A new report about the state of preservation of the Pantanal wetland in Brazil reveals how important it is to look beyond the borders of conservation areas.

A study by WWF-Brazil, the Dom Bosco Catholic University (UCDB) and the Tuiuiú Foundation, has revealed bad news for the Pantanal: only 45% of the headwaters region of the Pantanal is preserved, and its legal reserve has a deficit of approximately 392,000 hectares.

The headwaters are found in the Alto Paraguay basin. ‘Headwaters’ are the waterways that feed the great wetland. Without a healthy supply of water from the headwaters, the Pantanal – the largest wetland on Earth and a crucial water supply for people and nature in the South American continent – simply wouldn’t exist.

WWF-Brazil has protected it since the 1960s, launching the Pantanal Pact in 2012 to protect the region’s water resources. We have restored springs, adapting rural roads and helped farmers install eco-septic tanks for their homesteads.

The Pantanal wetland at dusk. © André Dib/WWF-Brasil

To date, the Pact has guaranteed good water-quality in almost 750km of rivers in the headwaters. This activities have not only helped protect the Pantanal, but have also benefitted the families who live on the Alto Paraguay River Basin.

Now the Pantanal itself is 82% protected, but greater protection must be extended to the rest of the wider ecosystem if its future is to be preserved.

“If the plateau (in the headwater region) remains as poorly preserved as it is now or worsens, the flood plain will undergo drastic changes, and in the future we will witness a reduction in the preservation of this area too,” says Júlio César Sampaio, coordinator of the Cerrado Pantanal Program.

Sadly, this new report indicates is that sometimes simply protecting a region under threat isn’t enough to achieve long-term conservation. We must take a holistic look at the region, at the systems of feedback and interrelated ecosystems, and apply solutions which tackle the problem in its entirety.

The good news is this can be exceptionally beneficial to the people who live in the region and rely on its waters. Indeed, with water increasingly under pressure, it is the only way that we can ensure just allocation of water, and a future for our wonderful, complex planet.

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