Man on motorbike passes a truck carrying illegally harvested rainforest wood

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Plundering indigenous lands
A man on a motorbike looks over his shoulder on June 10 at a truck transporting illegally harvested Amazon rain forest logs near the Arariboia Indigenous Reserve in Maranhao, Brazil.

Guajajara tribe members on the reserve say the forests on their protected indigenous land are being plundered by illegal loggers, who killed a member of their tribe who attempted to stop the logging. According to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which tracks rain forest destruction by satellite, 242 square kilometers in the tribe's reserve have been destroyed.

The rapid development of Brazil, the world's sixth-largest economy, continues to threaten the Brazilian Amazon, which constitutes over half of the rain forests remaining on the planet and the source of 20 percent of the Earth’s oxygen. More than 1.1 million hectares of trees have been stolen from the protected indigenous reserves since 1987, according to the Brazilian government.

With ambitious plans to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, Brazil is set to take a prominent place on the world stage. Next week, more than 100 world leaders and tens of thousands of protesters will descend on Rio de Janeiro from June 20-22 for the Rio+20 summit, an attempt to overcome years of deadlock over environmental issues. The international gathering will also mark the 20th anniversary of the landmark Rio Earth Summit in 1992, which delivered the Climate Convention treaty and paved the way for the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

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Workers haul baskets of illegal rainforest wood charcoal

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Illegal rain forest charcoal camps

A worker hauls a basket of charcoal produced from illegally harvested Amazon timber onto a truck on June 8 near an illegal charcoal camp in Rondon do Pará, Brazil.

Illegal wood charcoal is primarily used in Brazil to power smelters producing pig iron, which is used to make steel for industries such as auto manufacturing in the U.S. Although the workers in this photo said they were paid $40 per truckload of charcoal, many other illegal charcoal camps work their laborers in conditions akin to slave labor. Between 2003-2011, more than 2,700 charcoal camp workers were liberated following the discovery and subsequent shutdown of the camps.

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Mother and son sit in the water of the Açailândia creek

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Amazonian boomtown

A mother and son sit in the water next to a dock on June 9 in Açailândia, Brazil.

The boomtown of Açailândia was founded in 1958 when a highway was carved through the middle of the rain forest. Loggers quickly felled the valuable trees in the area for profit, and the town, which boasts a population of 104,000, is now a major center for agribusiness and pig iron production, typically fueled by illegal rain forest charcoal.

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Worker hauls baskets of Açai berry in Belém market

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

A string of eco-hazards
A worker carries baskets of açai berry at dawn on June 7 at the historic Ver-el-Peso market in Belém, Brazil.

Located on the northern coast of Brazil, Belém is considered the entrance to the Amazon rain forest and has been a major center of trade and travel for more than 300 years. Although it's far from the heart of the Amazon, bustling coastal cities like Belém are facing their own environmental hazards, including pollution from mining, agricultural runoff and increased silt in the waters caused by deforestation.

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Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.

Photos: Brazil faces eco-challenges ahead of Rio+20
More than 100 world leaders and tens of thousands of protesters will descend on Rio de Janeiro next week for the Rio+20 summit in hopes of overcoming years of d