Restoring the Atlantic Forest
When the Portuguese arrived in the 1500s the Atlantic Rainforest covered an area of 1,477,500 km2, some 15% of Brazil's land surface. From the early 1500s the forests were selectively logged and then the more destructive cycles of sugar, tobacco, coffee, charcoal and cattle ranching resulted in large areas being clear felled. By the early 21st century only 7% of the original forest remained, an area of 100,000 km2. Furthermore, in Rio de Janeiro State the majority of the wetlands were drained to reduce the risk of malaria and other water-borne diseases.
Although the forests are now legally protected, some forest clearance for agriculture, pastures and housing development still continues, leading to further forest fragmentation and the inevitable associated loss of biodiversity. REGUA is trying to reverse this trend, and demonstrate that habitat restoration is possible and can deliver worthwhile results, even in the short-term. Whilst this type of work is relatively common in many parts of the world there have been few (if any) attempts at wetland creation or large scale tree planting in the Atlantic Rainforest. It is hoped that REGUA's experiences can be shared and will stimulate other individuals and organisations to carry out similar projects.
REGUA's restoration work falls into two categories. Firstly we are trying to replant cleared areas that have been slow to regenerate, usually due to the steep slopes, using native plants grown in our own nursery. To the end of April 2008 over 38,000 trees have been planted of over 50 species, and the survival and growth rate has exceeded all our expectations. Secondly, we are restoring the wetlands around the Sao Jose Farm that were drained in the 1980s for cattle pasture and agricultural land. Phase 1 of the groundwork and the creation of a robust overflow channel to cope with flood water was completed in July 2005 and the Phase 2 extension was completed in late 2007. As with the tree planting, the speed at which the wetland plants have re-colonised and grown has been incredible, as well as the appearance of a wide range of wetland bird species, reptiles such as caiman, amphibians and mammals such as capybara.