Climate change, pollution, and construction have taken their toll on forests all over the world. Brazilian photographer, Sebastião Salgado, and his wife Lélia experienced this destruction first hand in a forest near their home town.
As a result, they began an environmental initiative that achieved remarkable results, turning barren land into the lush forest once again.
In 1994 Sebastião went to East Africa on a long-term assignment to photograph the Rwandan genocide. When he returned home, he found that instead of the forest he was expecting to see, dusty, barren land stretched out for miles.
His hometown had undergone rampant deforestation, and most of the trees in the forest had been cut down. With the absence of the trees and the drying up of rivers, the wildlife had also gone, finding their food and shelter elsewhere.
At this time, Lélia expressed her desire to replant the whole forest. Sebastião supported the idea, and they took upon themselves the mammoth task of replanting and restoring the forest to its former glory.
As the forest spanned 1,750 acres, they knew it would be impossible for them to do it alone.
The couple initially hired 24 workers to help them with the replanting. They had to get rid of the weeds, plant the seeds, and then water the new plants. Volunteers soon joined them came forward to help with the planting initiative.
Other partners were found, and people donated funds to the effort. Slowly, the forest began to revive. Sebastião and Lélia started an environmental organization, Instituto Terra, a community non-profit organization.
It works in the Valley of the River Doce between the states of Espírito Santo and Minas Gerais. The organization helps to teach farmers, children, teachers, and others about the preservation of forests and attracts more attention to their work.
From the time the first seed was sown in December 1999, over four million saplings have been planted. The ultimate goal to restore the ecosystem has been attained.
What was once arid land has become lush greenery. Tropical trees native to the region are flourishing, and the forest has become home to over 500 endangered plants and animal species. This includes 293 plant species as well as birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.
Reforestation has also helped to control soil erosion. Natural water springs in the area which had dried up now flow freely once again. The biodiversity-rich zone has recently been declared as a Private Natural Heritage Reserve.
This couple’s knowledge, determination, and a collaborative effort have proved that it is possible to reverse deforestation. Planting trees can help to deal with the effects of climate change as they transform CO2 into oxygen.
With patience and persistence, we could still have an impact on the destruction we have inflicted on the planet. If this couple and some volunteers could bring back a forest in 20 years, imagine just how much could be done if we all came together to protect the environment.