« Watersheds | Main | Water Quality »

People and the Watershed printer.gif

Over 70% of the Earth is covered by water. Water seems like a resource that is dependable and ever-present. However, for humans there is a limited amount of usable water. Think about how much of the earth's water is salt water. Since water is such an important resource, we need to be aware of how to keep our watersheds healthy.


Rivers are the highways of the Amazon Watershed, and our canoes are some of the smallest vessels traveling on the main river channel.

The Amazon is one of the least populated areas on earth, with only an average of 4 people per square mile living in the region. This means that there is plenty of fresh water available for the people living in the Amazon. It's interesting to note that most people who live along the Amazon River do not have plumbing or running water. Yet, living without these modern conveniences isn't so difficult when you are surrounded by water. Water is used for just about every chore in daily life. Clothes are washed in the rivers, streams, and lakes. Fish are harvested for food. River water is also used for bathing, drinking, and cooking.

Dave, Eric, and Hoeky gathered on the community dock to clean the piranha that they caught. The fish guts were thrown into the river for a school of little fish to gobble up.

Since the Amazon watershed is so huge, it can sustain thousands of life forms. The Amazon watershed can also act as a filter for much of the waste that people generate and put back into the watershed. People bathing, using soap, brushing their teeth, or even going to the bathroom in the watershed isn't the main form of damaging pollution. Objects that enter a watershed that can't be broken down by microorganisms are the main concerns for a watershed's health.

Garbage, particularly plastic bags and bottles, can't ever be naturally removed from the watershed. Most bags and bottles don't end up flowing all the way out to the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, they accumulate in slow moving areas of rivers and pollute the water and harm animals. Many aquatic animals and fish get tangled in plastic or try to eat it.


The small villages were we usually stay are littered with trash. Plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic wrappers, and other bits of plastic are everywhere, which makes the team really sad.

When we get close to a city or large community, the amount of garbage we see is sometimes frightening. However, because there are no roads, and very little land that is dry year-round, landfills and other waste disposal methods we use in the U.S. are not available here. Simply put, there is no good place to put garbage. And where there are people, there's always garbage. It's one of the most difficult problems facing the Amazon, and other watersheds throughout the world.

The waterways of the Amazon watershed are the main forms of transportation for the people living here. Canoes are used to navigate rivers, channels, lakes, and marshy areas. On the main Amazon River channel, canoes aren't used as much because the river is so wide, fast, and long. Most people think it's a little bizarre that we are choosing to paddle the river instead of using a motorized boat. However, with the increased motorboat traffic, there is an increased chance of industrial pollution entering the water. Gasoline, oil, and hazardous materials are shipped all over the Amazon, just like in the US. Yet, instead of trucks and trains, people here need to use boats. What would happen to the water, plants, animals, and people if one of these ships had an accident?


Washing and bathing is done in the river. Most people do not have indoor plumbing so they using floating rafts for many of their daily chores.

The future of the Amazon is not all bad news. Brazil and Peru have preserved huge amounts of rainforest. The governments of these countries realize that protecting the watershed and the forest is necessary to make sure that future generations of people can use it responsibly for fishing, timber, and agriculture. Brazil has set aside over 25% of the Amazon Basin for indigenous people and conservation. Peru has created the world's largest flooded forest reserve, Pacaya-Samiria, which is the size of New Jersey. Not only are these steps to making the Amazon ecosystem and watershed healthy, but it is great news for scientists, tourists, and the people living in the rainforest.

Expedition Home
WCO Home | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Contact Us

Copyright(c) 2000-2009
The Wilderness Classroom Organization
4605 Grand Ave
Western Springs, IL 60558