June 22 is World Rainforest Day, which is a “collaborative effort to raise awareness and encourage action to protect the world’s rainforests”, according to Rainforest Partnership, which founded the event.
In recognition of World Rainforest Day, this post highlights the world’s ten largest tropical rainforests: the Amazon, the Congo, New Guinea and Australia, Sundaland, Indo-Burma, Mesoamerica, Wallacea, the Guinean Forests of West Africa, the Atlantic forest, and the Choco
Tropical rainforests have an outsized role in the world. Of the Earth’s ecosystems, rainforests support the largest variety of plants and animal species, house the majority of indigenous groups still living in isolation from the rest of humanity, and power the mightiest rivers. Rainforests lock up vast amounts of carbon, moderate local temperature, and influence rainfall and weather patterns at regional and planetary scales.
Despite their importance however, deforestation in the world’s tropical forests has remained persistently high since the 1980s due to rising human demand for food, fiber, and fuel and the failure to recognize the value of forests as healthy and productive ecosystems. Since 2002, an average of 3.2 million hectares of primary tropical forests—the most biodiverse and carbon-dense type of forest—have been destroyed per year. An even larger area of secondary forest is cleared or degraded.
In recognition of World Rainforest Day 2020, which was launched in 2017 by Rainforest Partnership, below is a brief look at the state of the world’s largest remaining tropical rainforests.
The Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon is the world’s largest and best known tropical rainforest. As measured by primary forest extent, the Amazon rainforest is more than three times larger than that of the Congo Basin, the world’s second largest rainforest. The Amazon rainforest accounts for just over a third of tree cover across the tropics.
The Amazon River, which drains an area nearly the size of the forty-eight contiguous United States, is the world’s biggest river. It carries more than five times the volume of the Congo or twelve times that of the Mississippi. By one estimate, 70% of South America’s GDP is produced in areas that receive rainfall generated by the Amazon rainforest. This includes South America’s agricultural breadbasket and some of its largest cities.
Due to its size, the Amazon leads all tropical forest areas in terms of its annual area of forest loss. Between 2002 and 2019, more than 30 million hectares of primary forest was cleared in the region, or about half the world’s total tropical primary forest loss during that period.
The Amazon is thought to house more than half the world’s “uncontacted” tribes living in voluntary isolation from the rest of humanity. However the vast majority of indigenous peoples in the Amazon live in cities, towns, and villages.