Situated in the heart of South America, the Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland. At 42 million acres, the Pantanal covers an area slightly larger than England and sprawls across three countries—Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay. While not as globally familiar as the Amazon to the north, the Pantanal is one of the most biologically rich environments on the planet with more than 4,700 plant and animal species. In fact, the Pantanal contains South America’s highest concentration of some wildlife species, including the jaguar and caiman.
From October to March, floodwaters fill the Pantanal like a giant reservoir and drain out slowly between April and September, providing ideal aquatic habitat, nutrient renewal, and flood control for millions of people downstream.
The Pantanal also contains a hub of economic activity, ranging from cattle ranching to soy production to tourism. The economic activities of the states within the Pantanal contributed more than $70 billion to their respective economies in 2015. This wetland also provides an array of irreplaceable benefits that help the region's economic development and environment, including river flow for boats to navigate, groundwater recharge, and regulation of floodwaters for millions of people. A study conducted by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) concluded that the region’s ecosystem services are valued at $112 billion a year.
A wetland under threat
Currently, the Pantanal remains relatively intact. However, a growing number of environmental pressures, ranging from unsustainable infrastructure development to untreated waste pollution, threaten to destabilize the regional ecosystem and the benefits it provides people and wildlife. Deforestation in the Pantanal is increasing, with more than 12% of the forest cover already lost. At the current rate, the Pantanal’s native vegetation will disappear by 2050 if no measures are taken to combat this trend.
Inadequate planning of development by any of the three countries has the potential to negatively impact not only the region's lucrative economy and the well-being of its inhabitants, but also the stability of the world’s fifth-largest basin, the Rio de la Plata, where the Pantanal is located.
What steps are being taken to help save the Pantanal
Recognizing the global importance of the Pantanal and the scale of the challenges it faces, Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay are participating in a transboundary effort called the Trinational Initiative for the Integrated and Sustainable Development of the Pantanal to conserve and sustainably develop the world’s largest tropical wetland. WWF praises and supports this initiative, for which we draw on the expertise of the field offices in all three countries and more than 15 years of experience working in the Pantanal. The initiative is an unprecedented step towards ensuring the conservation of the Pantanal’s 42 million acres, by developing solutions to the growing threats to this magnificent wetland of international importance.
On March 22, 2018 this initiative scored a major win at a high-level session at the 8th World Water Forum, where representatives from Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay signed a landmark tri-national declaration for the conservation and sustainable development of the Pantanal. With this declaration, the three countries agree to work together to implement actions that will reduce pollution, strengthen water governance, mitigate climate change, and expand scientific knowledge on the Pantanal, while protecting the rights of indigenous peoples.