Imagine you are flying low over a misty, blue-green landscape. As the small plane rocks and bumps through the humid air, you can see mountains full of rich plant life. It's been an hour since you saw the last town, or evidence of human habitation. Finally, the plane turns. Through your window you witness an amazing sight: millions of gallons of water cutting a winding path through the ancient forest. You have reached the Orinoco River.

The very first vision of the Orinoco awakens your desire to understand it. In fact, the mystery of the river has drawn explorers, researchers, adventurers and artists for hundreds of years. But what is the Orinoco? What secrets does it hide? What does it have to do with us? What threatens its health as an ecosystem, and how can we conserve this precious area?

The Orinoco itself is 1,250 miles long, but the vast region that drains into the river is 385,000 square miles (1,000,000 km2). That's the size of Egypt. It contains hundreds of thousands of plant and animal species. Furthermore, it is home to 23 indigenous ethnic groups.

Understanding the Orinoco is important if we want to know who we have been and who we will be. To understand the Orinoco is to predict the ecological future of the planet.

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