Sometimes referred to as the ‘lungs of the world’, Amazonia is the largest tropical rainforest ecosystem on Earth (over 7.5 million km2). It covers the huge hydrographic basin of the Amazon River – the largest by volume of water in the world, fed by over 1 000 tributaries and extending 7 000 km from the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean. It makes up over half the wet tropical rainforest in the world, around 6 % of the Earth’s total surface and 20 % of the total area of the Americas. It spreads over eight South American countries (Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guyana and Suriname, and over 60 % of its surface is in Brazil) as well as French Guyana, which is an Overseas Department-Region of France, and an European Union (EU) outermost region. The Amazon Basin represents 20 % of the total volume of fresh water flowing into the world’s oceans (220 000 m3 per second), and its hydrological cycle feeds a complex system of aquifers and groundwater of nearly 4 million km2.
Amazonia is also the biggest carbon sink in the world with the exception of the oceans, and is key to stabilising and regulating regional and global weather patterns, as the water vapour freed by the rainforest into the atmosphere generates ‘flying rivers’ that bring rain to other areas in the region (as distant as Sao Paulo or Buenos Aires), which otherwise would be much drier. The region is also intrinsically related to the survival of other adjacent eco-regions, such as the Pantanal (the world’s biggest freshwater wetland, shared by Brazil – Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul – Bolivia and Paraguay) and the Chaco – which contains South America’s second-largest forest and is shared by Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia. Amazonia is also home to one in ten known species, including over 40 000 different plant species and over 2 500 species of fish. Over 390 protected areas represent 25 % of the Amazonian biomass. As a pole of human cultural diversity, it is home to over 420 indigenous peoples, 86 languages and 650 dialects.