The Amazon rainforest is the largest tropical ecosystem on the planet, covering an area of South America close to the size of the continental United States. It houses the greatest abundance of life on Earth and thousands of indigenous people rely on this forest for their livelihoods. The Amazon's forests are so vast they help moderate our planet's weather patterns and provide natural protection against climate change. Unfortunately, our excessive demands on the Amazon's natural resources have started an imbalance that could result in losing all of this in a very short time.
Plants and Animals
The Amazon rainforest has the most biodiversity on Earth, home to over 30% of the world's species. That includes nearly 1 million insects known to science in the Amazon basin, approximately 530 species of mammals, nearly 1,000 different reptiles and amphibians and more than 5,600 species of freshwater fish, an estimated 80,000 plant taxa, and an estimated 390 billion trees. By comparison, that's more than twice the number of mammal species found in the United States and four times as many trees as there are stars in the Milky Way. The Amazon is so rich with life that over the past 10 years, a new species has been discovered on average every 3 days.
The Hercules beetle, found in the Amazon, is the strongest creature on earth, capable of carrying 850 times its own body weight.
In a 60 acre plot in the Amazon scientists found 1,104 different species of trees, just under what is found in Asia, Europe, and North America combined.
Peru's Manu national park contains at least 1,307 species of butterfly, twice the number found in the United States.
There are believed to be 15,000 jaguars alive in the wild today.
Indigenous peoples inhabit a large portion of the Amazon rainforest and their traditional and cultural beliefs have existed for centuries, providing storage for an immense amount of knowledge about the Amazonian forests. Unfortunately, despite the moral, historical, and cultural obligations to maintain indigenous lands in the control of indigenous peoples, these cultures face a variety of threats to their existence from the outside world. Attention must be paid to this developing issue for the maintenance of cultural diversity, the health and well-being of indigenous people in the Amazon, and the health of the Amazon as a functioning ecosystem.
Of the indigenous groups that were known to exist in 1900, one-third of these groups are now extinct.
There are 195 known languages spoken within the Amazon Basin.
Of the 160 societies that live within the Amazon rainforest, nearly 50% have no contact with the outside world.
Water and Weather Patterns
The Amazon rainforest helps moderate weather patterns and provides natural protection against climate change.
20% of the world's freshwater flows through the Amazon to the sea.
The Amazon River is over 4,000 miles long forming the largest river basin in the world.
The river basin covers 2,720,000 square miles and includes over 1,100 tributaries.
Forests are our best natural defense against climate change and the Amazon is the largest tropical forest on Earth. Trees store an immense amount of carbon in their leaves, trunks, roots. Deforestation and the burning of trees releases this carbon stored within the trees back into the atmosphere at an alarming rate.
Every year the burning of trees releases approximately 20% of all global carbon emissions.
Trees in the Amazon contain nearly 11 years of global carbon emissions.
Due to instability in the global market place in recent years, the price of gold has risen to its highest historical levels. In 2001, the cost of gold was $250/ounce. Over a decade later, it has risen to as high as $1600/ounce. When the price of gold is high, miners who normally wouldn't extract gold in marginal areas are able to do so without economic losses. In the Amazon, this results in rampant artisanal mining at the base of the Andes where millions of years of sedimentary runoff have accumulated small deposits of gold. Large landscapes are deforested, existing vegetation and trees are burned, and dangerous quantities of mercury are released into the environment. Recent studies have suggested that the impact of artisanal and small-scale gold mining outpaces the impact from traditional development.
Every year, gold mining activity is responsible for dumping approximately 30 tons of mercury into the Peruvian ecosystem.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme artisanal and small-scale gold mining is now the number one release of mercury in the world.
In 2014 it was estimated that 70,000 miners were operating in the Peruvian Amazon, having destroyed nearly 60,000 hectares of forest.