Photographer and Spouse Plant 2 Million Trees Over Two Decades, Restoring a Devastated Forest and Welcoming Back Wildlife

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Image credits: Ricaro Beliel

Sebastião Salgado, a celebrated photographer, and his wife, Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado, embarked on a remarkable journey two decades ago that symbolises hope for environmental conservation. Their story is one of resilience, determination, and the transformative power of reforestation.

Image credits: Sebastiao Salgado

The backdrop to their mission is a troubling reality: since 1990, the world has lost 129 million hectares of forest, an area roughly the size of South Africa. This continuous deforestation, equivalent to losing a country like Panama every year, has severe implications for the planet. It contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, threatens numerous plant and animal species with habitat loss, and disrupts the delicate balance of ecosystems.

Image credits: institutoterra

Faced with such daunting environmental challenges, many individuals feel overwhelmed and powerless to make a meaningful difference. However, the Salgados chose a different path—one fueled by passion and a profound belief in nature’s resilience. Their journey began when Sebastião, known for his exceptional work in photojournalism, returned to Brazil after documenting the tragic Rwandan genocide. Expecting to find the lush rainforests of his homeland intact, he was confronted with barren landscapes and a stark absence of wildlife.

Image credits: institutoterra

Determined to reverse this environmental degradation, Lélia proposed an audacious idea: reforesting the land. Thus, Instituto Terra was established—a humble organization with a grand vision. Over the years, they planted an astonishing 4 million saplings, breathing new life into the once-desolate terrain. Their approach was meticulous, prioritizing native species to ensure ecological equilibrium and prevent disruptions in the natural order.

Image credits: institutoterra

The outcomes of their endeavours are nothing short of miraculous. Where once there was silence, it now echoes with the vibrant sounds of nature—birdcalls, buzzing insects, and the rustle of life returning to the forest. A diverse ecosystem has flourished, with 172 bird species, 33 mammal species, 293 plant species, and many reptiles and amphibians reclaiming their habitat.

Image credits: institutoterra
Image credits: institutoterra

Their success story serves as a beacon of hope, demonstrating the remarkable resilience of nature when allowed to heal. It also underscores the urgent need for widespread reforestation efforts to mitigate the devastating impact of deforestation on our planet. Sebastião’s words resonate with this sentiment, urging a deeper spiritual connection with the Earth to ensure its preservation for future generations.

Image credits: Sebastião Salgado
Image credits: Weverson Rocio

In a world grappling with pressing environmental issues, the Salgados’ journey is a testament to the power of individual action and collective determination to restore our planet’s natural beauty and balance.

Image credits: Sebastião Salgado
Image credits: YASUYOSHI CHIBA

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