Largest protected area in the Amazon

03 February 2011 | Fact sheet

Central Amazon Conservation Complex, Brazil

Background

A World Heritage site since 2000, the Central Amazon Conservation Complex makes up the largest protected area in the Amazon Basin and is one of the planet’s richest regions in terms of biodiversity. It is home to threatened species such as giant arapaima fish, Amazonian manatee, black caiman and two species of river dolphin.

The World Heritage site comprises four protected areas: Jaú National Park, Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve, Amana Sustainable Development Reserve and Anavilhanas.

Mamirauá and Amana reserves are protected under Amazonas state legislation and Anavilhanas is a federally created and managed protected area. Anavilhanas Ecological Station was created under federal decree in June 1998. While part of Mamirauá was also originally created as a federal ecological station, since 1996 the entire area has been protected, through an act of the Amazonas State Legislature, as a Sustainable Development Reserve. This is a protected area category that aims to conserve biological diversity with strong local participation, and which allows for limited resource extraction by traditional communities in some management zones (IUCN,Category VI).
 
Amana Sustainable Development Reserve was also created through an Amazonas State government decree. Amana and Mamirauá reserves (IUCN, Category VI), are managed through a unique cooperative agreement between the Amazonas State Institute for Environmental Protection (IPAAM), with four federal agencies - the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, the Ministry of the Environment, the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development, and the Ministry of Science and Technology (MST) – and with the Sociedade Civil Mamirauá, an NGO that also supports management of these reserves. Anavilhanas is managed directly by IBAMA, the environmental federal agency, with some support from collaborating NGOs.

The Central Amazon Conservation Complex is one of the Endemic Bird Areas of the World, one of WWF’s 200 Priority Ecoregions for Conservation, and it is also a Centre of Plant Diversity.

View images of the World Heritage site

Size and Location

6,000,000 ha. The Central Amazon Conservation Complex is located west-northwest of Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, Brazil, between the Solimoes and Negro Rivers, two of the major tributaries of the Amazon watershed.

Flora and fauna

The World Heritage site includes an important sample of varzea ecosystems, igapó forests, lakes and channels which form a constantly evolving aquatic mosaic that is home to the largest array of electric fish in the world.

The Varzea forest is seasonally flooded by “whitewater” rivers flowing from the Andes region and is characterized by high productivity and biomass and the presence of unique and endemic species adapted to the dramatic seasonal variations in river levels. These include river dolphins, monkeys, manatees and aquatic birds in impressive numbers.

Terra firme forest and seasonally inundated igapó forests, also include one of the two largest archipelagos of islands in the basin, which have a unique origin and shape derived from flocculation and settling of sediments.

One of the most diverse areas in the ‘New World’ with respect to primates with 33 species, the water bodies existing in these reserves contain 64 species of electric fishes in seven families, including three species new to science, which represents the highest known diversity of this unique group of organisms in the world.

Threats

In general, the terra firme forests of the Central Amazon, which are located far from navigable rivers or highways, are faced with few major threats. The situation within the varzea forests, which characterize much of Mamirauá and adjacent portions of Amana, is quite distinct. Along the length of the Amazon, these ecosystems were the most utilized by human inhabitants even before Europeans arrived in South America, and over the past three hundred years a distinctive culture of riverside mestizo inhabitants has evolved in the varzea. However, human population density remains low and impacts are limited to narrow bands of higher land on natural levees along stream courses, and to the effects of traditional harvest of fish and other aquatic organisms. Seasonal flooding also temporarily limits the human footprint on the terrestrial portions of the site.

Previously unsustainable harvest levels for some fish and wildlife species have been dramatically reduced through enforcement, research and education programs. Anavilhanas also lies along a navigable river with regular transit of large ships carrying, among other things, petroleum products. An oil spill upstream could do great damage to the fragile resources of the area. Increased management presence, outreach programmes, and marking of navigable river channels would reduce threats to Anavilhanas.