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Submerged Forest of the Amazon
From Grolier's The New Book of Knowledge
A logger at Tucurui Lake in Brazil.

Photo: www.amazonpress.com.br

Imagine a logging operation where the trees fall up. That's the topsy-turvy scene at the bottom of Brazil's 1,110-square-mile (2,850 square-kilometer) Lake Tucurui. Two decades ago, the construction of the colossal Tucurui hydroelectric dam created one of the world's largest reservoirs, deep in the Amazon rain forest. Approximately 100 feet (30 meters) beneath its surface stands a treasure trove of more than $100 million worth of fine Amazonian hardwood trees, including mahogany and the amazing massaranduba, whose wood is so impenetrable that it bends iron nails. Although long dead, the submerged trees remain perfectly preserved inside the thick coat of algae that covers their trunks and branches.

In recent years, this strange underwater forest has become an important source of income for local villagers who swim to the bottom with hydraulic chain saws. Able to cut up to 10 trees a day, the lake loggers can earn the equivalent of $330 a month, an outstanding wage in a region where few people earn even a fourth as much. The work, however, can be dangerous. Several loggers were killed by newly cut trees shooting to the surface before the workers learned to tie the trees down with ropes to control their upward "fall."

Today, the Tucurui loggers fear a new threat to their livelihood: the arrival of an international logging company with an electronically operated underwater cutting system. However, company officials promise jobs for all. Indeed, with some 1.5 million submerged trees awaiting harvest, even locals agree there should be plenty of work for everyone for many years to come.

Copyright © 2002 Grolier Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.