The Atlantic Forest Day stresses the challenge to protect what is left from this forest

maio, 27 2009

Testing begin in São Paulo parks, which are the greatest remaining continuous fragments of the Atlantic Forest, aiming at a visitation impact monitoring system
Testing begin in São Paulo parks, which are the greatest remaining continuous fragments of the Atlantic Forest, aiming at a visitation impact monitoring system

The Atlantic Forest protects one of the world’s richest biodiversities, provides unparallel scenic beauty and contributes to freshwater supply for over half of the Brazilian population and also to climate regulation in some of the biggest Brazilian cities.

It is impossible not to use superlatives when talking about the Atlantic Forest -- one of the most luxuriant forests in the world –, assessing its importance and the urgent need to protect it. There is only seven (7) per cent of the biome left in its natural state and 60 per cent of the animals which threatened with extinction in Brazil depend on this environment to survive.

On Wednesday the 27th of May we celebrate the Atlantic Forest Day. The date stands for the need to stop deforestation, to recover the degraded forest, to increase the number of protected areas - both public and private -- and to improve the management of those which already exist.
The most resilient forest cores are located in the already protected areas, i.e. legally created public parks and private reserves.

Seventy (70) years after the creation of the first protected area in Brazil – the Itatiaia National Park – to prevent essential portions of this biome to be destroyed, today’s challenge is to improve the parks’ infrastructure and management model, so that the visitors in those areas become allies in the Atlantic Forest conservation

WWF-Brazil’s Atlantic Forest Officer, Luciana Simões, bets that “as people get to know the protected areas, what their use is and the direct relation they bear to their quality of living, they will begin to support them and contribute to make them permanent, and become environmental conservation allies”.

A new system will be designed to minimize impacts
Experts will initiate activities in June in three São Paulo state parks - Intervales, Serra do Mar and Itinguçu. São Paulo is the state which shelters the greatest well conserved stretches of the Atlantic Forest. Tests will include data such as trail width and conditions, presence of garbage and other possible impacts.

Those tests are critical to control and prevent visitation impact, on one hand, and improve the conditions, on the other hand. The idea is to prepare the protected areas to better receive people who want to know and protect the Atlantic Forest.

Pilot tests are expected to help create a monitoring system for all 29 São Paulo parks, which receive 1.2 million visitors per year. During this first semester in 2009, the project intends to build the capacity of the park teams concerning the follow up and up keeping of trails leading to natural attractions such as water falls, streams, rock formations etc.

According to Luiz Roberto Oliveira, a member of the State Forest Foundation’s technical staff, the main object is not to increase the visitation in those areas, but rather to “offer visitors the best of attractions, information and safety, so that the parks can have the means to ensure their natural resources conservation”.

The protected areas improvement project was developed by WWF-Brazil in partnership with the Forest Foundation and adds to a series of measures which were proposed by the São Paulo State Environmental Office to improve the parks management and strengthen the areas’ sustainable tourism vocation.
Besides studies to prevent and minimize the impacts from visitation, a survey will be made on the economic potential of tourist products. Investments will also be made on the parks reception infrastructure (visitors center, signs, rest rooms and other sanitary facilities, canopy trails).

Trails will be monitored in parks
São Paulo, the capital city of São Paulo state, is only 200 km away from the greatest remaining protected fragment of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil – Serra do Mar State Park, with an area of 315 thousand hectares stretching over 23 municipalities.

According to a Rapid Ecologic Evaluation, this park shelters almost half of the 1,523 animal species already described in this biome, many of which are threatened with extinction – such as the biggest primate in the Americas, the wooly spider monkey (muriqui in Portuguese); the red tailored parrot (papagaio-da-cara-roxa), the margay (gato maracajá), the jaguar (onça-pintada), the ocelot (jaguatirica) and the river otter (lontra).

“It is amazing to watch a wild animal feed freely, without running away, and this is our challenge in park management”, says Forest Foundation’s Environmental Conservation Manager, Adriana Mattoso. She emphasizes: “This summarizes it all: protection, organized visitation and biodiversity wealth”.

Adriana Mattoso explains that the greater the control to prevent forest fragments degradation, the higher the chance of watching animals. Therefore, as an organized activity in the parks, ecotourism reinforces protection actions.

Located in one of the most urban areas in the country, Serra do Mar Park is threatened by undue occupation, hunting, extraction of native plants – particularly heart of palm --, besides infrastructure projects such as energy transmission lines and gas pipelines, which greatly impact the area integrity.

According to Adriana Mattoso, Serra do Mar State Park has 85 thousand registered visitors per year. One of its 40 trails will take part in the tests designed to improve park visitation monitoring in São Paulo state.

Vale do Ribeira
Vale do Ribeira is another biodiversity pole in São Paulo State where a study will be carried out on two trails, one of which is in Itinguçu State Park.
This Park has an area of 8,148 hectares, including a 2,420 hectares marine stretch, and it is one of the longest coastal portions protected in the state. Its waterfalls, excellent beaches and beautiful landscape attract 45,000 visitors per year.

The park is also a great place for bird watching and almost 30 different species of humming birds and woodpeckers were identified in the area.

The park creation is quite recent. Before 2006, the area was part of the Juréia-Itatins Ecological Station and visitation was not allowed. It was recomposed into various categories of protection, the Juréia Itatins Mosaic was created and in the last three years visitation was permitted in the area, which was registered as a park. Today, this is one of the most visited protected areas in the state and it is one of the focus for sustainable development planning and income generation for Peruíbe and Iguape communities.

Cachoeira do Paraíso trail, which will take part in the survey to improve management, concentrates almost the entire park visitation. During peaks, it gets up to 6,000 visitors per day. “This pilot test will help us to make all the corrections and adaptations to control the pressures upon the area, so that the visitor will be well served and activities cause the least possible impact”, explains the Park Manager, Jeannette Viera Geenen. She notes that there will be three new touristic itineraries open to the public in the following months: Arpoador Trail, Itu Waterfall, and Paranoá Trail.

Biodiverse Heritage
The complex interaction among ocean currents and the altitude relief on the Brazilian coast produced one of the most biodiverse natural regions on Earth. The Atlantic Forest is characterized by different ecosystems, such as luxuriant forests, high-altitude grasslands, mangroves and sandy dunes. Originally, it covered the entire Brazilian coastal region over 1.3 million square kilometers.

Such rich environment was reproduced in the formation of a nursery for unique species. In those biodiversity spots there are seven (7) per cent, no less, of the world’s animal and plant species, living under intense threats in one of Brazil’s more densely populated areas.

It was in the Atlantic Forest that Charles Darwin, creator of the evolution theory, first experienced a continental tropical forest, during the expedition on the Beagle ship, in 1832. During three months, the natural scientist collected plants, animals, and insects; above all, he was enchanted by the multiplicity of species and the forest beauty.

During a trip to Brazil last year, going over the path of his great-great-grandfather in Rio, Randal Keynes, who is Charles Darwin’s great-great-grandchild, said that the destruction of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest would horrify Darwin: 177 years ago, he found it almost untouched and now it is reduced to only 7 per cent of what it used to be.
Exclusiva da Mata Atlântica, a perereca (Hypsiboas semilineatus) ocorre em áreas florestais como restingas e matas de baixada.
© WWF-Brasil / Instituto Ekos Brasil / Mauricio Forlani
Os principais núcleos de resistência da floresta são parques públicos e reservas particulares criados por lei.
© WWF-Brasil / Massao Goto Filho