Because of the World Cup and this thing known in the sporting world as “football” or “soccer,” all eyes are on Brazil. There has, rightfully, I think, been a lot of focus on the social justice problems facing the world’s seventh largest economy. However, it’s also a gorgeous tropical paradise. In fact, Brazil is home to seven natural World Heritage Sites, according to UNESCO.áAnd they are truly stunning. Take a look:
This national park straddles the border of Brazil and Argentina. It’s also home to one of the most breathtaking waterfalls in the world. Iguašu Falls is 80 meters high and 3 kilometers wide, and it kind of cascades down in levels.
The park itself is home to several endangered animals and plants, including the Red-spectacled Amazon parrot, the giant otter, and the Glaucous Macaw. In addition, Iguašu National Park is also home to various species of monkey, snake, caiman, cat and, of course, trees.
The Atlantic Forest is a tropical and subtropical forest in southern Brazil and Argentina. It’s not just a forest, though. The South-East Reserves have forest-covered mountains, wetlands and coastal islands. Because it’s been partially isolated since the last Ice Age, very many of its native species live only there. For example, a whopping 70 percent of the tree species and 85 percent of primate species in the Atlantic Forest only live in the Atlantic forest. Whoa.
The human impact on this area has been severe. About 88 percent of the original habitat has been destroyed or replaced by human-modified landscapes. The endemic species are especially at risk of extinction because they only live in this small area.
This is another portion of the Atlantic Forest. There is still a staggering amount of biodiversity; in fact, it has some of the richest biodiversity in the world. This area, however, is covered mostly with sierras on a limestone plateau. Like the South-East Reserves, many of the species that live here live only here. In addition, the animal and plant life are not very well understood, which makes conservation all the more important.
The Central Amazon Conservation Complex is part of the Ja˙ National Park in northwestern Brazil. It’s a great example of an ecosystem that is flooded every year and has the largest variety of electric fish in the world. It’s also the biggest protected area in the Amazon Basin at over 6ámillion hectares (over 23,000 square miles).
The forest floods during the wet season and exposes white sand beaches during the dry season. The complex also contains a large portion of the black-water drainage system. In fact, many of the species that live in this area are associated with these black-water rivers. The complex is home to hundreds of animal species, including the Amazonian manatee and South American river turtle. In addition, there are 17 archeological sites in the area.
The Pantanal Conservation Area is one of the world’s largest tropical wetlands. Like the other protected areas, the biodiversity in the Pantanal is hard to wrap your head around. Especially for birds. There are 650 types of bird that call the Pantanal home. It’s one of the most important breeding grounds for several wetland birds, including species of heron, ibis and duck. There are 26 species of parrot, alone, including the largest parrot, the hyacinth macaw. There are only about 3,000 hyacinth macaws in the wild and they live in the Pantanal. And, like all wetlands, it acts as a big water purification system, so protection from pollution is important.
These oceanic islands are formed by underwater mountain ranges poking their heads above the waters surface. Fernando de Noronha is the only known location for a subtype of the Atlantic Rainforest called the Insular Atlantic Forest. So far over 400 species of vascular plants have been recorded.
Both the Fernando de Noronha and the Rocas Atoll are incredibly important for marine life in the area, specifically for the breeding of tuna, shark, other fish species and marine mammals. The largest concentration of tropical seabirds in the western Atlantic is found here. In addition, you can find coral, sponges and algae in the shallow waters surrounding the islands. Islands like these play a big role in spreading organisms to coastal areas and the wider ocean. Fernando de Noronha and the Rocas Atoll make up over 50 percent of the surface area of oceanic islands in the South Atlantic, so they are super important to protect.
The Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park is basically just a giant, ancient plateau, with dozens of waterfalls. Emas National Park is a treeless savannah. Both contain species that have weathered past climate changes and may be important to keeping up the biodiversity in the region in the future. While the two parks are home to several species of mammal, including the pampas deer and giant anteater. In addition, several endangered birds live in the Cerrado region, including the dwarf tinamou, Brazilian merganser and lesser nothura.
Lead Photo Credit: Ethan Lindsey via Flickr