The Amazon Basin
by Eddy Silva
The warm and humid climate remains relatively constant throughout the year, giving this area its botanical category of “Ever wet TropicalForest”. Normal daytime temperature highs are 32º C (90 ºF) and nighttime lows are 23º C (74 ºF). The average annual temperature is 24º C (76 ºF).
The Amazon Region contains the world’s largest tropical rainforest, the world’s largest river, and perhaps the greatest diversity of wildlife to be found anywhere. More than 4000 species of birds, 2000 species of fish, 60 species of reptiles, including the Caiman and the Anaconda, the world’s largest non-venomous snake, and a great variety of mammals such as the Jaguar, Peccary, Giant Anteater, Tapir, Capybara and Pink River Dolphin.
The three-rainforest ecosystems that are commonly found are the igapó (flooded by black water), terra firma, and varzea (flooded by white water). The igapóand varzea forest have seasonal variations in water depth of as much as 12 m (39 ft). To adapt to this enormous fluctuation, plants and animals have evolved some of the most bizarre shapes and behaviors. Also due to these seasonal floods, the wildlife is constantly changing and in every trip we may see new and unusual creatures. The terra firmeforest is found just above the high water line and is most people’s vision of the rainforest. On the hills and stretching for thousands of kilometers away from the riverbanks, giant trees dominate the firm land with buttress-like roots well above ground. Along the shaded forest floor you will find wonderfully adapted plants and perhaps we find the tracks of Wild Pigs, Agoutis, Pacas, Jaguars, Armadillos, and other large animals that exist in the rainforest.
The third major type of forest is the varzea. This type is also a temporary flooded forest, but the water that rushes through the trees is café au lait in color and is full of minerals and nutrients eroded from the Andes. In this tremendously rich bio-systemwe will see large concentrations of birds, mammals, and a collection of plants entirely different from igapó or terra firma.
In addition to our rainforest explorations, another important feature of the program will be our visits to the homes of forest residents. We will visit and learn what their lives are like, living on the edge of this vast trackless forest. A walk through their gardens is always interesting and we will learn their survival skills, which permit them to continue living in the complex tropical forest environment. Almost all forest dwellers collect plants for medicines and we will talk to them about which plants they collect and their uses. During our voyage you will have the opportunity to meet and interact with many different communities that live along the shores of the Napo River Basin.
Ecuadorian Amazon Basin
In the Neotropics, flora and fauna have zones of high endemism and species richness. These areas coincide with regions where rain forest persisted like islands located in a sea of grass and seasonal forest during the glacial maxima. These diversity hotspots are also known as Pleistocene refugia and there are more than a dozen found in the Amazon region. There is plenty of evidence coming from pollen records, geomorphologic features, soils, topography, and plant and animal distribution patterns to support the refugia theory.
There is actually an immense refugia situated in western Amazonia near the Andes. A large part of that area is, in fact, located in the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin. More specifically, at the Napo Pastaza and Morona regions which include protected areas such as the Gran Sumaco Biosphere Reserve and the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve which encompasses Limoncocha Biological Reserve, Cuyabeno Faunistic Reserve, Pañacocha Protected Forest and Yasuní National Park.
In the Ecuadorian Amazon at Cuyabeno, for instance, the number of tree species on a small plot of about 1 hectare (2.5 acres) is 307. This hyper-rich plot comprises 10 percent of the entire tree flora of Amazonian Ecuador!
The size of the Ecuadorian Amazon basin, so called ‘Oriente’, is around 135600 Km2that is 40% of Ecuador’s area and only two percent of the entire Amazon basin. The Oriente is limited in the west by the eastern Andean range also known as Cordillera Real (Royal Mountain Range). The eastern side of Ecuadorian Amazon is boundless because it expands toward the Amazon plains. The oriental flank of the Cordillera Real has abrupt terrain that go down from an altitude of 6000-4000 m to 500 m in less than 100 Km. For this reason, the river network in eastern Ecuador drains eastward to generate three main hydrographic basins. The Napo basin with an area of 31400 Km2, the Pastaza basin (21100 Km2) and the Santiago basin (26300 Km2).
Our trip will take place at the Napo Basin where we will explore the Napo River and its tributaries. The Napo, a white water river, is about 1300 Km long, the first 460 Km are situated in Ecuador while the rest lies in Peruvian Territory. The Manatee Amazon Explorer will navigate in Ecuadorian territory through the Napo and Aguarico Rivers.
Traveling around Ecuadorian Amazon offers an unforgettableexperience for anybody’s sense. This unthinkable event may occur while you walk through the forest and meet a troop of Red Howler Monkeys moving above the canopy, or when you spot a pair of brilliantly colored Scarlet Macaws darting through the treetops, or when you seek for a pair of piercing orange eyes of Black Caiman aboard a dugout canoe at night, or when you catch a glimpse of the Amazon Pink River Dolphin. These are all memories that you will carry long after leaving the Amazon.