It may not be the most enormous or the most populated continent, but South America is the most diverse – it holds 5 of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, as well as the biggest tropical wilderness on Earth. Between them, South America’s diverse regions hold irreplaceable ecosystems teeming with life – which in turn produce countless free services and resources for people across the continent, including the earth’s largest supply of one of our most basic survival needs: fresh water.
This massive reserve of water lies in the Amazon Basin, the world’s largest tropical rain forest stretching from the Guianas in the north to the Brazilian highlands in the south. Although diverse indigenous groups have lived in parts of the Amazon for centuries, no other wilderness is considered better preserved.
However, that could change drastically if proposed changes to the continent’s infrastructure – designed to improve trade among the twelve South American nations – are not planned in a sustainable way. South American governments have proposed upgrades in telecommunications, energy, and transportation that would cut the Amazon into pieces. Conservationists are especially concerned about the numerous planned highways that would link the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, opening up new areas for exploitation.
Every environmental change to the Amazon can be felt across the entire continent, which is linked closely not by roads but by landscapes. Without the snow-capped peaks and glaciers of the Andes – which feed into important rivers across the continent – South America’s biological diversity will change and will affect the people, plants, and animals that depend on these landscapes’ natural resources.
But protecting South America’s healthy forests and abundant natural resources could be one of the most effective ways of mitigating global climate change, one of our major goals.
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Guyana, South America’s only English-speaking country, is sparsely populated at less than a million people, which explains why its environment is in such good shape.
Located on the north-central western coast of the continent, Peru has over 84 distinct ecosystems, from staggering mountain peaks to beyond the shores of the Pacific.
Suriname was ahead of the curve when it cordoned off what is now some of the world’s largest tracts of unspoiled tropical forest. So much of the countryside is unexplored – a major boon to conservationists.
Venezuela holds biologically and culturally important areas in the mountainous Andes, the country’s flatlands, and the Caribbean.