Wildfires Break Records in the World’s Largest Wetlands

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Carlos Ezequiel Vannoni/EPA

Jacob Nguyen

Wetlands in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay (South America’s Pantanal region), have experienced the worst fires in decades. You’ve heard of fires in California and the Amazon, but now there are rampant wildfires in the world’s largest wetlands? The wildfires in the largest tropical wetland have been on fire for months, unnoticed by the world. 

In recent decades, wildfires have hit South America’s Pantanal region the hardest. Blazes have withered away 28% of the floodplain in parts of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. Many of the unique habitats and ecosystems of Pantanal’s communities have been destroyed. Zachary Tomlinson, a Sophomore at Hamilton Highschool, speaks about the concern of the burning of vegetation by saying, “This is bad because animals rely on the plants for food, and if they don’t have food, it messes up the entire food chain.”  

However, the damage done here has a global effect on the world. Wetlands like Pantanal are important carbon sinks. These carbon sinks are ecosystems that absorb and contain more carbon than the amount that they release. When ecosystems like Pantanal are burned, these greenhouse gases are released into air. And instead of fighting global warming, it now contributes to it. Since Pantanal is one of the world’s largest wetlands that keeps in greenhouse gases, it becomes clear why protecting it is so important. And though much of the attention of wildfires goes to the Amazon due to it being the largest rainforest, some believe that the Pantanal region should receive the same amount of attention for these reasons. 

With 21,200 fires compared to the previous record of 12,500 fires in 2005, many of the unique and endangered animals are even more at risk of losing their habitats. Some of these animals include: Jaguars, Capybaras, Black Caimans, Giant Otters and Hyacinth Macaws. The Pantanal region is also an important stop to around 180 species of migratory birds. 

During the wettest seasons of November through March, around three quarters of the plains are flooded, but the water soon drains away in the months of April through September. However, blazes have recently been reaching the places that are usually protected by natural water barriers. With the extreme changes in the climate this year, Pantanal is no exception to its unpredictable weather conditions. The rapid deforestation of the Amazon is having notable effects on the Pantanal region. Leticia Larcher, an Ecology and conservation expert, said deforestation from the Amazon shortened rainy seasons resulting in more severe droughts. 

As time goes on, the consequences from human interaction with the environment have become more and more clear. The climate will continue to worsen until action is made to change our ecological footprint. But with the many innovations that continue to change the way we use energy, perhaps we will be able to reverse the effects of climate change in the future.