On this expedition, you will learn about the Madeira River, the Rio Negro, the massive ecosystem of Amazon, human activity in Amazon and the Tumbira community.
Rio Mariepaua near the Rio Madeira
The largest area drained, the most water carried, possibly the longest river in the world—that is the Amazon. This great river also has as many as 15,000 tributaries flowing into it, and sub-tributaries flow into them.
The Madeira River is the second largest tributary of the Amazon. Here one of its own tributaries, the Rio Mariepaua, is ready to empty its waters into the Madeira.
Boating the Amazon
Riverside inhabitants use the Amazon and its tributaries for transportation and fishing. Fish that are commonly caught and sold include the pirarucu, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish, and giant catfish. Some Amazon fish are used in aquariums.
The Madeira and many of its tributaries are called whitewater rivers. The heavy loads of sediment they pick up and carry into the Amazon make their water light-colored.
Wildlife in the Waters
Below the river’s surface life abounds: turtles, river dolphins, and at least 1,500 species of fish. You wouldn’t want to dive into these waters! They are also home to alligators and schools of piranha with razor-sharp teeth.
The Rio Negro is the largest of all the Amazon tributaries. Flowing from southeast of Colombia, it crosses some of the remotest parts of the Amazon basin. Few people see or travel its waters. Here the river is relatively narrow.
Before the Rio Negro flows into the mighty Amazon, it broadens up to 32 kilometers across, and islands dot its waters.
By John DominisLIFE Photo Collection
Bird in Flight
Amazonia is rich in birdlife. Raptors like hawks and eagles fly solo, searching for prey. Parakeets fly together in huge flocks. The rainforest is filled with the sights and sounds of birds, from colorful parrots and macaws to big-beaked toucans.
Like some other streams in the Amazon Basin, the Rio Negro is classified as a blackwater river. The dark color is due to high levels of acidic tannins that leech into the water from vegetation.
Within the Dense Trees
It’s impossible to list all the animals that might live within the riverbank trees you see here. The Amazon’s animals are numerous and diverse (from 8,000 insects to carnivores like anteaters), and many species haven’t even been identified yet.
Primary Old Growth in the Amazon Forest
Aside from the waters of the Amazon and its tributaries, the dominant feature of the Amazon Basin is the rainforest. This massive ecosystem, sometimes called Amazonia, spans more than 5.5 square kilometers.
It contains an estimated 390 billion trees belonging to approximately 16,000 species—the largest and most diverse rainforest on Earth. Many Amazon plants have value as medicines, some yet to be discovered. This great plant diversity creates layers in the rainforest ecosystem.
Trees up to 40 meters high—tall enough to capture sunlight—form a canopy over the rainforest. Many animals call the treetops home—the forest canopy is noisy with the cries of birds, squeals of monkeys, and the buzzing of insects.
The middle level of the rainforest is the understory. Here the straight, almost branchless trunks of trees rise through shorter plants with large leaves. Animals that live in the cool, dark understory include poisonous tree frogs and snakes.
Floor of the Forest
The floor of the Amazon rainforest can be quite dark. Sunlight is hard pressed to reach it through the trees. Less light means fewer and smaller plants. Dead plants and animals decay quite quickly on the rainforest floor.
Manioc Flour Production at Capintuba Community
Human activity in Amazonia is millennia old. People have fished in the waters and hunted and farmed in the rainforest for more than 10,000 years, and several million still do. Yet along with Homo sapiens, perhaps two-thirds of the known organisms of the world also live in the rainforest.
The Flour Mill
Manioc (also called cassava) is a root crop native to the Amazon. People bring it to communal mills like this one to be ground into flour. Manioc is a source of vital carbohydrates for the people of the Amazon basin.
Trees of the Forest
The trees of the Amazon rainforest play a critical role in Earth’s climate. Their green leaves absorb carbon dioxide for photosynthesis and release oxygen as a by-product. In the atmosphere carbon dioxide prevents heat from leaving Earth.
Clearing the Rainforest
Today, great expanses of rainforest are being lost to lumbering and agriculture. The carbon dioxide released when substantial parts of the forest are cleared and burned may contribute to climate change. Additionally, loss of trees reduces the Amazon’s great biodiversity.
Tumbira is part of the Rio Negro Sustainable Development Reserve. It sits on a small tributary of the Amazon, upriver from the city of Manaus in Brazil.
One of the goals of the reserve is to help communities like Tumbira create management plans to use their local resources sustainably, or in a way that will make these resources last forever. For example, wood from the surrounding rainforest is now extracted legally and with conservation in mind.
The children of Tumbira attend classes in the Thomas Lovejoy School. This building complex also contains a teacher’s house and student lodge, as well as a research center for sustainability and a lab.
This small health clinic offers basic medical services to the people of Tumbira. Its staff can also practice telemedicine, consulting with a hospital in Manaus through a direct Internet connection when necessary.
To the left, you can see a soccer field. Soccer is a favorite game in this part of the world and children in most riverside villages grow up playing it.