World’s Largest Wetlands Are In Danger

South America’s Pantanal region, the world’s largest wetlands, have been drastically affected by wildfires in the last year. The Pantanal area is an estimated 200,000 square km, containing around 3% of the world’s wetlands. The flames have already impacted 28% of the region which is connected to other large areas such as Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia. Firefighters are still attempting to control the fires. The region occupies thousands of rare and endangered animals, many of which are at risk. These wetlands have a significant impact on animal habitats as well as the livelihoods of indigenous communities. 

The Pantanal wetlands are vital to the earth’s health, providing the planet’s most effective carbon sinks. These ecosystems absorb carbon from the atmosphere and store the substance rather than releasing it. The release of this greenhouse gas can lead to an increase in global warming. Ironically, the destruction of the Pantanal wetlands can lead to climate change but it is also affected by climate change. The drastic increase in global warming also further exacerbates extreme weather events, such as wildfires. Similarly, the rain patterns and the amount of precipitation has also been affected. These issues have become more common and recurring as global warming has increased. 

The wetlands are reliant on a flood pulse which occurs during the wet season from November to March, when 75% of the area becomes flooded. This water is drained during the dry season from April to September. However, the dry season for this year has been the most severe since the 1970s. The Pantanal biome has been affected by 21,200 fires this year. There were 12,500 fires in the year 2005;  this means that there was a 69% increase in 2020 compared to the numbers that were recorded 15 years ago. Furthermore, there were 8,106 fires in September 2020 alone. The monthly average for September has quadrupled in 2020. 

Larcher, the representative of environmental NGO Instituto Homem Pantaneiro, states that these fires are man-made. For instance, livestock farmers use fire as a traditional method of clearing the farm fields before sowing new crops. Due to longer dry seasons and shorter wet seasons, these fires tend to spread to larger areas. Due to the drastic increase in wildfires, this method that has now been banned by the government. However, placing blame on local farmers for following traditional farming methods would be inaccurate. A recent report by Driving Sustainable Economies found that there are 100 companies responsible for 71% of the earth’s global emissions. 

Thus, we must pay attention to important global issues such as the devastation of the Pantanal Wetlands. The warming of the globe has severe impacts for everyone, but disproportionately affects those living in poorer countries despite these communities being the least to contribute to climate change. In the end, we must work together to try to save the Pantanal Wetland region. At the individual level, this can include signing petitions and raising awareness of these issues. At the societal level, more importantly, we must put pressure on large corporations to use more sustainable production patterns and begin to invest in cleaner energy sources. Structural change is needed in order to hold the most powerful industries accountable.