Photojournalist Sebastião Ribeiro Salgado returned home from documenting the Rwandan genocide in East Africa 30 years ago only to encounter another tragedy.
When he got back to his family’s cattle ranch in an area of Brazil called Minas Gerais, he found that the former tropical paradise had been stripped of nearly all of its trees and the wildlife that formerly lived there had disappeared.
The region had long been known for being green, lush, and full of wildlife, but deforestation had taken its toll.
“The land was as sick as I was – everything was destroyed,” he told The Guardian. “Only about 0.5% of the land was covered in trees.”
His wife Lelia was equally upset at what they found and suggested the couple set out to replant the forest.
This seemed impossible at first, but Salgado knew he had to do something big in order to save his beloved homeland.
In 1998, the couple set up an “environmental organization dedicated to the sustainable development of the Valley of the River Doce.” They named it Instituto Terra.
It took years of labor, dedication, and love to replant the entire 1,754-acre plot of land. But after the couple arranged for the planting of over 2 MILLION trees, the land slowly transformed back into a lush, green paradise.
The couple also arranged for the region to be designated as a Private Natural Heritage Reserve so that no more logging could take place in the area.
Now, the family cattle ranch is thriving again and hundreds of species of animals and plants that were forced out have slowly returned to the land.
The area is now home to 293 species of trees, 172 species of birds, 33 species of mammals, and 15 species of reptiles and amphibians – many of which are considered endangered. Even several springs that had dried up are flowing again.
The millions of new trees have also had an impact on the local climate, reducing dangerously rising temperatures because more of the CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere can be absorbed and turned back into oxygen.
That’s why deforestation is so harmful to our planet – without trees, CO2, which is a greenhouse gas, stays trapped in the atmosphere, raising temperatures. Higher temperatures mean that plants and animals can no longer live in the same areas they had once adapted to.
Our planet is warming so fast that animals don’t have time to evolve, so they either move or die off. To top it off, a warming planet also has a gruesome effect on the water supply – the lack of water and land on which plants will grow displaces people as well.
As people migrate throughout the world, they move into areas already populated, leading to conflicts over resources and sometimes all-out war.
The good news is that 2 million trees and one man’s vision can make a difference in a small area. The bad news is that as of 2019, scientists no longer think we’re even capable of planting enough trees to have this effect on a global scale.
That means we’ll have to find other solutions to stabilize the climate.
But there’s a lesson to be learned from the Salgados’ hard work and vision and that is that we can do some good for our immediate surroundings if we care enough and invest back into the environment.
“All the insects and birds and fish returned,” Salgado noted, “and, thanks to this increase of the trees, I, too, was reborn—this was the most important moment.”
This incredible satellite image shows just how much the project changed Minas Gerais over a decade.
Even photos from on the ground comparing just a hillside illustrate the incredible transformation over 18 years.
Here are just a few of the species that have now returned to this lush sanctuary:
To learn more about Salgados and their inspiring labor of love, check out the video below.
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Source: The Guardian