Atlantic forest: the most threatened biome in Brazil

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The Atlantic Forest is considered one of the richest areas in biodiversity in the world. However, 90% of its original extension is destroyed, making it the most threatened Brazilian biome.

atlantic forest-biome Brazil celebrates, on May 27, the National Atlantic Forest Day, created by federal decree of September 21, 1999. The date is a reference to May 27, 1560, when Father Anchieta signed the letter of St. Vincent, a document in which he described, for the first time, the biodiversity of tropical forests in the Americas.

The Atlantic Forest is considered one of the richest areas in biodiversity in the world. It was declared a Biosphere Reserve by Unesco and National Heritage, in the Federal Constitution of 1988.

Atlantic Forest: features, extension and location

The Atlantic Forest covers the largest cities and metropolitan regions in Brazil. It houses more than 145 million people. More than 80% of the national economic production is generated in this region, considered the socio-economic center of the country. However, the remaining vegetation occupies about 29% of the biome's vegetation cover area.

The forest is found in the states of Espírito Santo, Rio de Janeiro and Santa Catarina, and part of the territories of Alagoas, Bahia, Goiás, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Paraíba, Paraná, Pernambuco, Rio Grande do Norte, Rio Grande do South, São Paulo and Sergipe. It has a wide variety of formations, encompasses a diversity of forest ecosystems with very different structure and floristic compositions, following the climatic characteristics of the region where it occurs.  In this territory, water sources and springs supply cities, being one of the factors that have contributed to the problems of the water crisis, associated with scarcity, waste, poor use of water, deforestation and pollution.

Fauna, Flora and other unique riches of the Atlantic Forest

Originally, the biome occupied more than 1.3 million square kilometers in 17 Brazilian states, extending over a large part of the country's coast. However, due to occupation and human activities in the region, today around 29% of its original coverage remains.

Even though, it is estimated that there are about 20,000 plant species in the Atlantic Forest (35% of existing species in Brazil, approximately), including several endemic and endangered species. This wealth is greater than that of some continents, such as North America, which has 17 thousand plant species, and Europe, with 12.5 thousand. This is one of the reasons that makes the Atlantic Forest a priority for world biodiversity.

In relation to the fauna, the biome is home to around 850 species of birds, 370 of amphibians, 200 of reptiles, 270 of mammals and 350 of fish. In addition to being one of the richest regions in the world in terms of biodiversity, the Atlantic Forest provides essential ecosystem services for the 145 million Brazilians who live in it.

Despite the expansion of industry, agriculture, tourism and urbanization causing biodiversity in several areas, the Atlantic Forest offers other possibilities for economic activities, which do not involve the destruction of the environment and in some cases can generate income for local  and traditional communities. Some examples are the use of plants to produce medicines, raw materials for the production of clothing, dyes, perfume essences; inputs for the food industry or even the exploitation of trees through selective cutting for the production of certified furniture, the so-called sustainable management, ecotourism, and more recently, the carbon market. Main vegetable examples: pau-brasil, cedar, cinnamon, ipe, jacaranda, jatoba, cariniana, palm, vines and orchids.

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Deforestation: the world's most threatened biome

Much of the Atlantic Forest vegetation was destroyed due to intensive and disorderly exploitation of the forest. Brazilwood was the main extraction and export target of the explorers who colonized the region and is now almost extinct. The first commercial contract for the exploration of redwood was signed in 1502, which led Brazil to be known as "terra brasilis", linking the country's name to the exploration of this wood, reddish as ember.

Other valuable woods were also explored to extinction, such as tapinhioã, sucupira, cinnamon, canjarana, jacaranda, araribá, pequi, jenipaparana, peroba, urucana and vinhático. Ancient reports speak of a dense forest seemingly untouched, despite being inhabited by several indigenous peoples with large populations.

In the Brazilian Northeast the extinction was almost total, which aggravated the survival conditions of the population, causing hunger, misery and exodus. In the Southeast Region, the coffee crop was the main responsible for the massive destruction of native vegetation. But in the southern region, predatory exploitation of the Atlantic Forest devastated the ecosystem of the Araucaria Forest due to the commercial value of pine wood extracted from Paraná pine.

In addition to the predatory exploitation of federal resources, there was also a significant export trade in animal hides and skins. Today, practically 90% of the Atlantic Forest across the entire Brazilian territory is destroyed. Its deforestation rate is 2.5 times higher than that found in the Amazon in the same period.

Preservation of the Atlantic Forest: a challenge for all

There are several projects for the recovery of the Atlantic Forest, which always come up against urbanization and lack of space planning, especially in the Southeast region. For example, in the city of São Sebastião (north coast of São Paulo), which has some segments of preservation areas.

There was a decrease in the exploration of Paraná, thanks to the cultural reaction of the population and the creation of APAs (environmental protection areas), which are supported by strict legislation and intensive inspection by citizens. This vegetation in Paraná preserves a high level of biodiversity, including the golden lion tamarin, orchids and bromeliads.

The Federal Constitution of 1988 places the Atlantic Forest as a national heritage, along with the Brazilian Amazon Forest, the Serra do Mar, the Pantanal Mato Grosso and the Coastal Zone. The clearing of primary forest is prohibited. The Atlantic Forest Policy (Guidelines for the Policy for the Conservation and Sustainable Development of the Atlantic Forest), of 1998, contemplates the preservation of biodiversity, the sustainable development of natural resources and the recovery of degraded areas.

Water: source of life and biodiversity

The regions of the Atlantic Forest have high rainfall due to hillside rains caused by mountains that block the passage of clouds. It is common to think of the complexity of a biome by aspects of its fauna and flora, but a fundamental element for the existence of biodiversity is water.

The human activities carried out within the biome depend on water for the maintenance of agriculture, fishing, industry, commerce, tourism, energy generation, recreational activities and sanitation.

Currently, a key concept to study the relationship between water, biodiversity and human activities is the hydrographic basin, which is the set of lands drained by a main river, its affluents and sub-affluents. Seven of the nine large hydrographic basins fed by the São Francisco, Paraíba do Sul, Doce, Ribeira do Iguape and Paraná rivers are located in the Atlantic Forest.  Forests ensure the quantity and quality of drinking water that supplies more than 110 million Brazilians in approximately 3,400 municipalities within the biome.

Neoenergia initiatives in the preservation of the atlantic forest

Environment preservation is a priority for Neoenergia. Regarding the Atlantic Forest, the company implements numerous initiatives to preserve this natural heritage of the country and the world. Our seven hydroelectric plants operate in states that cover a large part of the forest's territory and its valuable biome.

At Baixo Iguaçu Hydroelectric Power Plant, in southwestern Paraná, actions of the Baixo Iguaçu Entrepreneur Consortium (CEBI) seek to preserve native species and reforest deforested areas.  The hydroelectric plant was built in an area close to the limits of the Iguaçu National Park, which is home to a rich biodiversity of the Atlantic Forest.

Another measure to preserve the biome was the creation of Biodiversity Corridor, which is recovering 1,700 hectares of vegetation on the banks of the Iguaçu and its affluents. Monitoring and conservation programs for the region's fauna, including endangered species, are also encouraged. One of the fauna programs promoted by CEBI paid special attention to the surubim do Iguaçu, the largest fish in the Iguaçu River, which was considered extinct a few decades ago. Biologists use cutting-edge technology to understand the behavior of the species.

Neoenergia also created unprecedented solutions for reducing environmental impacts in transmission works. On the lines that reinforce the electrical system of Mato Grosso do Sul, untreated eucalyptus wood was used to access the transmission towers, avoiding the filling of flooded areas and, thus, contributing to the conservation of biodiversity and local landscapes. These transmission lines are approximately 200 kilometers long, passing through areas of the Atlantic Forest.

Technology and access to high-resolution images are also used to help preserve regions of the Atlantic Forest. At the Baixo Iguaçu (PR), Corumbá lll (GO) and Teles Pires (MT/PA) hydroelectric plants, unmanned vehicles (VANTS), popularly known as drones, are a tool for monitoring the use and occupation of Preservation Areas Permanent (APPs). The equipment allows access to high resolution images, making the control of these areas more agile and objective. In all, there are 28,200 hectares of conservation in some of the main Brazilian biomes: Atlantic Forest, Cerrado and Amazon.

 Accordion | Discover the Species Present In the Atlantic Forest

One of the richest forests in biodiversity on the planet, the Atlantic Forest holds the record for woody plants (angiosperms) per hectare (450 species in southern Bahia), about 20 thousand plant species, 8 thousand of which are endemic, in addition to records of number of species and endemism in various groups of plants.

Golden lion tamarin, jaguar, sloth, capybara, monkeys, sloths, ocelots, wild dogs, snakes, are some of the best known animals that live in the Atlantic Forest, but the fauna of the biome, where they are the main Brazilian cities, is much more comprehensive. There are, for example, 261 known species of mammals. This means that if we added to our initial list the giant anteater, the furry armadillo, the ocelot, and the wild dog, there would still be 252 mammals missing to complete the total number of species in this class in the Atlantic Forest.

The same happens with birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. Examples of species present in the Atlantic Forest: heron, tiê-sangue, toucans, macaws, hummingbirds, parakeets, jararaca, alligator, coral snake, cane toad, green frog, frog glass, fish known as the dorado, the pacu and the traíra. There are 1,020 species of birds, 197 of reptiles, 340 of amphibians and 350 of fish that are known to this day in the biome. Not to mention insects and other invertebrates and species that have not yet been discovered by science and that may be hidden well in that intact stretch of forest that you admire when you go to the coast.

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