How many of our rainforests are protected around the world?

How many of our rainforests are protected around the world?

—Adriano Adamson Paiva, Bahia, Brazil

Determining how much rainforest land is protected worldwide depends on how you define “rainforest.” Researchers at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, DC have identified three different types of rainforests. There are about 4.2 million square miles of tropical moist forest, of which just eight percent is protected, and 76,000 square miles of tropical mangrove forest, of which only nine percent is protected. And only five percent of the 300,000 square miles of the third type, tropical dry forest, is protected. And many of these forests are protected only on paper; in practice, they may not necessarily be safe from oil drilling, wood harvesting, cattle grazing and myriad other destructive uses.

Scientists and policymakers at the Switzerland-based World Conservation Union (IUCN) estimate that there are 44,000 “protected areas” worldwide, covering over 13 million square kilometers—an area equivalent to the landmass of India and China combined. These areas, which include rainforests but which can also be agricultural lands, national parks, reserves, forested land, marine sanctuaries and more, cover about 10 percent of the Earth’s surface.

While the IUCN has documented more than 1,388 words or terms used to describe a “protected area,” national park designation remains a common way to secure the future existence of a natural resource like a rainforest. Tumucumaque National Park in the Brazilian Amazon is the world’s largest protected tropical rainforest, covering 24,135 square kilometers.

CONTACTS: The World Conservation Union, +41 (22) 999-0001; www.iucn.org; Worldwatch Institute, (202) 452-1999, www.worldwatch.org; Rainforest Alliance, www.rainforest-alliance.org; Rainforest Action Network, (415) 398-4404, www.ran.org.