World Rainforest Day: Honoring and Protecting the World’s Biodiversity Hot Spot

Though the world’s tropical rainforests cover just 3.6% of the Earth’s surface, (add in the temperate rainforests and the total goes to about 8%), they play an outsized role in the planet’s health and wellbeing.

Their ability to pump out oxygen through photosynthesis, just like all plants do, has earned rainforests the label “the lungs of the planet.” 

This is, however, both overstatement and understatement. 

Beyond air supply

Granted, the rainforests do produce about a quarter of the world’s oxygen — but the oceans produce much more, anywhere from 50% to 80%. It would be an exaggeration to say that rainforests are responsible for every breath we take, or even every other. 

On the other hand, by thinking primarily of rainforests as air supply, we overlook their other key contributions to the planet — including their ability to regulate the Earth’s climate by scrubbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, being home to indigenous communities, and contributing to local economies by providing sustainably managed timber, food, and natural products. 

And we can’t ignore the fact that rainforests are incredibly diverse ecosystems teeming with life. Estimates suggest rainforests house at least half of the world's plant and animal species, including millions of species yet to be discovered in unexplored areas. A single hectare (about 2.5 acres) of rainforest may contain thousands of different plant species, hundreds of tree species, and countless insect species.

Taken together, it’s easy to see why those attributes have earned the world’s rainforests their own day, June 22. 

And unlike those unofficial holidays whose origin stories are shrouded in mystery, we can trace World Rainforest Day to a specific year —2017 — and a single organization: the Rainforest Partnership. That group focuses on protecting rainforests by working with indigenous communities, promoting sustainable practices, and supporting research and education.

Origin of species

Experts say there are four key reasons why rainforests have given rise to such incredible biodiversity:

  • They experience consistently warm temperatures and high rainfall, providing a stable environment ideal for a wide range of life to thrive.
  • From the dense forest floor to the towering canopy, the complex layered structure of the rainforest allows for varying light, temperature, and humidity conditions. Each layer supports unique plant and animal life adapted to those specific conditions.
  • Rainforests convert sunlight into energy very efficiently. This creates a complex food web suitable for a vast array of species.
  • Because rainforests have existed for millions of years, species have had a long time to evolve and adapt to their environment. 

Sadly, the amount of rainforest surface is shrinking year after year, taking diversity with it. The World Resources Institute, which uses research and analysis to address pressing environmental and development issues, says we lose around 10 million hectares (over 24 million acres) of forest globally annually. And though that figure reflects all forests, not just rainforests, it does provide insight into how large the problem is. (It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how much of that total rainforest loss represents. Measuring rainforest loss is complex and different organizations use different methodologies, leading to discrepancies in estimates.). 

It’s widely acknowledged, however, that deforestation, the permanent removal of trees to make room for something else, is a major threat to rainforests around the world, particularly in the Amazon and Southeast Asia. Though the rate of deforestation has slowed down in recent decades due to conservation efforts, it still presents a significant risk to rainforest ecosystems.  So do changes in temperature and precipitation patterns and pollution from human activities. 

Small steps

World Rainforest Day isn't just about raising awareness about the problems; it's also about promoting solutions. 

Think there’s nothing meaningful you can do from thousands of miles away? The truth is, there are everyday actions you can do to have less impact on one of the world’s most precious resources:

  • Reduce your overall consumption of “stuff” to lower the demand for products that might drive deforestation. 
  • Opt for digital instead of printed documents and use recycled content paper products.  
  • Eat less meat. Beef production in particular can lead to deforestation as more land is required for grazing. 
  • Look for products that are certified rainforest friendly, including Rainforest Alliance Certified Coffee and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified Wood Products.
  • Donate to organizations working to protect rainforests, such as the Rainforest Foundation, Rainforest Action Network, World Wildlife Fund, Amazon Conservation Association, and Nature Conservancy.  

By taking these small steps, you can help breathe new life into the world’s rainforests, ensuring these biodiversity powerhouses will thrive for centuries to come.

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