By Ilana Nagib, PADF South America Programs
When growing up in Brazil, I enjoyed tossing small stones into a pond near my grandparents’ backyard. At times the stones would strike a rock, scare a fish, or cause a big splash. However, what I loved most of all was seeing the ripples move outward from the point where the stones entered the water. Over the years, I thought about those moments and learned how actions can cause similar ripple effects that can have lasting impact, for better or worse, on the world around us.
That ripple effect is very much in motion in my country today, especially in environmentally fragile and ecologically rich areas that are now facing destruction as a result of urban growth. One of those areas is the Atlantic Forest, a once well-connected forest system sprawling across as many as 580,000 square miles of land—Texas, California and Montana combined—and running along some 2,400 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline.
Today, nearly 61 percent—some 112 million people—of Brazil’s population lives on the Atlantic rainforest region, which is exerting incredible pressures on endemic species and the forest’s various ecosystems. As a result, this forest has become largely fragmented into isolated pockets, some smaller than six acres, of the various ecosystems within the forest system. This separation disturbs the forest’s habitat and threatens extinction for many of the Atlantic Forest’s more than 2,000 species of animals and 20,000 species of plants. Of further concern is the fact that despite its dwindling, less than two percent of this ancient forest system is legally protected in designated conservation units.
To counter the damaging effects to this delicate forest habitat, last year PADF and longtime partner Caterpillar Inc. launched a new initiative called ConBio project (Biodiversity Condominium, or Condomínio da Biodiversidade, in Portuguese). This project, which we are carrying out with SPVS, a conservation organization, is fostering the protection of urban natural areas in the Municipality of Campo Largo, in Brazil’s southern Paraná state, and improving the population’s quality of life in relation to their environment. Because many of the remnants of this rainforest system are in this area, this initiative also aims to ensure that children, youth, and local residents learn about the real treasures they have very close to their communities and the importance of preserving them. This is why we have already reached out to more than 1,600 children and 100 landowners to educate them about conservation and engage them in activities designed to spark and increase their interest and knowledge of conservation.
“It is amazing to see the trees growing,” local landowner Valdomiro Lourenço told our team recently. “Our municipality has so many beautiful geographic landscapes and native areas. We need to preserve these areas to our future generation.” He and Leonilda Araújo Carneiro, another landowner, used to grow potatoes, corn, and beans in areas that had remnants of native vegetation, something they have stopped doing. Now with the support from the ConBio project, they are planting seedlings of native species as part of land recovery effort.
As this effort grows, we are working to encourage and establish new public-private partnerships to communicate the importance of conserving native areas and foster long-term sustainability of the Atlantic Forest.
It is encouraging to see the positive impact that people like Valdomiro and Leonilda and other partners and supporters are having as part of this great push to preserve and restore such an important heritage. My hope is that we—as they already have done—will do our share to guard not only this priceless ecosystem, but so many others scattered across our beautiful planet.