How This Brazilian Couple Managed To Revive An Entire Forest And Save Thousands of Animals
Pollution, construction, and climate change have taken a catstrophic toll on forests across the world for years. One couple in Brazil experienced the ravages of humankind on nature, firsthand. Photographer Sebastião Salgado and his wife Lélia owned a forest of their own in Aimorés, Brazil. While Sebastião was on a long-term photography assignment, the forest slowly but surely died off. However, the couple was determined to renew the forest and to save thousands of animals in the process.
A Major Loss
In 1994, Sebastião left for East Africa to capture the terrible Rwandan genocide on film. After some months there, he returned home where he was expecting to find tranquility and beauty in his home forest. However, he was shocked to find that things were certainly not as he had left them. Over time, the trees of the forest had been cut down, leaving only 0.5% of the land covered in trees. The rivers had dried up and all signs of wildlife were gone, most likely seeking food and shelter in another place. Sebastião was devastated. However, Lélia refused to let him give up on their forest so quickly. She believed that they could replant the forest and restore it to its former glory. Sebastião supported the idea and was ready to get to work to make it happen.
A Monumental Task
Lélia came up with a plan to revive the forest but the two of them wouldn’t be able to do it on their own. The forest spanned over 1,750 acres, so it would be a massive job. The couple hired 24 workers to help replant the forest. They worked tirelessly all day to get rid of weeds, planting seeds, and watering the new trees and plants. With their hard work, the forest slowly began to grow again. The initiative also began attracting volunteers and partners who wanted to be a part of this project. Volunteers toiled alongside the workers as others donated funds towards the effort. Sebastião and Lélia even started an environmental organization, the Instituto Terra, to bring more attention to their work. The ultimate goal of the organization was to restore the ecosystem in their home by producing Atlantic Forest seedlings. It also helps to teach kids, teachers, farmers, and others about the preservation of forests and how they can help.
A Forest Revived
Since 1998, the couple and their workers have planted over four million saplings of 293 species. Today, the forest has been completely transformed back into what it was once––a beautiful, thriving ecosystem filled with trees, insects and other wildlife. The forest now serves as home to 293 plant species, 172 bird species, 33 mammal species, and 15 species of amphibians and reptiles. The reforestation has also brought increased rainfall and creeks filled with clean, refreshing water. It looks nothing like it did when the deforestation took hold, which is something that Sebastião and Lélia are both grateful for.
For Sebastião, this effort has made him think of an answer to the effects of climate change. “Perhaps we have a solution. There is a single being which can transform CO2 into oxygen, which is the tree. We need to replant the forest,” he stated in an interview with The Guardian. “You need a forest with native trees, and you need to gather the seeds in the same region you plant them or the serpents and the termites won’t come. And if you plant forests that don’t belong, the animals don’t come there and the forest is silent.” The photographer also added, “We need to listen to the words of the people on the land. Nature is the earth and it is other beings and if we don’t have some kind of spiritual return to our planet, I fear that we will be compromised.”
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