Deforestation poses a colossal threat to the health of our planet, accounting for approximately 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to elevated temperatures, erratic weather patterns, and soil degradation.
The consequences of these changes affect every living organism on Earth, and it can be daunting to contemplate how we can address these critical issues. However, a remarkable couple has demonstrated that it is not too late to reverse the environmental harm we have caused.
In 1994, Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Salgado returned home after covering the conflict in Rwanda. He looked forward to returning to the tropical forest in Minas Gerais where he grew up. However, he found only barren, dusty land as deforestation had ravaged the area in a few short years, endangering the local wildlife. “The land was as sick as I was – everything was destroyed,” Sebastião recalled. “Only 0.5% of the land remained forested.”
Initially thought impossible, Sebastião’s wife Lélia believed it was worth attempting to restore the land to its tropical glory.
Thus, the couple embarked on an ambitious mission to replant the entire forest, which they eventually achieved. The couple purchased an abandoned cattle ranch from Sebastião’s parents and immediately set to work, gathering volunteers and securing funding for their endeavor.
In 1998, they established Instituto Terra, a non-profit organization dedicated to the restoration and preservation of forests. The first sapling was planted in 1999, and over the past two decades, the organization has planted more than two million trees comprising 293 species, reviving 1,502 acres of tropical forest.
The water springs that had previously dried up are now flowing, and the area is home to 172 species of birds, 33 species of mammals, and 15 species of amphibians and reptiles. The forest is now thriving and has been designated a Private Natural Heritage Reserve.
For Sebastião, the effort has been more than just environmental restoration. It has also brought renewed joy to his heart, as he explains, “Thanks to the reforestation, I, too, was reborn – this was the most significant moment.”
Sebastião and Lélia are optimistic that their success will inspire others to care and make a positive impact. Sebastião emphasizes the importance of listening to the people on the land and connecting spiritually with our planet. He fears that without such a connection, we are endangering our world. The Salgados’ work is evidence that we can all contribute to making our planet a better place to live, one tree at a time. Watch the video below to learn more about Instituto Terra and share to spread their mission of promoting a greener planet.