The Pantanal is the largest continuous freshwater wetland in the world which encompasses a floodplain ecosystem with an area of flooded grassland and savanna, draining an area of c. 280,000 sq. km.(Pott and Vali. 2004). The Pantanal is located within the boundaries of Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia, and it is fed by the Paraguay River which has its headwaters in Mato Grosso, Brazil. There are a multitude of habitats resulting from the various soil types and inundation regimes that are responsible for an extraordinarily rich terrestrial and aquatic biota, and this is exemplified by the wetland’s richness in avian species diversity. 463 species of birds have been recorded in the Pantanal, and the wetland is also home to the largest known populations of several threatened mammals (Harris et al. 2005). There are potentially more species of birds in this region than there are within the continent of Europe. However, this tropical wetland is facing multiple problems that include pollution, deforestation and alteration of old growth forest, thereby impacting the balance of this ecologically rich wetland. Most of the land (more than 99%) of the Pantanal is privately owned (Conservation International, Pott et al. 2004). Only selected portions of the Brazilian Pantanal are protected, including a cluster of UNESCO World Heritage sites and a conservation corridor along the wetlands border with the Cerrado Hotspot
Wetand in Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia
The indigenous farmers selling their lands to migrants, who are shaping large scale agriculture on Pantanal’s highlands, are not aware of managing Pantanal’s land in a sustainable way. Industrialization of soyabean, sugar cane, corn and cotton has transformed millions of sq. km. of savannah (Innovations Report).
Removal and degradation of riparian forests is wide spread (Innovations Report)..
More than 40 percent of the area's original vegetation has been altered (Harris et al. 2005).
By 2000, old growth forest had been cleared or replaced by exotic grass covering an area of 12,182 sq. km. (Harris et al. 2005).
About 45% of the Paraguay River Basin that includes the Pantanal wetlands has already been transformed into land for ranching and agriculture (Mongabay 1).
More than 90 percent of the original vegetation of some districts in the Paraguay River Basin are under threat from deforestation and agricultural landuse change (Mongabay 1).
Introduction of two exotic fish species into rivers is causing extinction of local varieties of the Pantanal (Harris et al. 2005).
Unsustainable management of agriculture and grazing is causing erosion and excessive non-point source pollution (Junk et al. 2006).
Wetland habitats have been altered for cattle ranching through the introduction of exotic grasses (Junk et al. 2006, Harris et al. 2005).
Large scale transformation of native pasture to farmland is continuing (Harris et al. 2005).
Pollution from industries such as distilleries from alcohol producing industries, pesticides from soybean plantation and release of mercury from gold mining into nearby streams are causing serious threat to the Pantanal ecosystem (Junk et al. 2006, Harris et al. 2005).
Exotic fish are farmed in the Rio Paraguay Basin posing threats to local varieties (Harris et al. 2005).
The ecology of the Pantanal has become severely threatened by soil and water pollution from agricultural and industrial sources, in addition to anthropogenic waste from urban centers (Junk et al. 2005).
Siltation of the Taquari River (a tributary of Paraguay River) has begun to alter the hydrology of the region, thereby disrupting hydrological processes (Harris et al. 2005).
The downstream section of the Taquari River is now permanently flooded due to the deforestation on the upstream sections and its consequent erosion and siltation, have caused many farmers to lose their livelihoods (Conservation International).
Some parts of the Pantanal are now flooded year round due to siltation, which has negatively impacted species biodiversity as well as the livelihood of many farmers (Junk et al. 2006; Harris et al. 2005).
Fish populations are declining due to large scale dam construction in the Rio Cuiaba Basin and fishing communities are beginning to suffer (Harris et al. 2005, Conservation International).
Disease of domestic animals has now spread into wild animals such as deer and capybara (Junk et al. 2006).
The Pantanal is likely to disappear by 2050 if the destruction of original vegetation and other anthropogenic activities continue at current rates (Conservation International).
A number of South American governments have recently proposed a major waterway to transport agricultural produce that could significantly impact the region by draining large areas of the current wetlands (Harris et al. 2006).
A steel plant in Corumba, in the middle of Pantanal, is causing deforestation by illegally harvesting charcoal from forest on indigenous lands (Mongabay 2).
Effective actions are required at the local, state and national government levels to stop the destruction and to restore damaged areas of this tropical wetland.
Effective law enforcement through revising legislation is important for protection of the Pantanal (Conservation International).
Pott, Arnildo and Vali Joana Pott. 2004. Features and conservation of the Brazilian Pantanal wetland, Initiatives. Wetlands Ecology and Management. 12: 547–552.
Harris, M. B, Walfrido Tomas, Guilherme Mourao, Carolina J. Da Silva, Erika Guimaraes, Fatima Sonoda, and Eliani Fachim. 2005. Safeguarding the Pantanal Wetlands: Threats and Conservation. Conservation Biology. 19(3):714-720.
Junk, W. J., Mark Brown, Ian C. Campbell, Max Finlayson, Brij Gopal, Lars Ramberg and Barry G. Warner. 2006. The comparative biodiversity of seven globally important wetlands: a synthesis. Aquat. Sci. 68 (2006) 400–414.