South America Wetlands May Be 'Next Everglades,' Report Says
OSLO Giant South American wetlands are under threat from farming and house building and could shrink like Florida's Everglades last century, a study by U.N. experts said on Tuesday.
The report also said that global warming of 3-4 degrees Celsius could wreck 85 percent of the world's remaining wetlands from Bangladesh to Botswana, home to thousands of animal and plant species.
Soybean and sugar cane farming, gas pipelines, roads, factories and towns are squeezing the Pantanal, the world's largest freshwater wetlands, that straddles parts of Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia, the report said.
"When you talk about environmental problems in Brazil you think about the Amazon. But people underestimate the importance of the Pantanal," Paulo Teixeira, leader of the report and head of the Pantanal Regional Environment Programme, told Reuters.
"The Pantanal is under threat from climate change and human pollution."
Large parts of the Pantanal, an area bigger than Greece measuring 165,000 sq km (63,710 sq miles), are pristine, he said.
But there were worries that it could become the "next Everglades," the wetlands in the U.S. state of Florida, withering under farms and homes since the 1940s and whose national park covers a fifth of their historic territory.
The remote Pantanal, however, does not face comparable pressures from millions of people drawn by Florida's balmy climate and dazzling beaches.
The Pantanal act as a sponge regulating flows to the Paraguay River and Parana River. Teixeira urged the three nations sharing the wetland to cooperate closely and avoid damaging a region which is home to 650 species of birds, 190 species of mammals from jaguars to giant anteaters, 270 types of fish and 1,100 different butterflies.
"Climate modification may cause some wetlands to dry up, and others to increase in size, fundamentally altering their ecology, biodiversity and species composition," said the report, published on World Water Day.
The scientific panel to the United Nations projected in 2001 that world temperatures could rise by 1.4-5.8 C by 2100. That could in turn trigger catastrophic droughts, floods and storms and raise sea levels by melting icecaps. Some scientists dismiss those projections as based on unreliable models.