While orbiting some 250 miles above Madagascar this week, International Space Station astronaut Ricky Arnold captured a grim picture of the island’s decimated land.
Madagascar’s forests have been nearly logged to death, with nearly 90 percent of its original forests destroyed in the last century, according to NASA.
A striking result of this loss, captured by Arnold, is an extreme erosion of the red-tinged land into Madagascar’s rivers. Due to the decimation of the nation’s forests, there are few trees left to stabilize the barren earth, especially during rains.
“The heart of #Madagascar drains into the sea due to decimation of rainforests and coastal mangroves,” Arnold tweeted.
The specific waterways photographed by Arnold are located on the northwest coast of the island, which is about twice the size of Arizona.
These waterways, collectively called the Betsiboka Estuary, have been filling up with dirt and mud from the island’s now bare hillsides. At one time, notes NASA, ships could travel up these coastal rivers. Today, vessels must dock on the coast, as the channels are too shallow and clogged.
NASA satellites have also recently captured the distinctive, deep-rust color of Madagascar’s rivers snaking through the tropical landscape. The rivers are rich in sediment to begin with, but heavy rains make them all the more distinct.
The Madagascar government is attempting to protect and recover its rainforests, but these efforts have proven less than effective.
Just last month, irate farmers burned down government and conservation offices near protected zones because these conserved areas conflict with people’s need to farm land and accrue income.
If any recovery does occur, it’s likely to take some time, perhaps longer than the century it took to raze the island’s ancient forests. Astronauts, it seems, will be peering down onto red rivers for years to come.
According to NASA, when meeting Madagascar’s president, an unnamed astronaut noted, “oh, yes, I know your country. It is the one bleeding into the ocean.”