Covering nearly three million square miles and home to indigenous people as well as millions of plants and animals, the Amazon River Basin is truly one of Earth’s most spectacular places. But that majesty is matched by temptation. Because it’s so rich in natural resources, the world’s largest tropical rainforest is quite the allure for those who wish to harness its trees and the water that flows through it. Faced with those threats, a group of government officials, conservationists and others just moved to protect both the basin’s natural grandeur and its environmental integrity.
The move came during the Amazon Waters International Conference in Lima, Peru. The conference was organized by The Wildlife Conservation Society (formerly the New York Zoological Society), a conservation group with a goal of conserving wild places that cover over 50 percent of the world’s biodiversity. It brought together officials like Peru’s Ministry of Environment, scientists and others with a stake in the Amazon Basin’s survival.
The basin’s environmental impact is so extensive that the entire globe shares those stakes, though it isn’t always immediately obvious. It’s thought that one in ten of the world’s species live within the basin, making it a bastion of biodiversity. The huge number of trees and other vegetation in the forest serves as a critical carbon sink—the rainforest sucks in more carbon dioxide than it emits, absorbing greenhouse gases. And the forest is home to rich indigenous cultures, including a number of “lost” or uncontacted peoples.
All of that diversity, however, is under threat by human development in the Amazon Basin. Everything from gold mining to massive dams to deforestation are reducing the rainforest’s size, killing native species and turning large swaths of the forest into unrecognizable, unrecoverable wasteland. About 1,930 square miles of Amazon forest disappeared in 2015 alone, Chris Arsenault reports for Reuters. That’s significantly less from the all-time high, but still more than the rapidly declining forest can tolerate. And climate change threatens everything within basin—plants, animals and humans, too.
More than a dozen parties at the conference signed the new declaration, which aims to drive those numbers even lower and make conserving the basin a higher priority. It identifies seven objectives, from expanding ecosystem management in the basin to promoting research agendas that gather more information about the Amazon’s ecosystems and environmental impacts. The declaration also lays out the biggest threats to the basin—from habitat loss to pollution, natural resources exploitation and invasive species.
“We hope many more will join and the doors are open for individuals and institutions interested in doing so,” Cristián Samper, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society, says in a release.
Signing a document will only go so far—after all, protecting the basin needs action, not empty words. But a public commitment creates something else the Amazon needs: A visible coalition who demands that the world change its approach to the invaluable landscape.