The Amazon rainforest is 6.7 million square kilometers in size and covers much of South America.
Around 60% of the Amazon is located in Brazil, with the rest in Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and French Guiana.
If it were a nation, the Amazon would be the ninth biggest country on the planet.
The Amazon contains 10% of all known wild creatures on planet earth and is full of extremely valuable natural resources that are highly desired by numerous industries, chemical corporations and pharmaceutical companies.
The Amazon’s amazing biodiversity
On average, a new type of animal or plant is discovered every three days somewhere in the Amazon.
At the same time as natural discovery and efforts are going on in the rainforest, efforts to cut it down and utilize its resources gain momentum every year.
Massive farming operations, cattle grazing, timber logging, mining and deforestation threaten the Amazon, but it still remains a marvel of biodiversity.
The first and simplest natural resource of the Amazon is something we put inside our bodies every day: food.
In fact, more than 80 percent of food contains ingredients that are sourced from the Amazon.
The Amazon has become particularly central to the meat industry, with large ranching operations and companies like Cargill and JBS using its fertile soils to graze their cattle and ship out beef.
Ranching and meat production accounts for around 80% of the deforestation happening in the Amazon as land is slashed and burned to make way for cattle ranches and grazing land.
The Amazon also has an enormous amount of importance for the pharmaceutical industry, a lot of which still remains unexplored.
A stunning 25% of all modern medications also have ingredients from the Amazon. This includes common and much sought-after medicinal components like quinine, vinblastine and tubocurarine.
However this derivation represents just the tip of the iceberg, considering only 1% of Amazonian plants have been tested for curative properties as of this reading.
This vast untapped potential has pharmaceutical companies eager to explore and profit, and new discoveries are made every day leading to huge profits and groundbreaking patents.
It doesn’t end there, of course.
The Amazon also contains huge amounts of gold, copper, hydroelectric power sources and tin.
The mining causes a significant imprint on the Amazon as well, infecting waterways with dangerous and deadly chemicals like mercury, which is used in the process of extracting gold.
This drive to exploit the Amazon’s agricultural, mineral and medicinal resources also sometimes leads to clashes.
There are around 350 indigenous tribes living in the Amazon, 2.7 million in population total out of the 30 million inhabitants of the whole area.
There have been numerous conflicts between the dozens of undiscovered and untouched indigenous tribes still living in the rainforest and the millions of others who have already made contact with colonial powers but are trying to maintain their property rights and way of life in the face of constant expansion and exploration by outside interests.
A river runs through it
The Amazon river itself is the longest and deepest river in the world, snaking 6,800 kilometers from the Andes in Peru to the northeast coast of Brazil, where it feeds into the Atlantic Ocean.
This river is a major part of the world’s hydrologic cycle and outputs vast quantities of water into the Atlantic and the land that stretches along its contours.
The Amazon has the most volume of any river on earth, discharging 55 million gallons of freshwater into the Atlantic ocean every second.
The most valuable natural resource of the Amazon river is its sheer power and volume.
As the most voluminous river on earth, the Amazon is highly attractive to power companies looking for it to help them generate energy and profits.
The Amazon is being dammed in many locations in order to extract vast amounts of hydroelectric power, a valuable natural resource sought by Brazil and other nations.
This has a negative impact on wildlife and the forest in areas that are dammed and also disrupts various communities in some areas.
The Amazon comprises 20% of all freshwater on earth and sustains thousands of fish and other creatures that are a food source for those who live in the area and commercially harvested.
Taking a look at the Amazon basin
The Amazon basin is 6.7 million square kilometers and makes up around 36% of South America.
This vast area is full of an incredible amount of biodiversity and richly valuable natural resources that are sought after by companies from around the world.
The tropical rainforests of the basin and the surrounding rainforest account for 56% of all leaf species on earth.
The river area contains other desperately sought resources as well, including 15% of all the bauxite in the world as well as iron, steel and timber.
There are around thirty million inhabitants in the vast Amazon basin, with the majority in large cities like Loreto, Par, Belem and Manaus.
Despite its relatively low population, the Amazon basin is teeming with life and resources.
As mentioned earlier, around 350 tribes live in the basin including several dozen who don’t interact with the outside world.
Part of the reason for the remoteness of the region is that the Amazon is not easy to transport large things on and power an advanced infrastructure, as well as the dangerous species in the jungle and the heavy rainfall.
The Amazon basin gets heavy rainfall throughout the year, making travel in and out difficult. In fact, rainfall can often reach up to 3,000 millimeters per year.
Protecting the Amazon’s natural resources
The Amazon remains a kind of Wild West when it comes to exploration and resource extraction.
Regulation has not been consistently put in place between the various nations with a stake in the Amazon, and even the internal politics of countries like Brazil, Peru and Colombia remain deeply conflicted between commercial interest and preservation.
This came to the shocking attention of the world when a Western journalist traveled to Brazil last year to try to look further into what’s going on with extraction of valuable resources in the rainforest and ended up dead.
Indeed, the vile murders of British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira last June highlighted just how dangerous it can be to try to expose what’s going on and point out illegal mining, timber and clearing operations.
Most regulations at this time extend to mining, but the majority of licenses granted to mining companies and agriculture don’t take into account how much forest will be cleared, nor wildlife species to be impacted or killed.
Brazil currently has 1.65 million square kilometers of various mining permits and rights and 60% of these are in the Amazon.
Conservation groups are hard at work and people such as Sebastião Salgado have shown the power and potential of reforestation efforts.
But the conflict of interest that remains is troubling, as major industries like ranchers have an interest in clearing and burning large areas of the forest, which would have disastrous consequences.
As Encyclopedia Britannica notes:
“Burning away the Amazon would condemn millions of living species to extinction and destroy their habitats.
“Many of these plants, animals, and other forms of life haven’t even been identified by science yet.
“It is thought that consumption of the whole of the Amazon by fire would change the region from a thick multilayered forest to a savanna composed of scattered trees and tall grasses.”
The bottom line
It’s important to keep in mind that the most valuable natural resource of all in the Amazon is air itself.
The vast rainforest breathes in and stores CO2 and breathes out oxygen, which is why it’s known as the “lungs of the world.”
The true relationship between how much oxygen the Amazon puts out remains in dispute, since decay and natural cycles of decay in the forest also produce much CO2 into the atmosphere.
What is certain is that the Amazon has a major impact on the world’s cycles, weather and wellbeing.
Deforestation and pollution not only hurts the local people, wildlife and health of the land, but also affects the hydrologic cycle of rain around the world and interrupts agriculture and the rain cycle worldwide.
It’s important for policy and consciousness to begin catching up with the importance of the Amazon and its central place as a hub of biodiversity and sustaining life around the world.