Sebastião Salgado

Profession: Photojournalist

Cause: Restoring Brazil's Atlantic rainforest

Why I was moved to support this cause:

What I saw, throughout my life, was this incredible relationship between human degradation and environmental degradation. They are completely linked, one to the other. After so many years of traveling and seeing this unhappiness, I began to lose confidence, and believed that the human species was heading straight into the wall. Because we are rational, we forget we are animals, part of nature. This split in humans--this departure from the fact we are really nature and part of the planet--this has created the big complication for man.

See Sebastiao’s photo essay on nature and degradation.

In 1990, me and my wife, Lelia Deluiz Wanick, bought a 2,000-acre cattle farm from my parents in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. We decided to transform this land into a national reserve and to replant the property with the Atlantic forest that was there 80 years before.

The Atlantic forest is the most neglected part of the rainforest in Brazil. The country has two big forest ecosystems, the Amazon rainforest and the Atlantic rainforest, and we now have just 7% left of this big Atlantic forest that was once twice the size of France.

Our wish, when we started this project, was to try and see if we could add ourselves, humans, back into the planet. The big hope here is that we can rebuild our planet--that what we destroy we can also rebuild.

What I am personally doing to support this cause:

In October, 1998, our family farm in the Rio Doce Valley of Minas Gerais became Brazil's first Private National Heritage Reserve, and the following year Lelia and I created the nonprofit Instituto Terra. Lelia is its president.

See the Instituto Terra’s work in progress.

Our plan is to plant 2 million trees over this 2,000-acre area; we started planting in 1999, and we are now at 1.1 million trees. The tropical rainforest is a very sophisticated ecosystem, and you must plant a lot of different types of trees. There are more than 300 species of trees in the rainforest, with some of them growing 25 meters high.

The water came back to the property. The birds and insects came back. And now we are seeing the animals return.

We have eight people working full-time at the Instituto Terra. We also have a training center, where we hold classes. One set of classes is for people in the region, and is built on the belief that if you change people's attitude, you will change behavior. So we have classes for miners, for forest police, for bulldozer operators. If you teach the bulldozer operator how to properly build a road, they won't kill the rivers.

The Instituto's training center has a library, lab, auditorium and place for the students to live and eat. We bring in researchers from universities and foundations, specialists who also teach classes. The second type of classes we offer are for students from technical agriculture schools. They come for two years to the Instituto Terra, and we teach them environmentally sustainable agriculture.

We also have a big nursery for the native plants of Minas Gerais. We have the capacity to produce 1 million seedlings a year of 160 different species of native plants.

What you can do:

I want the public to engage themselves in helping to save the planet. To plant a tree in the U.S., China or in Brazil is exactly the same, because what you are contributing is the sequestration of carbon on this planet. We have this huge problem of global warming, and the only way to reduce this carbon is by planting trees. What we are doing at the Instituto Terra is creating a factory of carbon sequestration for all the carbon omitted into the atmosphere, and, at the same time, producing water. What we want people to do is join us in tackling this problem, because together we can do something.

Please join us. We fight all the time for money, and have received help from individuals and foundations and companies, from the state of Brazil and the governments of Asturias in Spain, and Emilia Romagna and Rome regions in Italy. But every year we are running for money. In the U.S., the Tides Foundation in San Francisco collects donations for us; only a tiny contribution goes to their overhead. Please visit www.institutoterra.us to learn more about the Atlantic forest and what we do, and to make a contribution in the section, "Ways to Help."