The Amazon Rainforest is the largest in the world — thanks to the Amazon River, the world’s deepest. It’s a vast, incredible ecosystem, home to tens of thousands of species of plants and animals, many of them found nowhere else in the world. Some of us may think of the Amazon Rainforest as a remote and exotic place, perhaps of great interest but not of immediate relevance. The reality is, the Amazon Rainforest has a huge impact on our planet, and it’s important that we understand this in order to preserve it for the benefit both of its incredible inhabitants as well as our own.
The truth is, we are still continuing to learn and discover the amazing resource the Amazon Rainforest is.
An obvious example is oxygen. As most of us know, plants are responsible for absorbing carbon dioxide and converting it to oxygen in order to keep the atmosphere healthy and hospitable. Considering its massive size, the Amazon is a huge contributor to this process — in fact, it produces 20% of the world’s oxygen.
Perhaps a less obvious example is rainfall. The Amazon, true to its nature as a rainforest, creates a large amount of rain. The amount of rain it produces, in fact, is so great that it affects the ocean’s currents, and related to that, weather extending as far north as the USA. It’s become clear that the condition of the Amazon directly effects conditions elsewhere that extend far beyond its own boundaries.
On a smaller but just as critical scale, the Amazon is a potential source of scientific advancement. Native peoples who have lived in the Amazon for generations have used local plants and insects for medicinal purposes that have proven to be effective. Due to the rainforest’s incredible size, there are still many species of plants and animals that are awaiting discovery; this suggests that possible cures for illness and ailments that plague our society now may be alleviated or even cured in due time with the course of further research and study of the Amazon’s flora and fauna.
Ironically, we are harming ourselves and our future by failing to better protect the Amazon rainforest — especially now that its condition is in more jeopardy than ever.
Destructive practices including deforestation in order to make farmland are just some of the chronic issues plaguing rainforests everywhere, including the Amazon. Deforestation threatens plant and animal species and leads to a reduced output of oxygen, as well as increasing carbon from the burning of the trees that have been cut down, ultimately affecting our climate. Flooding from hydroelectric projects as well as oil and chemical spills cause great destruction, as well as exploitative mining practices. At times the issues the Amazon is facing can seem so overwhelming that it’s hard to know where the best place is to begin in order to help.
The best place to start, both for the Amazon Rainforest and the myriad of other beautiful habitats on our planet, is realizing that even small steps make a difference.
Awareness of these negative developments on the environment often leads to despondency and sometimes, even despair at first. These reactions, however, should ultimately be met with a positive resolve to do something. The good news is, raising awareness about places under threat creates a ripple effect and influences a greater number of people over time. With the Amazon Rainforest, it’s no different.
An example of this increased awareness is recent years is eco-tourism. Most tourists, naturally taking an interest in nature and preferring to do something helpful rather than harmful if given the choice, are happy to put their money towards tours and experiences that will benefit local people and sustain the environment for years to come. If you have the privilege of planning a trip to the Amazon rainforest sometime soon — or know someone who is — be sure to choose a tour or program that sustains local people who can then in turn continue to care for the forest and take an active interest in it. Engage in activities that keep a safe and respectful distance between you and the local wildlife, and write or blog about your experiences afterwards in order to inspire and give insight to other people, so that these sustainable practices can continue.
Of course, a step-up from eco-tourism in the Amazon rainforest, should your time and resources permit, is to participate in a volunteer program that will allow you to assist more directly in conservation efforts (not to mention have the experience of a lifetime). WorkingAbroad has several programs for both volunteers as well as interns available to do conservation work in the Amazon Rainforest, specifically in Peru. You can find more details on the Amazon Rainforest Volunteer Project Page.
These opportunities range from doing research on animals and fungi, to drone mapping in order to study spatial ecology, to photography and documentation. They can range anywhere from a couple weeks’ time to several months or more, depending on the amount of work you’re able to give. In all cases you will have an incredible opportunity to experience, help and learn about the Amazon Rainforest.
But if a trip to the Amazon is not on the horizon for you just yet, you can still make a difference in the meantime just by making adjustments in your daily lifestyle, such as: cutting down on paper and wood products, reducing beef consumption (since deforestation is often in order to make room for cattle ranches), reducing oil consumption and donating to any foundations that work to preserve the Amazon Rainforest.
Just remember: most people do care, and will make small adjustments to help if they simply know how. You can start by spreading the awareness, and that awareness can start in your own family and community.