Centuries ago, The Atlantic Forest draped the Atlantic coast of Brazil, stretching inland into Paraguay and Argentina. It was the first giant forest that European colonizers first explored and colonized. In the intervening years, colonization, habitation, and the production of commodities have taken an immense toll.
It was once one of the greatest tropical forests in the world, but the Atlantic Forests have dwindled to around 12% of its original land and contain two of the most heavily populated cities on earth; Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, home to around 150 million people.
But despite the severe destruction of the Atlantic Forest, 5% of the world’s vertebrate species, including toucans, maned wolves, ocelots, tamarin monkeys, and jaguars, and 7% of the plant species still exist here are found nowhere else.
Despite the population explosion in its vicinity and the inevitable degradation, the forest continues to be among the greatest bio-diverse spots on earth.
People have finally woken up to the standing of the Atlantic Forest and the immediate need to immediately restore it. And it is not merely for the wildlife that it contains. Along with the Amazon, the Atlantic Forest is an important regulator of the climate and supplies freshwater for over 60% of the population of Brazil. The livelihood of many people and even the Brazilian economy hinge on the wellbeing of these forests.
Restoring The Atlantic Forest To Its Pristine Glory
Restoring the Atlantic Forest is a difficult task as it has suffered the most significant deforestation in the world. Various programs have been initiated to regenerate the forest cover of the Atlantic Forest.
The Brazilian Atlantic Forest region biome is held as one of the most alive of the biodiversity hotspots. Over 20,000 species of plants and 2,420 vertebrates still survive here, most having high levels of endemism, which is exclusively found in this geographic location and not elsewhere.
But the damage to biodiversity caused by the incursion of a large population and the resulting fragmentation has also turned it into one of the most threatened hotspots of the world. With the destruction of close to 88% of the forest cover, around 60% of the plant and animal species are severely endangered.
It has taken an international organization to establish initiatives to restore degraded or lost forest ecosystems. The Brazilian government launched the Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact in 2009 intending to restore 15 Mha of deforested and degraded land by 2050 in the Atlantic Forest Region.
Saving The Forests Through A Slew Of International Initiative Including The Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact (PACTO)
The greatest challenge lies in achieving ambitious global forest restoration commitments. The Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact of 2009 ultimately plans to restore 15 Mha of deforested and degraded lands by 2050. 1 Mha was pledged towards the 2020 Bonn Challenge.
Other initiatives include the Aichi Biodiversity Target, which has set a target of reinstating a minimum of 15% of the degraded ecosystems of the Atlantic Forest. Another international initiative, the Bonn Challenge, has thrown a target of restoring 150Mha of degraded by 2020 and 350 Mha of deforested land by 2030.
The greatest threat to Brazil’s diverse ecosystems and species is from the expansion of industrial farming, the increasing frequency, and severity of forest fires, logging, and cattle rearing.
The biologically diverse and complex ecosystems are highly vulnerable to climate change. The relaxation of environmental laws on conservation areas and indigenous lands has led to unregulated agricultural expansion and triggered a major response towards restoring the forests.
The Bonn Challenge initiative has been supported by the National Plan for the Recovery of Native Vegetation (PLANAVEG), launched in 2017. PLANAVEG helps unlock the restoration of the forest landscape through highlighting awareness of its benefits, through the enhancement of the quality of the seedlings of native species, promoting the marketing for native products, and conducting research.
The Nature Conservancy also launched the Plant a Billion Trees (PBT) campaign back in 2008 to recover the Atlantic Forest. The campaign gradually expanded to the Amazon forests and the Central Savannas. Ever since, over 45 million native trees have been planted and are growing, covering an area of 44,000 acres of previously degraded land.
Partnering With The Authorities In Conserving The Atlantic Forests
The Nature Conservancy has worked with a wide range of partners to restore the Atlantic Forest. The campaign roped in many local conservation organizations, local communities, private companies, around 10 states, and individual landowners. And this initiative has been supported by donations from thousands of individual donors each year.
The Nature Conservancy has used the latest science to ensure that the forests established healthy ecosystems. The campaign prioritizes areas for food and water security.
One of the first steps is the planting of seedlings along with enabling the natural regeneration of the Atlantic Forest. Then comes the monitoring of areas and adaptive management. These stages are vital to ensure that the forest stays diverse and healthy and endures in the long term.
The growing trees gradually attract small mammals and birds, which bring in native seeds from patches of natural forests nearby. In areas that have suffered less degradation, growth can be catalyzed through improvement in the growing condition and removing threats like cattle and fire. We monitor the growth of forests for five years to ensure that the forests continue to develop successfully.
Brazil’s Plant a Billion Trees Campaign has allowed The Nature Conservancy to develop long-term strategies for restoring native flora on a large scale, protecting the diverse ecosystem of the plant, and also the global climate, and its water quality.
The ultimate aim of The Nature Conservancy is to plant a billion trees by 2025. This will lead to the restoration of over 1.6 million acres of forest land, the equivalent of 1.6 million football fields.
The Bonn Challenge for the restoration and reclamation of forest land has thrown up several lessons. The first is that clear criteria need to be well-defined to classify as being restored. Second, it is essential to use dependable remote sensing pictures or land cover or maps that have the appropriate resolution.
Thirdly, it is necessary to define healthy criteria to evaluate remote sensing pictures of land use and coverage maps. Finally, the Pact brought in the total restoration community, attracting public backing for the restoration movement. This fostered a culture of public accountability.