The Amazon River in South America is the second longest river in the world after the Nile. It is 4,080 miles long and runs from the Andes Mountains in Peru through Brazil to the Atlantic Ocean. It contains more water than any other river in the world- more than the Mississippi, the Nile and the Yangtze combined. In one second the Amazon pours more than 55 million gallons, or 600,000 cubic meters of water, into the Atlantic Ocean, which dilutes the ocean's saltiness for 100 miles from shore.

This river system is one of the world's most important river systems. The Amazon River makes up for 1/5 of the earth's fresh water. Each year the Amazon River empties tons of solid particles into the Ocean. This contains lots of fish food.

The Amazon is the widest river in the world. Many kilometers from its mouth it can be as wide as 11 kilometers, and 40 kilometers in the wet season; at the place where it meets the Atlantic, it is as much as 325 kilometers. It is interesting that it is widening by as much as 2 meters a year due to waves from ships breaking down the banks. Compare the Amazon to the width of the Bow River in Calgary, which is only 350 feet, or 107 meters wide, as it leaves the city limits. This means that the Amazon is from 100 to 3,000 times wider near its mouth than the Bow River in Calgary!

The Amazon got its name from the Spanish explorers. Female warriors called "Icamiabas", meaning "women without husbands" attacked Francisco Orellana. Orellana named the river "Rio Amazonas" after these women whom he compared to the Amazons of ancient Greek mythology.

The Amazon River basin is the home of so many animals- especially "extreme" creatures, like catfish which, in the U.S., grow up to 40 lbs., but in Brazil have been measured up to 200 lbs. There is also the anaconda, the largest snake in the world and the piranha, the most ferocious fish in the world. The Amazon River has 2,000 different species of fish, an extreme number for any given area.

The Wealth of the Rainforests

  • The Amazonian Rainforest covers over a billion acres, encompassing areas in Brazil, Venezuela, Columbia and the Eastern Andean region of Ecuador and Peru. If Amazonia were a country, it would be the ninth largest in the world.
  • The Amazon Rainforest has been described as the "Lungs of our Planet" because it provides the essential environmental world service of continuously recyling carbon dioxide into oxygen. More than 20 percent of the world oxygen is produced in the Amazon Rainforest.
  • More than half of the world's estimated 10 million species of plants, animals and insects live in the tropical rainforests. One-fifth of the world's fresh water is in the Amazon Basin.
  • One hectare (2.47 acres) may contain over 750 types of trees and 1500 species of higher plants.
  • At least 80% of the developed world's diet originated in the tropical rainforest. Its bountiful gifts to the world include fruits like avocados, coconuts, figs, oranges, lemons, grapefuit, bananas, guavas, pinapples, mangos and tomatoes; vegetables including corn, potatoes, rice, winter squash and yams; spices like black pepper, cayenne, chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, sugar cane, tumeric, coffee and vanilla and nuts including Brazil nuts and cashews.

  • At least 3000 fruits are found in the rainforests; of these only 200 are now in use in the Western World. The Indians of the rainforest use over 2,000.
  • Rainforest plants are rich in secondary metabolites, particularly alkaloids. Biochemists believe alkaloids protect plants from disease and insect attacks.Many alkaloids from higher plants have proven to be of medicinal value and benefit.
  • Currently, 121 prescription drugs currently sold worldwide come from plant-derived sources. And while 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients, less than 1% of these tropical trees and plants have been tested by scientists.
  • The U.S. National Cancer Institute has identified 3000 plants that are active against cancer cells. 70% of these plants are found in the rainforest. Twenty-five percent of the active ingredients in today's cancer-fighting drugs come from organisms found only in the rainforest
  • Vincristine, extracted from the rainforest plant, Periwinkle, is one of the world's most powerful anticancer drugs. It has dramatically increased the survival rate for acute childhood leukemia since its discovery.
  • In 1983, there were no U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers involved in research programs to discover new drugs or cures from plants. Today, over 100 pharmaceutical companies and several branches of the US government, including giants like Merck and The National Cancer Institute, are engaged in plant research projects for possible drugs and cures for viruses, infections, cancer and even AIDS.

The Amazon Rainforest...
The Last Frontier on Earth

If Amazonia were a country, it would be the ninth largest in the world. The Amazon Rainforest, the world's greatest remaining natural resource, is the most powerful and bio-actively diverse natural phenomenon on the planet. It has as been described as the "Lungs of our Planet" because it provides the essential environmental world service of continuously recycling carbon dioxide into oxygen. It is estimated that over twenty percent of earth's oxygen is produced in this area.

The Amazon rainforest covers over 1.2 billion acres representing two-fifths of the enormous South American continent and is found in nine South American countries: Brazil, Columbia, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and the three Guyanas. With 2.5 million square miles of rainforest, the Amazon Rainforest represents 54 percent of the total rainforests left on the planet.

The life force of the Amazon Rainforest is the mighty Amazon River. It starts as a trickle high in the snow-capped Andes mountains and flows over 4,000 miles across the South American continent until it enters the Atlantic ocean at Belem, Brazil where it is 200 to 300 miles across, depending on the season. Even 1,000 miles inland, it is still 7 miles in width. The river is so deep that ocean liners can travel 2,300 miles inland, up its length. The Amazon River flows through the center of the rainforest and is fed by 1,100 tributaries, seventeen of which are over 1,000 miles long. The Amazon is by far the largest river system in the world and over two-thirds of all the fresh water found on earth is in the Amazon basin's rivers, streams and tributaries. With so much water its not unusual that that the main mode of transportation throughout the area is by boat. The smallest and most common boats used today are still made out of hollowed tree trunks, whether they are powered by outboard motors or more often by man-powered paddles. Almost 14,000 miles of Amazon waterway are navigable and several million miles through swamps and forests are penetrable by canoe. The enormous Amazon River carries massive amounts of silt from run-off from the rainforest floor. Massive amounts of silt deposited at the mouth of the Amazon river has created the largest river island in the world, Marajo Island, which is roughly the size of Switzerland. With this massive fresh water system, it not unusual that the life beneath the water is as abundant and diverse as the surrounding rainforest's plant and animal species. Over 2,000 species of fish have been identified in the Amazon Basin - more species than the entire Atlantic Ocean.

The Amazon Basin was formed in the Paleozoic period, somewhere between 500 and 200 million years ago. The extreme age of the region in geologic terms has much to do with the relative infertility of the rainforest soil and the richness and unique diversity of the plant and animal life. There are more fertile areas in the Amazon River's flood plain, where the river deposits richer soil brought from the Andes, which only formed 20 million years ago. The rich diversity of plant species in the Amazon Rainforest is the highest on earth. Experts show that one hectare (2.47 acres) may contain over 750 types of trees and 1500 species of higher plants and it is estimated that one hectare of Amazon rainforest contains about 900 tons of living plants. Altogether it contains the largest collection of living plants and animal species in the world. The Andean mountain range and the Amazon jungle are home to more than half of the world's species of flora and fauna and one in five of all the birds in the world live in the rainforests of the Amazon.. To date, some 438,000 species of plants of economic and social interest have been registered in the region and many more have yet been cataloged or even discovered.

Once a vast sea of tropical forest, the Amazon rainforest today is scarred by roads, farms, ranches and dams. Brazil is gifted with a full third of the world's remaining rainforests and unfortunately, it is also one of the world's great rainforest destroyers, burning or felling over 2.7 million acres each year. Today, more than 20 percent of rainforest in the Amazon has been razed and is gone forever. This ocean of green nearly as large as Australia, is the last great rainforest in the known universe and it is being decimated like the others before it. Why? Like other rainforests already lost forever, the land is being cleared for logging timber, large scale cattle ranching, mining operations, government road building and hydroelectric schemes, military operations, and the subsistence agriculture of peasants and landless settlers. Sadder still, in many places the rainforests are burnt simply to provide charcoal to power industrial plants in the area.

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