Covering more than 165,000 square kilometers ?an area roughly equal to Florida ?in the heart of South America, the Pantanal is the world's largest freshwater wetland, of active interest to U.S. scientists for insights into the lost biodiversity of Florida's famed Everglades, altered by drainage projects starting in the 1940s to make way for development and agriculture.
In a message to mark World Water Day, March 22, UNU says the Pantanal provides enormous environmental services by storing and purifying water, providing storm protection and flood mitigation, and stabilizing the local climate, particularly rainfall and temperature.
Today, however, these services are compromised by the global problem of climate change while local pollution, habitat destruction and narrowing migration corridors for many species are among the consequences of introducing intensive agriculture, modern cattle ranching, energy production, mining and other changes in land use in and around the Pantanal.
"Without extremely careful integrated management, one of the planet's greatest environmental treasures will be altered forever by human encroachment," says Prof. Hans van Ginkel, UN Under Secretary-General and Rector of UN University.
UN University and Brazil's Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso jointly run the Pantanal Regional Environment Programme (UNU-PREP), under the direction of Dr. Paulo Teixeira de Sousa Jr.
Straddling the territories of Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay, the Pantanal is a patchwork of lakes, lagoons, rivers, forest and forest islands. It is dry half the year and a shallow lake the rest, creating a unique habitat for thousands of species, many endangered,