The Atlantic Forest
The forest and its history
The Atlantic Forest is one of the five "hotspots" of most important biodiversity on Earth and the largest biosphere reserve designated by UNESCO, representing one of the priority regions for conservation worldwide. Centuries ago, the forest stretched for more than 130 million hectares along the Brazilian east coast, including northern parts of Argentina and eastern Paraguay.
Today, in Brazil, only 7% of the Atlantic Forest in good condition, distributed in isolated fragments over 1,000 hectares each. The last remnants of this lush forest harbor a wealth of biological diversity comparable to the famous Amazon. Where it survives, the Atlantic Forest has one of Earth's most spectacular landscapes such as the stunning coastline of Rio de Janeiro.
The deforestation of the Atlantic Forest began in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when valuable hardwoods, ideal for shipbuilding and furniture industry, were sent to Europe. However, most of the deforestation occurred in the last hundred years. Today, some areas of forests are still being cleared for soybean planting, sugarcane, pine and eucalyptus, as well as livestock and illegal timber trade.
The expansion of cities and coastal development have transformed the vast forest in the most densely populated and industrialized region of Latin America. Only in Brazil, 70% of the population - more than 130 million people - reside in the Atlantic Forest. Preserving what remains of the Atlantic Forest is a global conservation priority and an urgent challenge.
The Atlantic Forest is home to over 20,000 species of plants, including rare palm trees, orchids and bromeliads, and is recognized as one of the sites of greatest diversity of trees in the world. In southern Bahia, Botanical Garden of scientists from New York found 458 tree species in one hectare - number greater than that found in the entire eastern coastline of the United States. In addition, the Atlantic Forest is home to 2,180 species of vertebrates - mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish and birds. More than 800 of these species are unique to Atlantic. Due to the high degree of the biome tax threat, 60% of endangered species in Brazil are in the Atlantic Forest.
The diversity of vertebrates and the forest endemism are incredibly high. The Atlantic Forest has 12 endemic genera, or species do not occur elsewhere in the world, including two kinds of endangered primates that symbolize the region and are called the "flagship species". These are the lion tamarins, of which there are four species, and spider monkeys, two species. Efforts for the conservation of lion tamarins have shown the importance of cooperation between universities, zoos, national and international NGOs and the Brazilian government, which resulted not only in their protection as well as in preserving their forests. The actions for the conservation and research focused on these species have resulted in numerous initiatives to protect the habitat of the primates, as well as the training of many Brazilian conservationists
Challenges and Opportunities
Deforestation is the second leading cause - after the burning of fossil fuels - the carbon dioxide emissions that causes global warming. Forests absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and transform it into biomass, such as roots, stems and leaves. Whenever forests are burned or cut down, the carbon stored in them is released. The necessary actions to put an end to deforestation and reduce the effects of climate change are large scale and require coordination between the political, economic and scientific. The conservation and restoration of the Atlantic Forest reduce climate change impacts and benefit human communities, as well as plants and animals.
Scarcity and Water Pollution
Healthy forests act as giant sponges that suck rainwater and release them gradually into rivers. They also protect the watercourses and maintain its quality by reducing sediment and filter pollutants. Forest loss contributes to erosion, decreased water quality and changes in water flows. Currently, water scarcity affects over 40% of world population (United Nations Development Programme Report of the Environment, 2001). Millions of Brazilians living in cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, depend on the health of watersheds to protect its water resources. Committees bacias- major river in the Atlantic began to collect a fee for the use of water and the use of these funds for the conservation and restoration of these respective basins.
Protection of Public Areas
Less than 2% of the original forest area is protected in full protection of protected areas: national parks, biological reserves and ecological stations. This area is insufficient to ensure the environmental sustainability of many species. Urgent action is necessary to prevent the extinction of species. It is important to work together with governments to stimulate the creation of new protected areas (PAs) and implement management strategies to ensure the conservation and sustainability of these long-term areas.
Private Reserves Protection
Most of the Atlantic Forest is in the hands of private owners. The creation of financial incentives for landowners and conservation organizations for the creation of Private Natural Heritage Reserve (RPPN) is a key action. Landowners can voluntarily protect their forest areas legally in perpetuity and receive tax exemption for this.
Rural and traditional communities have an important role in the conservation and restoration of forests. The use of sustainable production methods around the protected areas provide alternative sustainable income for local people and protect the long-term forest. The production of handicrafts, seeds, medicinal plants, teas like yerba mate and other forest non-wood products is growing rapidly.
Building the future
We all depend on nature as providing the ideal conditions for a healthy and safe life. We must not exceed the limits of the planet, depleting its natural resources to become aware of the importance of environmental conservation. We have the experience, knowledge and resources to meet this challenge.
The environmental services provided by forests are essential to the population's quality of life, such as the protection of water, climate regulation, protection of watersheds and soil erosion control, flood prevention and pollination, which are essential for human well-being. Worldwide, these environmental services have not been properly valued. However, as natural resources become increasingly scarce, there has been growing recognition of its great value.
Strong partnerships with governments, international funding agencies, companies, non-governmental organizations, landowners and local associations are essential to reverse the course of deforestation and promote the conservation and recovery of the Atlantic Forest. The region is considered the birthplace of the environmental movement in Brazil and focuses some of the universities, research centers and most prestigious NGOs in the country. To catalyze the support of all sectors of society, we expect to achieve our common goal of effectively protecting at least 10% of the Atlantic Forest by 2010.