Managing Tropical Rainforests

What if you woke up tomorrow in a world completely devoid of tropical rainforests? What do you think that would be like? What about the animals that lived there, or the people? What about the rivers? Would we have enough oxygen to breathe? What would remove atmospheric carbon dioxide and the impact on climate change? 

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Managing Tropical Rainforests


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What if you woke up tomorrow in a world completely devoid of tropical rainforests? What do you think that would be like? What about the animals that lived there, or the people? What about the rivers? Would we have enough oxygen to breathe? What would remove atmospheric carbon dioxide and the impact on climate change?

Perhaps you think it's silly even to imagine this because there is no way it could ever happen...right? However, consider this- deforestation is one of the prices we pay for (unsustainable) development, and it has been happening fairly quickly. If unchecked, continuous deforestation could very well lead to the scenario described above. To prevent this, we need to engage in sustainably managing tropical rainforests, through protection and conservation.

Managing tropical rainforests sustainability

Tropical rainforests are important ecosystems. They help to reduce global warming by acting as a carbon sink. They produce a large proportion of the oxygen we breathe. They also help to regulate the global water cycle as more than 50% of the rain that falls in tropical rainforests goes back into the atmosphere through evapotranspiration.

Several of the products we use also come from the rainforest, such as fruits, spices and materials to make furniture. Furthermore, rainforests are a source of medicinal products. In fact, the US National Cancer Institute has estimated that 70% of the plants useful to treat cancer are found only in rainforests.1

In spite of their importance, deforestation of tropical rainforests has been happening at a rapid rate. From 2010, it is estimated that 10 million hectares (24.7 million acres) of rainforests have been removed annually for agriculture and industrial activities, including but not limited to, cattle ranching, road construction, mining and logging.

To learn more about this process, read our explanation on Deforestation.

Managing Tropical Rainforests annual rate of rainforest deforestation 2015 map StudySmarterFig. 1 - annual rate of rainforest deforestation, 2015

While it is accepted that tropical rainforests must be utilised in order to earn, sustainable usage is imperative in order to preserve them for future generations. Luckily, there are communities, organisations, and governments that have been working towards the sustainable management of rainforests. Read on to find out more about these management practices.

Managing tropical rainforests policies

Some of the policies which are used in the sustainable management of tropical rainforests include; reducing debt, international agreements, and selective logging and replanting.

Reducing debt

Many of the countries in which tropical rainforests are located have large amounts of international debts. They often unsustainably utilise their rainforest resources to earn money to pay these debts. One way in which the tropical rainforests in these areas can be sustainably managed is through "debt-for-nature" swaps. In this way, the country to which the debt is owed writes off or cancels part of the debt in exchange for the debtor preserving its tropical rainforest. This idea of exchanging debt for ecosystem preservation was first put forward by the World Wildlife Fund in 1984 and first implemented in Bolivia in 1987.

In 2010, Brazil and the United States entered into a debt-for-nature agreement which converted USD $21 million of Brazil's debt into a fund which was dedicated to protecting the country's coastal rainforest and its Cerrado and Caatinga ecosystems.

International agreements

Certain types of tropical hardwoods, like mahogany, are in high demand globally. Therefore, in order to meet this demand, the rate of illegal deforestation has increased. In an attempt to curb this, international agreements have been established to limit the importation of non-sustainably sourced timber into countries. The revised International Tropical Timber Agreement was established in 2006 to effectively expand and govern the international trade in sustainable and legally harvested hardwood. The agreement came into force in December 2011.

It has been estimated that the illegal global trade in timber is valued at approximately £130 billion (USD $152 billion) annually.

Managing Tropical Rainforests people carrying out illegal logging StudySmarterFig. 2 - illegal logging, Marojejy National Park, Madagascar

Selective logging and replanting

In this sustainable management method, only mature trees are selected to be harvested, rather than clear-cutting an entire area. Selective logging is more sustainable than clear-cutting because younger trees are left to grow and regenerate the tropical rainforest. In addition, many times trees are replanted to replace the ones that were logged. To reduce the damage caused by using trucks to traverse the rainforest to clear away the felled trees, horses and/or helicopters are used. Both of which are more environmentally friendly. As a result, the forest resource is left for the use of future generations.

Malaysia's selective logging and replanting programme was implemented in 1977. It has 40-year cycles and replacement trees are planted every 5-10 years. In Malaysia, helicopter logging is also practised in the state of Sarawak.

Managing tropical rainforests protection

Environmental laws can be enacted and enforced to protect the tropical rainforest. Most commonly, these would be laws that ban the logging of certain tree species. Environmental laws can also involve the banning of illegal logging along with the selling of timber from rainforests that are not under sustainable management.

Several countries also protect their rainforests by establishing national parks and/or forest reserves within them. The declaration of these zones is protected by national law, which prohibits or restricts any destructive activities to occur. Unfortunately, despite best efforts, people still manage to undertake illicit activities.

From 1979-1984 the province of Palawan, Phillippines lost about 19,000 hectares (46,950 acres) of rainforest per year. In an effort to stop this from happening, the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan (SEP), 1992 established a province-wide ban on commercial logging. It also designated natural forests, areas of high elevation, endangered species habitats and other zones of ecological importance as "areas of maximum protection." In these areas, everything except for the traditional activities carried out by the province's indigenous population is banned. However, the SEP did not stop deforestation by illegal logging, but rather just slowed its rate of occurrence.

Managing tropical rainforests conservation

Conservation usually goes hand in hand with education. It is important to educate people on the value of the tropical rainforest in order for successful conservation campaigns. Conservation enables the management of the use of rainforest resources to ensure that they are used sustainably. This enables people to use the rainforest without leaving any long-term impacts. Conservation is often spearheaded by international organisations but always involves the local communities. Conservation activities include, but are not limited to, promoting the use of alternative sources of lumber or offering incentives for the reduction in carbon emissions due to deforestation, amongst others.

Merck donates a portion of its earnings from rainforest-sourced pharmaceuticals to fund conservation projects.

Managing tropical rainforests ecotourism

Ecotourism is a type of sustainable tourism in that it considers its present and long-term social, environmental and economic impacts. It is typically small-scale in scope and involves minimizing the impact on the natural environment.

Ecotourism refers to travel that is taken to nature and which facilitates environmental conservation, ensures the well-being of the local communities and educates to create shared knowledge and understanding among visitors, staff and the visited communities themselves.

Ecotourism helps to sustainably manage tropical rainforests because it facilities the development of an area without compromising the ability of future generations to benefit from utilizing the same forest resources. It takes place in small groups and allows local communities to have control and therefore receive direct benefits in the form of income. They can earn a living working as tour guides or by providing transportation and accommodation. Consequently, they don't have to rely on destructive practices such as logging to provide for themselves and their families.

Ecotourism is environmentally friendly and the people involved usually have an interest in protecting natural space. It ensures there is no litter or garbage left behind through the provision of proper waste disposal. In addition, some of the profit made from ecotourism activities go back into preserving the tropical rainforest.

Xixuaú is a remote community in the Amazon rainforest that specialises in ecotourism. The activities are fully managed by locals and include, hiking and canoeing, amongst others. Visitors are also able to experience the authentic, local culture. Trips are organised in small groups to minimise environmental impacts. Excursions are either done on foot or via paddle canoes or electric motor-powered boats. Visitors stay in wooden bungalows which are built using traditional methods. There is solar-powered water filtration for potable water. In addition, the community has a regular waste collection and recycling programme. Ecotourism in Xixuaú promotes the knowledge and protection of the Amazon and contributes to the livelihoods of its residents. Fees paid for the experience contribute to rainforest conservation and sustainable development.

Managing Tropical Rainforests sunset at Xixuaú StudySmarterFig. 3 - sunset at Xixuaú

Managing Tropical Rainforests - Key takeaways

  • Tropical rainforests need to have sustainable management because they contribute many goods and services to the planet.
  • However, the rates of deforestation have been high, particularly within the last decade or so.
    • Selective logging and replanting may help to prevent deforestation.
  • In order to manage tropical rainforests a variety of methods have been employed including, policies, conservation methods, methods of protection and engaging in ecotourism.


  1. National Geographic Society (2022) Rainforest. Available at: https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/rain-forest (Accessed: 9 November 2022)
  2. Fig. 1 - annual rate of rainforest deforestation, 2015 (https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/annual-deforestation) by Our World in Data (https://ourworldindata.org/) Licensed by CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/deed.en_US)
  3. Fig. 2 - illegal logging, Marojejy National Park, Madagascar (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Illegal_export_of_rosewood_002.jpg) by Marojejy.com (PKA - EM) (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Maky) Licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Managing Tropical Rainforests

Tropical rainforests should be managed because deforestation is occurring at alarming rates, therefore without management rainforests may disappear.

Ecotourism helps to manage rainforest sustainability because it contributes to the development of the rainforest without preventing future generations from being able to use the same resources. 

Some ways you can take care of tropical rainforests include having policies to prevent overlogging, practising conservation and protection and establishing ecotourism sites.

We need to protect and conserve tropical rainforests because they are vital to life on earth. They regularly provide a variety of goods and services that we need such as absorbing carbon dioxide, regulating the global water cycle and providing medicines, to name a few.

Yes, laws do exist to protect tropical rainforests. These include international laws such as the International Tropical Timber Agreement as well as local laws that prohibit certain activities from taking place in the rainforest. 

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

True or False:Tropical rainforests help to regulate the global water cycle.

Deforestation has been occurring at a rate of _____ hectares per year since 2010.

Reducing debt by exchanging it for preserving the rainforest is known as?


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