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Planting Trees and Hope in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil

Veronika Perková, Journalist & Host of the podcast Nature Solutionaries sits down with Micaela Locke, REGUA’s  Research and Communications Coordinator to talk about her family’s dedication to Brazil’s “other” rainforest.

When Micaela Locke, a young Brazilian conservationist, speaks about her work at Guapiaçu Nature Reserve, she is radiant. No wonder. It’s rare to come across such a nice conservation story. Her family’s property, which could have been turned into a condominium or a factory back in the 1990s, has instead become a vibrant 11,000-hectare nature reserve buzzing with wildlife. 

In this interview, Micaela Locke talks about protecting biodiversity in the Atlantic Forest in Brazil and creating a corridor for wildlife by planting trees sourced from seeds the surrounding rainforest. 

Welcome, Micaela! While the Amazon is the largest and best-known rainforest in Latin America, the Atlantic Forest rarely makes it into the headlines of international news. And yet, it’s incredibly important for global biodiversity conservation. Can you briefly describe why it is so unique?

The Atlantic Forest is among the biologically richest and most diverse forests in the world with high levels of fauna and flora, which is found nowhere else on the planet. Its mosaic of different ecosystems ranges from humid, dry and coastal forests to mangroves. The forest is home to around 20,000 species of plants and 2,100 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish. Some of the region’s most iconic animals, such as pumas, ocelots, tapirs and woolly spider monkeys, live in the Atlantic Forest.

This incredible biodiversity is under threat because it’s estimated that less than 16% of the forest cover remains today. How can we best protect what’s left and prevent further degradation?

Thanks to the Atlantic Forest National Law created in 2006 and the creation of parks, illegal logging and poaching have decreased throughout the country. People know that if they cut a tree, they will be prosecuted. So I believe the best solution is to turn the remaining forests into parks, which is already happening across Brazil. In the state of Rio de Janeiro, around 30% of the original forest cover (1 million hectares) is already legally protected by the Atlantic Forest National Law.

REGUA protects over 11,000 hectares of the Atlantic Forest in the Guapiaçu watershed. How did you manage to create such a big protected area?

It all began with my great grandfather, who moved from Germany to Rio de Janeiro state in 1895. He established his business (a silk factory) in Petropolis and bought land in the Guapiaçu watershed.  The third generation understood the relevance of protecting the remaining forest within the property and decided to create a private nature reserve in the late 1990’s.

What an interesting story! Since then REGUA has been protecting the forest and its biodiversity by expanding the nature reserve through land acquisition and partnership agreements, right?

Yes. In 2002, we increased the size of the reserve to 2,000 hectares. That’s where we created the offices, lodge and housing for visitors. Thanks to partners, such as SavingNature, we’ve been buying more land every year. We now own 8,000 hectares and additional 3,000 hectares through partnership agreements.

What is your goal? How much do you want to expand the reserve?

We want to double the size of REGUA in the Guapiaçu watershed. This area is important for three reasons: It safeguards a vital watershed for 2.5 million residents of eastern Metropolitan Rio de Janeiro city, builds habitat for biodiversity, and sequesters carbon dioxide to fight climate change.

Is it easy to buy land?

It has become easier over the years, because people trust REGUA’s conservation work. We often have people coming to our office to offer their properties for sale.  We usually buy land on slopes not suitable for farming or eroded hills and grasslands degraded from cattle grazing and areas that were burned for crops in the past.


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