Anadolu Agency – photo by Ben Tavener
SÃO PAULO – Brazil’s Atlantic forest has suffered its worst level of deforestation since 2008, an NGO report published on Tuesday revealed.
Between July 2012 and June 2013, deforestation affected nearly 24,000 hectares (92 square miles) of native Atlantic forest and so-called “restinga” coastal forest, an increase of around 9% on the 22,000 hectares lost in the 2011-2012 period.
It is the third time in a row that deforestation has increased in Brazil’s most threatened type of native habitat. The state of Minas Gerais is the worst offender of the 17 Brazilian states the forest crosses.
“Development cannot take place to the detriment of Brazil’s natural forest heritage,” said Márcia Hirota, executive director of the SOS Mata Atlântica Foundation which compiled the data along with the National Institute for Spatial Research (INPE).
According to SOS Mata Atlântica, the forests have mostly been cut down for wood used in the charcoal industry, but areas have also been cleared for soybean plantations.
The 2012-2013 levels of deforestation are still lower than those seen in between 2005 and 2008, when an average of 34,300 hectares was destroyed every year, but have caused alarmed among conservationists, who say some species are being driven to extinction.
Lack of local involvement
Only fragments of the forest, which stretches from Northern Argentina and Uruguay in the south to the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte in the north, are now left.
It is thought around 85% of the forest has been destroyed over time.
“The Atlantic Rainforest is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, and certainly one of the most threatened. Stopping this deforestation has to be a government priority,” Luciano Breves, an environmental campaigner and consultant in Morretes, Paraná state, told the Anadolu Agency.
“There are lots of conservation projects ongoing in the areas, but they have failed to involve local people and educate them properly. Getting them involved is key to this area’s survival,” Breves explained.
The remaining highly-fragmented stretches of forest are home to thousands of species of endemic and endangered wildlife, including many birds and primates, and new species are still being found.
Among the primates are the endemic golden and black-faced lion tamarins, woolly spider monkey, and maned three-toed sloth.
The forest also holds over 200 endemic species of birds, with many types of toucans, parrots and raptors, as well as brightly-coloured tanagers and manakins.