TUMACO, Colombia — Here’s one of South America’s poorly kept secrets: Colombia is a natural wonder.
It’s half-covered in forest and one of the most biologically diverse countries on Earth — home to 10 percent of the world’s plant and animal species.
It’s largely up to trees to sustain the balance. But the United Nations estimates that nearly 500,000 acres of natural forest — about the size of eight Brooklyns — are lost every year, and experts say the figure could be higher.
Here in Tumaco, on Colombia’s Pacific coast, agriculture, mining and logging are quickly wiping out swathes of the rain forest.
For some companies, and organized crime gangs, logging can be big business.
But not for these Afro-Colombian laborers. They’re the lower-class “coteros,” log carriers whose intense labor earns $5 to $10 a day.
Dozens of sawmills like this one dot the jungle riverbanks. They take all sorts of wood — with names like sajo, machare, guabo, pacora, but also oak — and churn out materials for construction or paper production.