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Into the Atlantic Forest

In the lush green forest the inertia is suddenly broken. Sunset carries with it the last rays of light permeating branches, bringing the darkness to its nocturnal beings. This is the Atlantic Forest that inhabits people’s imaginary. But what many are unaware of, is that this biome goes beyond majestic forests: from warm sands where endangered sea turtles lay their eggs, to the cold misty mountains of the south surrounding Araucaria trees. On our coast, productive mangroves shelter and feed countless species, beautiful restingas stretches across dunes of sand, and cliffs shaped by time, wind and waters accommodates fishermen at dawn. In the foggy morning inside the forest elusive species go unnoticed, while the mountains guard unknown landscapes between their peaks under storm skies.

With its origins dating from 90 to 100 million years ago, on the Gondwana continent,the Atlantic rainforest has undergone a succession of climatic and geological events that have contributed to its expansion and diversity of ecosystems. An outstanding biodiversity hotspot that holds more than 5% of vertebrate species and world flora, concentrated in only 0.8% of the earth's terrestrial coverage. Not only a keeper of great diversity, but of an unique diversity - approximately 40% of these species are endemic. Despite of all that, the Ka’agwy marã’eý, Infinite Forest in the indigenous language Guarani (an allusion to the colossal bush across the coast of the South Atlantic ocean in Brazil and beyond borders with Argentina and Paraguay), that once covered about 1.3 million km², now occupies approximately 12% of its original distribution.

The origin of occupation and use of the Atlantic Forest clearly refers to the original peoples of our land long before the arrival of Europeans. But despite the large number of Indians who once inhabited the biome, it was only after the arrival of the new settlers that the land saw its forest crumble and its landscape change drastically. Now, after five centuries of human exploitation, under a severe loss of habitat and fragmentation, the biome is consisting mainly of small edge-affected fragments, surrounded by open-habitat matrices and human-modified landscapes. Due to the loss of habitat, fragmentation and environmental disturbances, several areas have experienced shifts in the frequency and abundance of species, facing severe defaunation and changes in biological communities structure and ecosystem functions at different scales. Also as consequences are annual floods, landslides, periods of drought and loss of traditional culture, threatening all those services provided by the forest.

But the Atlantic Forest is resilient. Remaining as one of the most biodiverse biomes on the planet, it still contributes directly and indirectly to the well-being of the population by providing ecosystem services, such as water – energy; food; shelter; raw material; climate regulation and rainfall distribution, controlling soil stability and river and reservoir levels. More than 100 million people live in the Atlantic rainforest range, nearly 60% of the total population in the country. Including about 150 thousand inhabitants of 29 indigenous ethnicities – being the Guaranis the most numerous; and several other traditional communities, such as caiçaras and quilombolas.

This resilience presents an unique opportunity to take care of its biodiversity and seek, while it is time, for actions and solutions that benefit in short and long term nature and all those who depend on it. It is time to listen to nature, its traditional peoples and the scientists who are dedicated to generating knowledge and promoting the conservation of endangered species. It is time to hear the good and the bad. It is time to act.

Into the Atlantic Forest is a long term project that covered nearly 3,000 km in protected areas, from north to south of the biome. With researchers and NGOs I have also followed the efforts in the field to protect endangered species.

Acknowledgments to the researchers from Projeto Lontra (SC), Pró-Tapir (ES), Associação Mico-Leão Dourado (RJ), Projeto Muriqui de Caratinga (MG), Tamar (SE), Projeto Peixe-Boi Marinho (PA) and Projeto Baleia à Vista (SP) for allowing me to join and document their work in the field and for dedicating themselves to the preservation of our biodiversity. Thanks to the Guaranis leaders of São Paulo, Espírito Santo and Misiones, Argentina, the Quilombola Master and everyone who received me and shared some of their culture and history.

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