku Indian warriors, are taking the resistance into their own hands. They help to protect the land by searching for illegal miners.
It’s a practice that has become increasingly dangerous. The worst year on record for killings of environmental activists was 2015. 40% of victims were from Indigenous groups.
Conflicts over mining, agribusiness, hydroelectric dams and logging were the main causes of violence.
Large areas of forest are often cleared to make way for agricultural crops like soy beans.
Soy production also has an impact on deforestation. The expansion of soy drives up land prices, encouraging the development of infrastructure and the displacement of cattle ranchers.
Here, tractors use chains during soil cleaning for soybean crop.
Cattle grazing accounts for 70% of deforestation. Most of the cattle ranches in the Amazon have low productivity. The majority of the time, cattle ranches are used to establish land claims.
There’s a clear link between the health of the Amazon and the health of the planet as a whole. The forest, which contains 90-140 billion metric tons of carbon, helps to stabilize local and global climate.
The resistance to development and deforestation in the Amazon is strong. Earlier this year, human rights groups and environmentalists banded together to fight the construction of a huge dam in the jungle, and won.
It’s important to stay aware and up to date with what’s happening, and to provide support and visibility to the activist groups fighting to protect this precious and fragile biome. Thousands of species, including people, are counting on it for their survival.