Rainforests, we hear a lot about them. Their beauty, the majestic trees and the critters that live in them, and how they are being mauled down by overseas profit interests. Other than the obvious loss of a place so pristine, just why are rainforests important?
Rainforests are hotspots of biodiversity. One hectare (2.47 acres) may contain over 750 types of trees and 1500 species of higher plants.
Rainforests are vast areas of natural beauty and scientific awe. Pulsing with energy, the songs of tropical birds and the bright colors of exotic plants bring the jungle to life.
What differentiates rainforests from other forests is the abundant supplies of rain; it is in the name. The hot and humid climate within the canopy provides a habitat for many living species. The Amazon rainforest drains South America from the tip of the Andes on the West coast into the Atlantic Ocean on the East coast through Brazil. The Amazon’s daily freshwater discharge into the Atlantic is enough to supply New York City’s freshwater needs for nine years. One fifth of the earth’s freshwater comes from the Amazon rainforest alone.
The wealth of resource goes far beyond our awareness. Take the example of fruit, western world consumes 200 different types, the native Indian tribes consume over 2000 and the rainforest has 3000 different species of fruit. That means for every fruit we know and love there’s 14 others. We use the plants for medicines and the trees for furniture. Hardwoods like mahogany and walnut are sought after for their strength and visual qualities. But take these too quickly and the forest doesn’t have time to replenish its resources. If we keep cutting down trees we’re losing possible cures and the wildlife that regulates the ecosystem.
Produce from the forests – rubber, cocoa, coffee – provide important income to the home countries, along with tourism. Eco-tourism now offers the best option for the country, the rainforest, the world and even the tourists as although the price their paying increases so does the quality of their experience, small groups get a tailored experience. We have to remember that there are indigenous tribes who live in jungles they provide for themselves within the rainforest environment.
But all this is changing because of the irresponsible and selfish human activity. Rainforests are cleared to create cheap land for cattle ranches which bring us MacDonalds’ beef burgers. Perhaps a boycott may shake up the oversized trans-national corporation. At home we need to think twice about the hardwood flooring and doors.
The rainforests are vital to the regulation of the earth’s ecosystem. The Prince’s Rainforest Trust says ‘If we lose the battle against rainforests we lose the battle against climate change’. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is another international non-government organization working to promote ‘environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world’s forests’. FSC certified products can give you the peace of mind you need to know that you are not contributing to the downfall of our planet’s bio-diversity.
Why is the rainforest important? Well because of the wealth of useful, natural resources, mostly unknown to the western world, the wealth of organisms and wildlife and their vital role as an eco-regulator.