STONY BROOK, N.Y., Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Cultivating coca bushes, the source of cocaine, is destroying rainforests in Colombia and threatening the region's plant and animal diversity, researchers say.
Scientists at Stony Brook University in New York say the pace of deforestation in Colombia has accelerated over the past 20 years even as population growth has slowed and the economy has shifted from agriculture to other revenue sources.
This increase in deforestation coincides with an increase in the cultivation of coca for cocaine production, and Colombia accounted for 75 percent of the world's coca in 2000, a university release said Thursday.
Such deforestation of rainforests, which hold about 10 percent of the world's plant and animal species -- some of which are valuable as sources of new medicines -- represents a serious threat to global biodiversity, the researchers say.
The Stony Brook scientists say designating protected areas -- regions that are set aside for special protection for environmental reasons -- can reduce forest destruction in coca-growing areas.
Establishing larger protected areas in the region could help control deforestation and preserve biodiversity, the scientists say.