At an average annual devastation rate of 2.3%, the Pantanal, the world’s largest flood plain, may be gone in 45 years, according to a new study just release in Brazil.
The warning appears in the document, "Estimated Natural Area Loss in the Upper Paraguay Basin and the Brazilian Pantanal," produced by the non-governmental organization, Conservation International (CI-Brazil).
CI-Brazil researchers analyzed satellite images to compare the proportions of areas in which native vegetation still exists with those in which it has vanished. The report demonstrates that, through 2004, the original vegetation had disappeared in around 44% of the region under scrutiny.
Over half the territory in 59 of the 87 Brazilian municipalities in the Upper Paraguay Basin had suffered devastation, and 12-49% of the territory in the other 28 had been deforested.
The situation is critical in the 22 municipalities in which deforestation has affected over 80% of the territory, and the percentage of original vegetation destroyed surpasses 90% in 19 of them.
The study also shows that 17% of the Pantanal’s original plant cover has been destroyed. The state of Mato Grosso do Sul is responsible for around two-thirds of this index, while Mato Grosso accounts for the rest. Deforestation, the study says, affects as much as 45% of the Basin’s total area.
The study also analyzed the two geographic regions that comprise the Upper Paraguay Basin: the plateaus and the flood plains. "The factors that cause deforestation of the plateaus are related to the expansion of intensive agriculture, mainly soybean cultivation. In the flood plains, one of the main influences is the expansion of cattle-raising," affirms the manager of the CI-Brazil’s Pantanal Program, Sandro Menezes.
According to Menezes, it is important to conserve the areas surrounding the flood plains, because that is where the rivers that form the Pantanal originate.
"We have examples in which deforestation of the headwater areas produced a series of impacts farther down the rivers," he affirms.
"In Mato Grosso do Sul we have the example of the Taquari River, which was subjected to an accelerated deforestation process along its banks for many years, leading to problems of siltation, course changes, and loss of water potential, among others," he adds.
The Upper Paraguay Basin contains 600 thousand square kilometers, more than half (363 thousand) in Brazilian territory. The headwaters occupy an area of 215 thousand square kilometers, which represent 59% of the Basin’s total area, while the Pantanal flood plains occupy 41%.