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Climate Change on the Amazon River and Mekong River

While not in the part of the Amazon we cruise on, the recently damaged PetroPeru pipeline leaked 3,000 barrels of oil into the Maranon River in late February 2016. This environmental accident highlights just how severely human activity affects the world we live in and the unfortunate consequences of environmental degradation. In addition to risk of environmental pollution, communities along the Amazon and Mekong Rivers where Aqua Expeditions operates are also subject to the effects of climate change. With International Earth Day to be celebrated on the 22nd of April, we want to  spotlight on some of the impacts climate change is having on these stunning parts of the world to try and raise awareness about this global issue.

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The effects of global climate change are being experienced worldwide. The United National Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UNFCCC) defines climate change as “a change in climate attributable directly or indirectly to human activity, and that occurs in addition to natural processes of climate variability, observed over comparable periods of time”.

Climate change occurs when the earth’s atmosphere warms due to the release of greenhouse gasses. When released into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and other human practices, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases like methane absorb infrared radiation from the sun, trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere and altering the global atmosphere. Major and immediate impacts of climate change include increased flooding, storms, drought, and food insecurity.

Climate Change in Peru’s Amazon

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The world’s climate depends on the Amazon’s rain forests. As well as storing vast amounts of carbon, these huge forests regulate global rainfall patterns. Rain forests transform the sun’s energy into water vapor and generate clouds and rain. When Amazon rain forests are lost, less water is released into the atmosphere, and fewer clouds form which can promote droughts. And when forests are cut and burnt or left to rot, their carbon is released, contributing to climate change. Globally, deforestation is responsible for up to 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If we don’t take action to tackle climate change, Amazon rain forests could dry up and die over the course of this century which will have further catastrophic effects on the climate and lead to more disastrous impacts around the world.

Climate change has already been affecting Amazon communities:

  • Increased frequency of droughts and flooding is affecting local agriculture, food supplies, transportation and economies.
  • Drying forests are less able to stabilize soils and protect freshwater sources and crops
  • Droughts are causing dead fish to contaminate river water supplies which when used to irrigate crops, cause crop failure
  • Wildlife and plants are struggling to transition to new habitats due to deforestation
  • Migratory fish are relocating which affects the sustenance and livelihoods of local communities
  • Dense riverbank vegetation is disappearing which helps to maintain stream temperatures, provide shelter to wildlife and corridors for animal migration and reduce flooding and erosion from increased rains along the river banks
  • Hundreds of communities are becoming isolated by the low water levels experienced in severe droughts and are unable to get to markets, hospitals and schools

Climate Change on the Mekong River in Cambodia and Vietnam

The endless green rice fields scattered between the Mekong River’s nine tributaries show just how fertile this region is and explain why this area in southeast Asia is one of the world’s major food baskets. The Mekong delta houses the richest inland fishery and accounts for more than a fifth of the world’s rice exports, however the impacts of climate change and change in weather patterns are being felt across the Lower Mekong Basin. Encroaching sea water from the south due to climate change as well as other man-made threats, a proliferation of hydro dams in the north and large-scale sand mining, are endangering the economies and health of the Mekong Delta.

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Climate change effects on Mekong River communities:

  • A rise in sea levels are threatening the region’s coastal communities and could also result in the displacement of millions of people throughout the Delta
  • Saltwater intrusion caused by rising sea levels are taking a toll on agriculture, aquaculture and local inland fisheries which leads to reduced agricultural productivity, food scarcity, unemployment and poverty
  • A regional increase in annual precipitation and more extreme weather events such as typhoons and rising temperatures make the basin more vulnerable to floods and drought further affecting people’s livelihoods

At Aqua Expeditions, we take climate change seriously as we so value protecting our environment, preserving wildlife and conserving our earth’s natural resources. Find out more about what you can do to mitigate against climate change when you travel with us.