Five Things About The Wetlands of Pantanal

Wetlands of Pantanal

The unique ecosystem of the world’s biggest tropical wetlands, Pantanal is being devastated by record wildfires. Here are five things to know about this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

What are wetlands?

Wetlands are regions that are largely covered in the water part or all of the year.

Other major wetlands include the West Siberian Lowland, the Congo River Basin, and the Mississippi River Basin.

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These watery ecosystems tend to be covered in aquatic plants specially adapted to their hydric soil.

An Ariranha giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) calf is fed at the Animal Rescue Center of Pantanal wetlands
An Ariranha giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) calf is fed at the Animal Rescue Center of Pantanal wetlands, in Mato Grosso state, Brazil, on September 17, 2020. – Pantanal is suffering its worst fires in more than 47 years, destroying vast areas of vegetation and causing the death of animals caught in the fire or smoke. (Photo by MAURO PIMENTEL / AFP)

The Pantanal, which is typically 80-percent underwater in the wet season, is also known for its wealth of wildlife.

The annual rains, which start in October, bring huge numbers of fish into the floodplain, drawing numerous bird species and, in turn, predators going up the food chain.

 

A horse, termite mound and trees are seen surrounded by smoke of the wildfire at the wetland of Pantanal
A horse, termite mound, and trees are seen surrounded by the smoke of the wildfire at the wetland of Pantanal, Transpantaneira park road in Mato Grosso state, Brazil, on September 17, 2020.  (Photo by MAURO PIMENTEL / AFP)

Where is the Pantanal?

Situated below the Amazon rainforest, the Pantanal stretches from western Brazil into Bolivia and Paraguay.

About 62 percent of the Pantanal is in Brazil.

The region’s total surface area is estimated at 224,253 square kilometers (86,585 square miles), a little smaller than the United Kingdom.

 

Mato Grosso State firefighter removes a turtle from a fire area in the wetlands of the Pantanal
A Mato Grosso State firefighter removes a turtle from a fire area in the wetlands of the Pantanal, near the Transpantaneira park road in Mato Grosso state, Brazil, on September 17, 2020. – The Pantanal, the world’s biggest tropical wetlands, is being devastated by record wildfires which are destroying vast areas of vegetation and threatening wildlife. (Photo by MAURO PIMENTEL / AFP)

Why is Pantanal Wetland burning?

The Pantanal is having its worst drought in 47 years.

Rainfall plunged by half for the period from January to May, usually the height of rainy season.

Researchers are still studying the factors driving the drought.

Climate change is a top suspect.

Studies show deforestation in the Amazon is having an impact on rainfall in other regions by shrinking the rainforest’s so-called “flying rivers”: clouds of mist that dump water across a large swathe of South America.

The fires are also being driven by the conversion of land for agricultural use and the introduction of non-native plant species more susceptible to fire.

 

animal doctor treating a Giant otter pup
A Giant otter pup (known as Ariranha in Brazil, scientific name Pteronura brasiliensis) receives treatment from a veterinarian at the Animal Rescue Center in the wetlands of the Pantanal, in Mato Grosso state, Brazil, on September 17, 2020.  (Photo by MAURO PIMENTEL / AFP)

How bad is it?

An estimated 23,500 square kilometers, more than 10 percent of the Pantanal, have gone up in smoke since January.

There have been a record-shattering 14,764 fires in the Brazilian Pantanal this year, according to satellite data from Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE) — already an annual record, and increase of 214 percent from the same period last year.

What is at stake?

The Pantanal is one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth, with nearly 1,300 animal species and more than 3,500 plant species, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Disruptions to the water cycle threaten its delicate ecosystem, whose famous wildlife includes the endangered hyacinth macaw and shrinking population of jaguars.

 

 

-AFP

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