In previous blog posts, Rainforest Cruises has examined a few of the 'potential perils' facing travelers to the Amazon, nearly all of which have been proven exaggerated or outright false.
In this post, we would like to inform adventurers of the real and present dangers facing the Amazon, and what each of us can do to reduce our impact on the worlds largest rainforest, the Amazon Basin. We have categorized these threats to the Amazon into a group of seven:
Ranching & Agriculture:
Rainforests around the world are continuously cut down to make room for raising crops, particularly soy, and cattle farming. This has been exacerbated in recent years, as many parts of the world have emerged from poverty such as in Asia, Africa and South America.
Every citizen deserves the right to live a dignified life full of opportunities, but unfortunately the rate of population growth - and specifically the rate of meat consumption - is having a drastic impact on the Amazon. These growing industries also displace small farmers, forcing them into forested areas which they must clear to sustain themselves.
Fact: Cattle pastures occupy 80% of the deforested areas in the Amazon. Pasture run-off contaminates rivers. Fires used to manage fields often spread into the remaining forests. The deforestation caused by ranching also contributes to climate change, releasing 340 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year. Cattle ranching, and secondary activities related to livestock, are the single largest contributor to deforestation.
In recent news, Brazil’s Congress has passed legislation that would soften environmental regulations protecting the Amazon. This would be tragic. The World Wildlife Fund has more on this topic here. Rainforest Cruises hopes that this new legislation is vetoed so that forests continue to have strong protection, safeguarding the future of the world’s precious biodiversity for generations to come.
Solution: Introduce crops and livestock that do not require large plots and quickly wear out the land. Consider reducing your consumption of beef and think about participating in the local food movement, to reduce pressure on delicate ecosystems overseas.
Fish are the main source of food and income for many Amazonian people. The amount of fish needed to feed a growing population, however, may lead to over-fishing, especially if large industries are harvesting fish in order to export to foreign markets. In many parts of the Amazon, large, industrial trawlers armed with gill nets scoop up entire schools of fish in an entirely unsustainable atempt to bring food to market.
Fact: Up to 60% of their catch is lost to spoilage.
Solution: Introduce commercial fishing regulations and quotas to avoid massive decreases in fish populations. Set aside reserves, off-limits to large vessels, which will enable traditional fishermen to continue to earn an honest livelihood.
Bio-Piracy & Smuggling:
People take plants and animals from the Amazon to sell abroad as pets, food, and medicine. Foreigners do not share the enormous profits from these products with the country of origin, and trade in these animals leads to declines in wild populations, normally affecting animals already threatened by habitat destruction and pollution.
Fact: According to Wikipedia, in 2008, it was estimated that the illegal trade in wildlife is worth at least US$5 billion, and may potentially total in excess of US$20 billion annually. This ranks the illegal wildlife trade as among the most lucrative illicit economies in the world, behind illegal drugs and possibly human trafficking and arms trafficking.
Solution: Exporting and importing countries are enforcing strict penalties against smugglers.
Many people illegally hunt animals to sell as food and raw materials for finished products. Animals, like the giant Amazon river turtle, the "Paiche," and the Amazon Manatee are vanishing from the wild.
Fact: The wildlife harvest takes a staggering number of animals: every year in the Brazilian Amazon alone, 9.6 to 23.5 million mammals, birds, and reptiles are harvested.
Solution: Develop new, environmentally-friendly ways for Amazonian people to make a living ... although this is admittedly a vague statement.
Large hydroelectric projects, funded by international aid and development organizations like the World Bank, have led to widespread forest loss. Besides inundating large tracts of rainforest (dams in the Amazon are generally ecologically inefficient because large tracts of forest are flooded due to the flatness of the basin) and killing off local wildlife, the dams have the effect of destroying aquatic habitats and affecting fish populations, displacing indigenous peoples, and adding carbon to the atmosphere (as the submerged wood rots).
Fact: Tropical rainforest waters are highly threatened today by hydroelectric projects, erosion from deforestation, over fishing, and poisoning from oil and chemical spills. The effects from the degradation of these waters are widespread, inflicting damage on the global economy, the environment, and local peoples. Mongabay has more ...
Solution: Any hydroelectric project needs to be thoroughly reviewed with an environmental impact assessment before approval. New energy alternatives should be explored which mitigate negative impacts on the environment.
Hardwood trees provide wood for furniture, building materials, and charcoal. Without trees to hold it in place, soil washes into the river and smothers fish. Working in remote forest areas, loggers often use false permits, ignore limitations of legal permits, cut species protected by law and steal from protected areas and indigenous lands.
These are often small or medium scale operations that are able to avoid detection because of the remoteness of the logging locations, the weak presence of the federal environmental agencies, and a complex chain-of-custody in the cutting, hauling and transporting of the logs.
Fact: Since 1970, over 600,000 square kilometers (232,000 square miles) of Amazon rainforest have been destroyed
Solution: Increase funding for government protection of the forests and replanting trees. Educating the population that forested areas play an instrumental role in stabilizing the climate, storing carbon, producing rainfalls, allowing for the sustainable harvest of forest products, and providing habitat for animals.
Many everyday items are made from minerals mined in the Amazon basin. Fish die when miners wash harmful chemicals and sediments into rivers. Mining operations often necessitate the construction of access roads into remote areas, enabling loggers, poachers, and ranchers access to lands otherwise inaccessible.
Fact: While mining companies boast forest restoration, converting mining sites back to true rainforests is difficult: much of the original ecosystem is lost. Soil and water contamination are other environmental consequences of mining.
Solution: Make mining corporations abide by stricter environmental protection laws.