Research & Conservation

The Amazon is burning and the world is crying

Natural disasters are never good news, but the bright side is that the majority of them affect one given area at a time. For example, an Earthquake in Turkey will devastate, but the damage will be felt in and around Turkey. The months of August and September saw a natural disaster which will have a negative and damning effect on the whole world.

The Amazon Rainforest produces 20% of the world’s oxygen and is often referred to as the lungs of our planet. Sadly for us, that very forest experienced one of the worst ever forest fires. The plume of smoke generated from the fires was so big they were visible from outer space and those images really hit the point home: “Our home is on fire.” This tragedy hits the Earth at a critical time in our war against global warming, and aside from the thousands of animals that died, the human impact is incalculable.

A reality which is so difficult to imagine and get to terms with

The Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world, spreading across nine million square kilometers. It touches nine South American countries, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Suriname, Venezuela, French Guiana, and Guyana. It is the world’s most effective carbon sink, storing up an estimated 100 years of carbon generated through human activity. Rainforests are crucial in the war against global warming, and being the largest, this forest is of particular significance.

The problem today is that during the last century alone we have already lost 20% of the rainforest. The Amazon is so vast, so deep and large that we are yet to penetrate it completely. Thousands of species, both marine and land dwellers alike are just waiting to be discovered, and human tribes that have never ever been seen also reside there.

The tribal population of the Amazon refers to their forest as their “Mother” as she gives them life and home. On a more global perspective that is exactly what she does: she allows humans to live on this planet, as without it the place would be inhospitable to human life due to the high levels of carbon in the air. Trees give us oxygen, and that is so significant, even if dangerously. undervalued.

Humans underestimate the power and importance of trees

With 20% of the Amazon already gone, and large patches of dry land visible from space, we are soon reaching the critical tipping point for deforestation. The tipping point lies between the 25%-40% mark as when we lose that much of a forest, lead poisoning will kick in, increasing the deforestation process exponentially. In that way, the Amazon would become sick, and we risk losing her completely and this will alter the very course of life on our fragile planet. We need a stable Amazon to have a chance of a healthy future and the world depends on that entirely.

30 million people live in and around the forest, and around one million of those are indigenous tribes, yet to come to the attention of the public eye. This figure is divided into roughly 400 different tribes, though these figures are just estimated such is the vast nature of the forest. These tribes have their own languages, food cultures, farming methods, structures and ways of life. Sadly a lot of these have already been dispersed or killed. It is crucial for them not to have contact with the outside world as the reality is that one of our common colds can kill them off rapidly as their immune system is not used to treating our daily illnesses so they will not be able to fight off disease easily. They rely solely on the forest for medicines and have produced hundreds are simply not known outside their tribes. The expression is that the forest can heal everything, such as the rich biodiversity of life inside the tick, green bush.

Forest fires are on the increase

Forest fires in the Amazon are not a rate site. in fact, the Amazon has been burning for decades. During the Brazilian dictatorship from 1964-1985, an estimated six million hectares of land was lost to build the Trans Amazonian highway, and today’s news smells like a blast from the past.

Just to put it in perspective, In 1987 a portion the size of Switzerland was lost. Brazil is experiencing a huge political change and since the reign of newly elected president Bolsanero, there has been a spike in fires in the Amazon. It is estimated that the increase of forest fires has been of around 85%. The President calls himself “Captain Chainsaw” and I’ll leave that to your imagination. To make matters worse, Bolsanero, like Trump is a climate-change denier.

You see, trees are vital for a stable economy. They fuel mass industries and provide huge potential for jobs, however, this short-time gaze is crippling our world. Multinational companies take part in the destruction of the Amazon to gain their resources, so Brazil is not alone in causing these massive issues. So far in 2019, we have seen over 70,000 forest fires in the Amazon alone. August saw a peak of 30,000 fires. As the amount of fires increase, the forest suffers a drying phase, where damp levels are lower and hydrological problems sicken the forest. This makes it more vulnerable to further fires as the forest can not protect itself anymore. Plants will struggle to grow, and the world’s rain cycle can be altered and decreased which will heap further problems on the forest and the rest of the planet.

Our Amazon species will amaze you

1 – The red Belly Piranha

One of the signature species in the Amazon is the Red Belly piranhas, and these stunners will blow you away. You would imagine that living in the river would be safe, away from the fires and heat, however, nature is extremely connected, and they will also be affected negatively by the threat of deforestation. They feed on small fish, crustaceans and insects, but are also known to attack egrets and capybara. The last two on the list show us that these fish will happily feast on larger prey that enter their waters and they have no problem with consuming species far larger than them as they group feed in a frenzy.

These fish are native to South America and depend on the forest for their livelihood. Come check out their shiny red bellies, but watch out… those fangs are amongst the sharpest teeth out there.

Just look at that glorious red belly, belonging to the Red Belly Piranha

2 – Pacu fish

These fish are once again native to Amazonia and are also closely related to those Piranhas mentioned above. They may have a different diet, but they also grow bigger than their cousins. Their set of teeth are flat, similar to those in your mouth. They rely on fresh water and with deforestation often comes settlement and extra toxins and pollutants being dumped illegally, or sadly legally, into the river. A clean river is a happy home for the fish, so we also do our best to keep our waters to their likings here at the Malta National Aquarium.

3 – The Silver Arowana

Can you guess why these fish are also called the Monkey Fish? Well, it’s simple: they have the special ability to jump out of the river to catch its prey. This unique feeding method comes in handy when they opt to feed on insects and also birds. They also eat fish and crustaceans and other animals living close the basin. Deforestation can wipe out the animal species living on the river basin of the vital Amazon and that life source is crucial for the health of the whole Amazon Rainforest.

This guy looks grumpy, and we can’t blame him as he knows his home is under threat.

The world’s students protested

On September 20th, the world’s students skipped their lessons to teach the world a lesson. Teenage prodigy Greta Thunberg led the world into a global scale protest as millions of people from America to Manila tok to the streets. Schools stopped as their students flooded the roads with a clear message: We need to act together to save the planet.

Some messages read “You’ll die of old age, I’ll die of climate change” while others wrote “Learn to change or learn to swim” in a dig towards politicians who deny climate change and sea level rising. Students in Mexico wrote messages like “Why are we studying for a future we do not have” as they tried to hammer their point across. This is brilliant, and we can finally see people trying to take hold of their own future, in a way that cannot be ignored by the large-scale companies and policymakers alike.

With literally everyone taking to the streets, major cities like Melbourne were brought to a standstill. We saw protestors from aged zero years to the older generation all united in their messages: We need a better future, and this was the biggest protest ever, so we can only hope to see benefits. As we dive into October, we will continue giving you news of the protest and the impact our brave students had. The 20th September 2019 will always be remembered as the day people stood up against Global Warming.

A Guardian photo of 16 year-old Greta Thunberg took to the streets in Manhattan, New York, leading the world’s stand against Global Warming.