While international media focuses on the important and devastating losses in the Amazon rainforest, an extensive forest biome along Brazil’s eastern coast is rapidly disappearing. The Mata Atlântica biome hosts incredible biodiversity and is critical for fighting climate change through its massive contribution to carbon sequestration. It is considered one of the most threatened large tropical forest ecosystems, but a new study finally reveals a glimmer of hope — the area of deforestation is bad, but not as bad as it used to be.
According to the joint report by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research and Fundação SOS, heavily deforested areas have nearly 10 percent more forest cover than previous years. Their findings are based on innovative satellite mapping.
“Just as important as analyzing the loss of Mata Atlântica in the last [most recent] period is to look at the historical series and think about prospects going forward,” said André de Almeida Cunha, an ecology professor at the at the University of Brasília.
The forest used to stretch down Brazil’s eastern coast and through Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. Now, it has been reduced to small, fragmented protected areas. The majority of deforestation is because of cattle grazing and land clearing for other agribusiness as well as real estate development.
“Mata Atlântica is still the most threatened biome,” explained Pedro Brancalion, a researcher at the University of São Paulo. “The [deforestation] process we see in the Amazon began 500 years ago in Mata Atlântica. There is still deforestation [underway] in Mata Atlântica [today] where biodiversity losses have not been offset by reforestation initiatives.”
While the report shows that some reforestation efforts have been successful, not all reforestation is equal. Throughout Brazil and much of the world, some reforestation initiatives have focused on planting monocrop trees for agriculture, such as eucalyptus or palm oil. While these trees are better than nothing, they are eventually harvested and do not provide the benefits of biodiversity.
Image via ICLEI América do Sul