The Amazon basin stretches over 6.7 million square kilometers, covering around 36 percent of the South American continent.
The basin includes endless stretches of rainforest and many types of land, with the vast Amazon river itself stretching over 6,800 kilometers (over 4,330 miles) across the top half of Latin America.
The Amazon is an incredibly beautiful area full of over 3 million species of mammals, fish, insects, reptiles and birds.
New medicines and pharmaceutical ingredients are constantly being unearthed and discovered and only 1% of the medicines in the Amazon are estimated to have already been found.
The wildlife diversity is even more incredible and mind-blowing.
In fact, new species are being discovered constantly in the Amazon as well at an average of one new kind of creature every two days.
As the World Wildlife Fund notes in a 2017 article:
“A fire-tailed titi monkey, a pink river dolphin, a honeycomb patterned stingray, and a yellow-mustached lizard. These are just a few of the 381 new species recently discovered in the Amazon.”
The tree canopy and flourishing ecosystem of the Amazon Basin is incredibly vast and diverse. It has over 2,500 species of trees that perform a vital role in recycling carbon and maintaining the world’s hydrologic cycle of rain.
It’s also home to hundreds of indigenous peoples and tribes, including several dozen who do not have contact with the outside world.
But all is not well in the Amazon. For decades now the area has been under intense threat from unscrupulous miners, loggers and commercial interests who seek to plunder its resources for profit.
The Amazon is being deforested and polluted at an alarming rate.
“Past extinctions have shown it takes at least 5 million years to restore biodiversity to the level equal to that prior to the extinction event.”
The current crisis
The Amazon rainforest includes areas of Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana.
However 60 percent of the Amazon is in Brazil, which serves as a perfect case study for the threats facing the diverse tropical rainforest.
In the past fifty years, Brazil has lost more than 600,000 square kilometers of its forest. Last year a tree was cut down in the Amazon every 18 seconds and massive areas were slashed and burned.
The rate of deforestation is increasing primarily due to the demand for grazing land for beef cattle. Demand for timber and forestry clearcutting is another significant factor, as are mining companies looking to open up and explore land.
As Pia Gralki, Joe McCarthy, and Erica Sánchez wrote in 2019:
“More than 39,000 wildfires have been documented so far this year, a 77% increase from the year before.”
While countries like Brazil are eager to keep expanding economic growth, growing concern about damage to the Amazon and its ecosystem has gained worldwide attention.
The shocking recent murders of British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira last summer in the Amazon highlighted just how life-threatening it can be for those who try to expose the corruption and illegal resource gathering going on in the Amazon by corporations and private ventures.
Still, hope is not lost.
Many efforts to reverse the deforestation and destruction of the Amazon and its beauty have been underway for decades and have been increasing in recent years.
Efforts to save the Amazon
One such effort comes from Brazilian photojournalist Sebastiao Salgado and his wife, who planted four million trees between 1994 to 2012 in their home state of Minas Gerais, Brazil.
Along with a group of volunteers, they replanted large areas that had been deforested by timber and cattle companies, also going on to found the Terra Institute and later the Center for Environmental Education and Recovery to educate local farmers and residents about how to keep the ecosystem healthy.
And the Salgados are just one example.
Groups like the Rainforest Alliance, Amazon Watch, the Rainforest Action Network, the Amazon Conservation Team, Amazon Conservation Association and Survival International are doing remarkable work saving the Amazon and keeping it from being burned and cut down.
Other non-profits like the IWGIA (International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs) focus on protecting tribes in the Amazon and the environment they live and work on.
What’s being done?
The specifics of what’s being done to support and save the Amazon are remarkable and well worth supporting.
Taking a snapshot look, we can see the following accomplishments from some of these groups I’ve mentioned:
1) Rainforest Alliance
The Rainforest Alliance has been working for four decades to boost biodiversity and give people well paying jobs that don’t harm the Amazon.
They have brought six million hectares of Amazon farmland up to global sustainability standards.
They’ve also run a program to put Rainforest Alliance stickers on products in 175 countries around the world, to show the Amazon wasn’t harmed in their production, and run numerous projects to educate and empower farmers to do more ecological and sustainable grazing and planting practices, including in the Amazon basin.
2) Amazon Watch
Amazon Watch has been running since the mid-1990s and works on behalf of indigenous rights in all the nations of the Amazon basin.
They’re also very focused on corporate accountability and focused on stopping Amazon deforestation, which has now reached 20% in of Brazil’s Amazon.
Amazon Watch focuses on legally certifying indigenous lands to protect them from being clearcut and cut down by economic interests, bringing awareness and politically lobbying for their protection.
As they write on their website:
“By exposing the global financial institutions that enable the worst practices of corporate actors, Amazon Watch is working to shift the economic and socio-environmental policies that affect the integrity of the Amazon rainforest and the survival of its peoples.”
3) Rainforest Action Network (RAN)
RAN works around the world in over 300 different places to protect indigenous land rights and stand up to corporate destruction and governmental deregulation in places like the Amazon rainforest.
They also take on corporate giants like Nestlé, who they have noted for violations against indigenous and labor rights in other parts of the world like Indonesia and its exploitative, environmentally-destructive palm oil industry.
4) Amazon Conservation Team
The Amazon Conservation team is very focused on protecting the Amazon Rainforest and has had a huge impact already, including helping fund the construction of 205,214 acres of national parks and plant sanctuaries.
They have also gotten numerous indigenous reserve lands expanded and put 9,996,991 acres of Amazon land under better and more environmentally-sustainable land management policies.
5) Amazon Conservation Association
The similarly-named Amazon Conservation Association works at the local and national level to help protect the Amazon across its various nations, especially in the southwest Amazon in Bolivia and Peru.
As they write:
“In Bolivia and Peru, where we have had a presence on the ground for the past 20 years, we are elevating our field-based solutions by working with national governments to improve the conditions for conservation in each country.”
In particular, they have been working on helping Peru’s government develop better monitoring technology to detect and stop illegal deforestation in the Amazon.
They also have a number of very pleasant Eco Lodges in various parts of the Amazon where travelers can take in the natural beauty of the rainforest and its wildlife without leaving a damaging carbon footprint.
6) Survival International
Survival International is working especially to stop the extinction and harm of animals across the Amazon Basin as well as the several million indigenous people living in the region.
In particular, Survival International is focused on protecting the way of life of remote tribes who prefer to remain outside the sphere of the modern world and its economic and social practices.
This includes several dozen uncontacted tribes in the Amazon and “more than one hundred” across the world as a whole.
They are also working to put indigenous education under the control of indigenous communities instead of their colonial governments.
7) International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA)
The IWGIA has numerous projects protecting indigenous land rights and culture around the world. This includes several ongoing projects in Latin America focused on keeping and expanding indigenous land rights in the Amazon and giving indigenous communities governance and ownership over their own resources.
IWGIA is particularly working for “greater recognition of targeted Indigenous governments by national authorities and international human rights mechanisms,” as well as “international and regional human rights mechanisms develop and promote tools for the advancement of the right of Indigenous Peoples to self-determination.”
As we can see, the Amazon’s beauty and biodiversity is under threat, but much is still being done to protect and support this wondrous region of the world.
Organizations like those named above as well as many more are doing valuable and important work to protect this region of the world and advance the rights of those peoples who call it home.
As leading Amazon expert and ecologist Thomas Lovejoy sais in an interview with the World Bank:
“I believe that when the Brazilian government comes to understand the importance of the Amazon as a system, and its contribution to the Brazilian economy and agriculture it will understand it is in the best interests of all Brazilians to have a functioning and sustainable Amazon.”
Get involved, spread the word and remember to never give up on the trees that help keep us all alive!