When Portuguese sailors first landed in the 1500s on the coast of what is present-day Brazil, they were greeted by the lush Atlantic Forest – a vast region of forest exceeding 1.3 million square kilometers. It still ranks as the second-largest rainforest block in the Americas, but today, the Atlantic Forest is also home to approximately 70 percent of Brazil's 190 million population. Since those sailors arrived, the forest has been reduced to just 16 percent of its original extent.
Known as one of the world's most imperiled biodiversity hotspots, the region is notable for its abundance of fresh water, as well as its many plant and animal species found nowhere else. As human populations grow and urban areas expand, the Atlantic Forest's ability to provide fresh water – for humans and wildlife alike – is a major concern.
A Flagship for Freshwater
But there is hope for the Atlantic Forest. In addition to numerous other conservation initiatives, the region is home to one of eight "flagship" projects under CI's Freshwater Initiative. Lucio Bede, CI's Atlantic Forest Program Manager, is helping to showcase the vital role of healthy forest ecosystems to ensure the region's freshwater security. It is expected that almost 10 million people will benefit from this work.
IN DEPTH: CI's fresh water strategy
The program aims to link landscapes and watersheds to the creation of national and regional policies and markets, helping to ensure the vitality of the region's natural resources. Lucio manages the program's technical activities, including defining and prioritizing conservation goals; designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating action plans; and managing partnerships and fundraising efforts.
"One interesting feature of the Atlantic Forest hotspot is that it harbors a very dense and rich set of stakeholders, when compared to other regions of Brazil," Lucio says. This has a lot to do with its history: Areas along the coast of Brazil were the first to be colonized and developed, so they currently host most of Brazil's population, as well as important industrial and agricultural sites. Coastal areas also generate a significant portion of Brazil's GDP. This presents both challenges and opportunities.
"If on one side we have many threats to the region's natural resources, on the other side we have a responsive environment where it is possible to reach good capacity and mobilize and enroll key stakeholders from the private and public sectors and among nongovernmental organizations and academia," Lucio relates. "For CI and its new mission, this represents a world of opportunities."
A Pact for Restoring Forests
Lucio and his team have made good use of these networking opportunities, such as an important multi-stakeholder partnership called the "Pact for Restoration of the Atlantic Forest." CI is an active member of the Pact, which – along with more than 150 partner institutions – aims to restore 15 million hectares of forests by 2050.
"The Pact Initiative is an essential component of CI's Freshwater Initiative, because of the natural links between freshwater and forest ecosystems," Lucio says. Among other activities, the Pact is promoting the development of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes to benefit the region's forests
The general legal framework for establishing freshwater PES is defined under Brazil's water law, as a key element of the National Policy for Water Resources. While a few PES programs are already in place, they are difficult to implement.
"Basically, it takes lots of articulation to fully develop such schemes," says Lucio. "The main challenges are related to valuing the ecosystem services provided and finding and developing appropriate legal frameworks and bureaucratic pathways to make it work at specific jurisdictions."
There are possibilities worth developing further, Lucio suggests, such as PES schemes aimed at supporting protected areas that source freshwater to densely populated areas.
The Dragonfly Connection
Now in his ninth year with CI, Lucio has experienced great success during his tenure working in the Atlantic Forest program, despite ongoing challenges. He has always been interested in the applied ecological sciences, but his background working as a consultant on hydrobiology and environmental planning issues enables him to deal with issues as diverse as urban development, mining and hydroelectric enterprises, public and private protected areas and wildlife management projects.
In his current capacity, he takes pride in the success he has had in creating protected areas in the Atlantic Forest. He is particularly proud of his contribution to the creation of the first conservation unit in Brazil to protect both dragonflies and freshwater resources in a wildlife refuge – the Refúgio de Vida Silvestre Libélulas da Serra de São José – next to the historical town of Tiradentes, in Minas Gerais state. He contributed to the assessment of the area's dragonfly fauna, which was found to be one of the richest sites of dragonflies in the world: 121 dragonfly and damselfly species were identified in just over 3,500 hectares.
"Dragonflies are considered to be an excellent indicator for the environmental condition of freshwater habitats," he says. "I was really proud of having these beautiful insects as a flagship for the conservation of the natural landscape and freshwater resources of the sierra of São José."
Black Sheep Biologist, Protecting What is Left
Lucio's love for nature stemmed from his roots growing up in the town of Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais state, in the southeast of Brazil. It is the third largest metropolitan area in the country, and as Lucio likes to say, he definitely got his "quota of urban chaos." Fortunately, the city is surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes, including several mountain chains with peaks, altitudinal grasslands, forests, caves and waterfalls.
He hails from a typical Brazilian family, with distant European relatives on both sides and a good dose of mixing in Brazil's melting pot. But Lucio stands out in his career path. "My close family has affinity for engineering and architecture. I am a black sheep biologist."
He is also an artist, and in his personal time, he creates soapstone sculptures as part of his landscaping and gardening hobby. He never uses machines and instead carves by hand, taking from 10 to 100 hours to produce each piece. "I don't impose any schedules on myself for this – it's a hobby!"
Lucio's sculpture is a good analogy for his work, as he works to shape policies and markets to benefit the Atlantic Forest's freshwater ecosystems. "I find it very rewarding to provide permanent protection status to some incredibly rich remnant areas of the biome, and to help shape sustainable use for natural resources." The landscape of the Atlantic Forest has been forever altered, but Lucio reminds us that "the challenge we face is to protect what is left."
FROM THE BLOG: Expansion of Protected Area Ensures Long-Term Water Security for at least 800,000 people in Brazil