Anybody who has ever visited one know there’s something special about the jungle. But why are rainforests important? Not just for local people and wildlife, but for the health of our planet?
The Earth was originally packed with these regions, which are centered around the equator. They’re usually full of low-hanging vines, vibrant greenery, brilliantly colored blooms, and predators on the prowl. People travel from all across the world to explore these dense, tropical areas, and the reliance of locals on the regions continues even as threats to their survival increase.
These regions power our planet in more ways than one. They provide us with about 30% of the total oxygen used by all species to sustain life. They also serve as a protective home to millions of unique species of plants and animals. The power and productivity of rainforests is so intense that they’re often referred to as the “lungs of the earth.”
Technically, the term “jungle” is more a descriptive classification rather than a scientific one. Jungles are generally associated with the tropics, and typically refer to the tropical rainforest ecosystem.
The sheer fact that they’re home to more than half of the planet’s species of plant and animal life should be reason enough to understand why rainforests are important resources. Yet still these total ecosystems are under constant threat of destruction. Sadly, human ignorance has led to greed. Now, just a century after the beginning of deforestation practices, our planet is nearly unrecognizable.
As protectors of the planet, we all need to help preserve these life-giving resources for future generations of all species. To celebrate all of the good that these jungles bring, here are three of Discover Corps’ favorite rainforests around the world:
But there’s so much more to the country, and travelers who venture off the beaten path and into the Amazon are rewarded with stunning landscapes, lush jungles, and more species of plants and animals than you can count!
Part of the vast Amazon River basin, the Peruvian Amazon stretches east of the Andes to the borders with Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, and Bolivia. This region comprises 60% of Peru’s total area, and is unique in terms of its natural features within South America. The beautiful basin greatly contributes to Peru’s world-renowned biodiversity.
It also perfectly illustrates why rainforests are important. Peru boasts the largest number of bird species of any country in the world, as well as the third-largest number of mammals. Of these, 44% of the bird species and 63% of the mammals are found exclusively in the Peruvian Amazon. Peru is also home to an incredible array of endemic Butterflies, Orchids, and other unique flora and fauna.
Unfortunately, the Peruvian Amazon is also one of the jungles that is most at-risk, largely due to the illegal logging industry that has sprung up in recent years. For conservationists, this is incredibly disconcerting. The largest rainforest in the world is under attack, and as travelers we must keep this in the forefront of our minds.
To help ensure the future of this global treasure, consider supporting non governmental organizations NGOs that are combatting this deforestation. You can also travel with sustainable organizations that are doing good in the region.
Australia’s Daintree National Park
Daintree National Park takes up a significant portion of Queensland, on Australia’s southeastern coast. This gorgeous region– the largest rainforest on the Australian continent– is home to many native Australian species. Unfortunately World Wildlife Fund estimates 3.6 to 6.1 million acres of this ancient jungle will be deforested over the next 15 years.
Despite the challenges Daintree is facing, the park itself is lush, beautiful, and unique. Most people visit Australia for big cities such as Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.
But visitors to the more remote Daintree rainforest are sure to be surprised by its incredible biodiversity, including the Wompoo Fruit Dove, Striped Possum, Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher, and several species of Kangaroo.
Once you arrive in Daintree National Park, there are several exciting options for exploring the area. Ocean safaris are always popular: They include snorkeling in order to view marine species like Giant Clams and Sea Turtles.
Travelers may also want to visit the Daintree Discovery Center. Here the staff tracks sightings of the rarest species in the park, and can point visitors in the right direction! They also offer walking tours to the most popular portions of the jungle.
Regardless of your interest in seeing specific species or ecosystems, Daintree is a gorgeous and welcome respite from Australian city life. This is why conservationists in Australia are working harder than ever to protect it.
Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park
Named by National Geographic as one of the most intensely biodiverse places on Earth, Corcovado National Park is considered the “crown jewel” of ecotourism in Costa Rica. The park was established on October 24th, 1975, and encompasses an area of 164 square miles.
The largest national park in Costa Rica, Corcovado protects about a third of the Osa Peninsula, which is one of the most remote areas of the increasingly popular, tourist-friendly country.
Visitors anxious to spot rare or endangered wildlife will not be disappointed. Corcovado is home to an impressive array of species, including Baird’s Tapirs, Harpy Eagles, American Crocodiles, Spectacled Caiman, Jaguar, Ocelots, Margays, and Pumas.
Hikers visiting the region can attempt to catch all four Costa Rican monkey species (Central American Squirrel Monkey, White-faced Capuchin, Mantled Howler, and Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey) playing in the canopy. Along the way, they may also see Sloth, Collared Peccaries, Northern Tamandua and, if they’re lucky, even the Silky Anteater.
In addition, the coastal waters of the Osa Peninsula are home to Bull Sharks, Dolphins, Sea Turtles, and even Whales, which breed in the warm, protected areas during winter months.
Visiting Corcovado National Park is always ranked among the top things to do in Costa Rica for families. But this special park is really a must-see for wildlife enthusiasts of any age. With overnight stays in the Osa Peninsula possible, there’s no limit to what you might see and experience in this magical jungle paradise.
Do you have a favorite jungle paradise, or one that’s been on your “must-see” list for too long? Please let us know in the comments why rainforests are important to you! –Sara McDaniel
BIO: Sara McDaniel is a San Diego-based educator who uses her summers to explore the world, often alongside her students! In addition to writing for The Volunteer Traveler, she has directed international programming for various travel organizations. When she’s not writing or researching, she can often be found swimming in the ocean, eating all of the delicious foods she can find, and teaching in San Diego State University’s College of Education.