Once upon a time, the Amazon was considered remote, beautiful, dangerous and inexhaustible. Its native inhabitants lived in scattered villages and practiced sustainable hunting, fishing, gathering and small-scale agriculture. The songs you heard in the forest were those of birds, frogs and other beings that had lived in harmony with nature for millennia. In recent centuries, waves of adventurers and opportunists came seeking El Dorado (to no avail), and later, rubber, cinchona, rosewood, timber and gold. They touched the Amazon, but to the forest, the impact of these harvests was almost imperceptible. Not anymore.
The Amazon is Earth’s largest remaining wilderness and also our last frontier. According to scientists, we still have some 84 percent of the original forest cover. We need at least 70 percent intact to avoid the tipping point that would turn the forest irreversibly into savannah, resulting in the loss of rich habitats for a myriad of living animal and plant species and the homes and communities of millions of indigenous people.
The impact of losing the forest and free-flowing rivers is not just local – it affects climatic patterns around the globe. We need to see the Amazon as a system integral to the planet’s health, and we will need the attention of all humanity to conserve it.
When Gordon and Betty Moore established their foundation, they made the bold decision to take on the conservation of the Amazon. With Adrian Forsyth as the founding program director, the foundation began its work supporting efforts by those in the region who were establishing new protected areas and indigenous lands while strengthening existing areas. A vast chorus of people and institutions have worked toward these ends, and we are deeply grateful to them all.
To date, our Andes-Amazon Initiative has invested more than $450 million to support more than 120 organizations working in and across the Andes and the Amazon. Together, these groups have conserved over 350 million hectares — nearly half of the basin. But more work remains.
In early 2017, the foundation approved an extension of our Andes-Amazon Initiative to consolidate existing protected areas and indigenous lands while also beginning to address drivers of habitat change that are fragmenting remaining forests and blocking free-flowing rivers. At the same time, we supported Walter Wust, a prolific and talented photojournalist who has published some 300 books and more than a thousand articles in Peruvian and foreign magazines, in his work to create a book that would celebrate the remarkable harmony and diversity of the Andes-Amazon region and its people.
As we begin a new year, we share the result with you here, a stunning visual journey through the Amazon accompanied by a collection of contributed essays from colleagues who devote their time and boundless energy to conserving our last frontier. We hope it will bring the forest to you — and encourage you to go, see it and listen to its song.
Avecita Chicchón is the program director for the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Andes-Amazon Initiative.
All images are courtesy of Walter H. Wust, author of Amazonia.