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Amazon Deforestation Grows 29 Percent

Sep 12, 2014 04:21 PM EDT

The Amazon, which has already suffered years of deforestation, saw a 29 percent increase in destruction last year, according to final figures released Wednesday by the Brazilian government.

Satellite data starting at the end of July 2013 showed that for the past year, 2,275 square miles (5,891 square kilometers) of forest were cleared in the Brazilian Amazon, an area half the size of Puerto Rico.

It is the first time the deforestation rate has increased since 2008, according to the report, released by Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE). But despite the jump, this is actually only the second-lowest number recorded since 1988, when more than 7,700 square miles of lush rainforest were lost.

"The result indicates there is effectiveness in combating deforestation, particularly since the 2004 creation of the Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Legal Amazon," the report says.

But this is only a small victory. The Amazon, which is the world's largest rainforest, covers an area of 2,300,000 square miles (6,000,000 square km) - that's 40 percent of the entire country of Brazil, Encyclopaedia Britannica describes. Millions of species of plants, insects, birds, and other forms of life call it home, but intense logging, land development and encroachment by humans is driving them away.

The rate of deforestation increased recently most quickly in the states of Para and Mato Grosso, where the bulk of Brazil's agricultural expansion is currently taking place.

Despite the increase in 2013, the worst year on record was actually in 2004, with almost 30,000 square km (11,580 square miles) of Amazon destroyed, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

Losing large swaths of this famous forest isn't just bad news for the region's biodiversity. Experts say it plays a huge part in combating global warming, as deforestation worldwide accounts for 15 percent of annual emissions of heat-trapping gases, according to The Guardian. That's significant, considering that greenhouse gas emissions hit a record high in 2013.

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