Yasuní National Park, Amazonian Ecuador
© Paul Bertner/Minden Picture
Yasuní National Park
Perhaps no other place on Earth plays a more crucial role in sustaining life as we know it than the Amazon rainforest, the largest in the world. The Amazon spans nine countries in South America including Ecuador, where this pristine ecoregion is protected by the Yasuní National Park, shown here.
The Amazon has been called the lungs of the planet because the estimated 390 billion trees here convert much of the oxygen humans and other animals need to survive. The Amazon also cools our planet by catching and storing carbon. It is as much the planet’s air conditioner as it is its lungs.
The other gift of rainforests, and of the Amazon in particular, is biodiversity. The number of species of plants, animals and insects in the Amazon is not in the thousands, but in the millions. Scientists estimate half of the planet’s biodiversity exists in the Amazon. In fact, many of our modern pharmaceuticals are sourced from Amazon plants. That makes the Amazon not just the Earth’s lungs and air conditioning, but also its medicine cabinet.