Sebastião Ribeiro Salgado is a renowned Brazilian photographer and photojournalist, but a lot of people don’t know that he and his wife, Lélia, are responsible for one of history’s most impressive environmental restoration projects. For the last 20 years, this dynamic duo has almost completely recovered a section of the Atlantic Forest by planting 2.7 million saplings over the last 20 years. But not only did the reforestation project bring a seemingly lifeless piece of land back to life, but it saw the return of a wide array of animal life to the area thanks to these two amazing people.
The experience really haunted him, so he actually looked forward to returning home to Minas Gerais, Brazil in 1994. He hoped to find comfort among the lush green forest he had grown up seeing.
Only 0.5% of the area contained trees. The land was sick and so was he. But there was a glimmer of hope. Salgado’s wife, Lélia suggested they try to replant the whole forest, which sounded like an impossible mission.
The couple set out to perform this major undertaking, and they started by buying an abandoned cattle ranch from his folks. Then they acquired partners who would fund their project and volunteers eager to help them see the project through.
When a forest undergoes massive deforestation, humanity loses, but so do animals. Countless species of animals and plants are lost as a result of these actions. But the Salgado family wasn’t about to stand by and do nothing.
Deforestation is a process that happens fast, but bringing a forest back to life can take years—decades even. A lot of people in Salgado and his wife’s case would have felt helpless, but they were determined.
Under the right conditions, she’ll find a way to bounce back from whatever humanity throws at her. That’s exactly what Salgado and Lélia were banking on because even Mother Nature needed some extra help.
The organization feverishly worked day and night to ensure that the forest was restored. Since 1998, Instituto Terra has managed to plant over 2.7 million saplings from 293 different species of trees.
Trees weren’t the only things that returned to this area. 33 species of mammals, 15 species of reptiles, 15 species of amphibians and 172 species of birds have repopulated the luscious green land that had been a wasteland 2 decades earlier.
Trees are able to convert CO2 back to oxygen. This is the result of photosynthesis, and it’s what keeps us alive. But deforestation is putting our oxygen supply at great risk. But thankfully, the residents of Minas Gerais, Brazil, don’t have to worry about their oxygen levels.
But as the trees continued to grow thanks to the effort of his wife and the various volunteers, he felt like he too had been reborn. Through a lot of hard work and perseverance, Salgado and Lélia restored beauty, life and hope to this region of our planet.