Endangered Ecosystem: Amazon River Basin

TK

The vast physical scale of the Amazon River and its jungles are matched only by the impressive array of statistics relating to the area.

The region spans the borders of eight countries and one overseas territory.

The Amazon has the world's largest river basin and is the source of one fifth of all free flowing fresh water on Earth.

The Amazon rain forests are the planet's largest and home to one-tenth of all known species on Earth.

VIDEO: The Natural Beauty of the Amazon River
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Given all that the Amazon is, there is little wonder that it has been a magnet for explorers and adventurers from all over the world.

The first European to sail into the river was the Spanish explorer Vicente Yanez Pinzon in 1515. Pinzon was followed by many of his compatriots in search of the legendary, and, until now, elusive El Dorado, the lost city of gold.

To this day there has not been a single person who has managed to walk from the source of the river to where it pours into the Atlantic Ocean.

With that in mind, one (some may say, crazy) Englishman, Ed Stafford, set off from the source of the Amazon in Peru more than two years ago, to accomplish that very feat.

Walking the Amazon River Basin

It was on the banks of this mighty river where Bill Weir managed to catch up with Stafford and got a taste of life in this awe-inspiring part of the world.

On the subject of the Amazon, Stafford has had quite a bit of time to observe and ponder the region and man's impact there.

"The Amazon in all its glory is fantastic because it's so sparsely populated," he said. "If you live in an Amazonian town, part of the beauty of it, part of the character of it, is that all of your transport is by boat and I personally don't see the need to cut a big road through the forest, because the beauty of living in the Amazon is that you have this complete aquatic lifestyle basically.

"There's a recent UN report only a couple of days ago actually that I read, that said that the habitat loss is actually still quite alarming in Brazil," he said. "Having said that, there is certainly a change in attitude here. Every Brazilian that you meet will quote the 'lungs of the planet' comment at you, so people here do understand how precious the rain forest is, but there's no doubt that it's still going on and it's going on at a rate that still isn't yet sustainable."

After spending a few days with Stafford, Weir got back to Santarem, three hours away by boat, where Weir marveled at what he had just experienced.

"The Amazon wears you down after just a day or two, because there is so much life in this basin, so much heat, so much water and all of it fighting for survival, all the plants animals and fish, really in a death struggle to survive in the harshest of environments," Weir said.

"The first westerners sailed down this river almost 500 years ago, and in all that time, this beast remained too wild to bridge, that's about to change," he said. "As the 4,000-mile river is about to get its first bridge across, but the wilderness around it, it remains, and the river that starts with a trickle and ends up more than 200 miles wide at the Atlantic rolls on. Simply amazing."

Stafford said he is planning to finish his amazing adventure in August.

His Web site and blogs can be found at www.walkingtheamazon.com.

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