Years of conservation and research in the Amazon have deepened our understanding of flooded forest ecosystems and the importance of their biodiversity, including the aquatic forms as much as the terrestrial ones. Important advances have been made, especially in terms of management and conservation of fish and other aquatic species at local scales. These advances have improved the quality of life of many local people who depend on these species for subsistence. However, these positive developments have also demonstrated the challenges associated with managing complex hydrological dynamics and species that move large distances during their life cycles, and have highlighted the need for management of aquatic resources at multiple scales, from the community scale to the scale of entire hydrological basins.
Building upon decades of working the flooded forests of Brazil and Peru, WCS has launched an innovative initiative that recognizes the value of fisheries, wildlife, and their aquatic habitats in the western Amazon and the need to manage these resources sustainably and contribute to the quality of life of local people: Amazon Waters. WCS is working to build analytical tools,management and policy mechanisms, and partnerships that permit conservation to be planned and coordinated at the scale necessary to effectively manage the complex biological and economic activities of the region. The scale of this work is unprecedented and crosses international boundaries to include Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia. This scale is also critical to understanding, prioritizing, and managing the region-wide ecological processes controlled by the vast flow of the Amazon River system.
Why Amazon Waters?
When most people think of the Amazon, images of vast rain forests come to mind. And indeed, upland rain forest covers around 80% of the Amazon Basin. But it´s easy to forget thatwhat makes the Amazon unique is not that it has lots of rain forest (so too dolarge parts of central America, Africa, and Asia), it’s the water and thespectacular complexes of aquatic ecosystems, which together sustain life, bothhuman and wild.
The Amazon Basin is the largest river system on the planet, covering an area about the size of the continental United States and delivering 15-16% of the freshwater entering our oceans. Amazonas State in Brazil, where we focus, is unique in the size and abundance of its flooded forests, flood plain lakes, and other wetlands,and is home to an astounding array of globally significant wildlife, including iconic species like jaguar, caiman, pinkriver dolphin, manatee, giant river otter and Amazonian riverturtle.
And let´s not forgetabout the fish! Although extractives like oil and rubber have longattracted industry to the Amazon Basin, fish is the most important resource inthe Amazon Basin. The basin supports the largest diversity of freshwater fishspecies on the planet (1800-3000 species), and is one of the most productive interms of total fish production. In the Basin, you can find some of the largestfreshwater species in the world, including the giant pirarucu, which can growto nine feet and weigh 300 pounds, and many species that evolved with floodedrain forests to feed on fruits and other tree-borne foods.
These ecosystems and species are the foundations of livelihoods for almost 20 million people in the Amazon basin(nearly 4 million people in Amazonas State), providing, among other things,potentially sustainable sources of fish and animal protein for local consumption and income generation, a vast transportation network, and clean drinking water for rural families and growing cities.