The couple has spent the past 2 decades doing what they can to save Mother Earth, setting a shining example for the rest of the world.
With the likes of Greta Thunberg and Leonardo DiCaprio working relentlessly to raise awareness about the very real climate crisis our planet faces today, the conversation about everything that's brought us to this point is at an all-time high. From the use of fossil fuels to deforestation to increasing livestock farming, environmentalists have identified a number of causes that continue to contribute to this epidemic that an alarming number of world leaders are yet to take seriously. While those in power seem content in wasting time arguing about whether global warming and climate change are actually even true, a couple in Brazil has spent the past 2 decades doing what they can to save Mother Earth.
Over the course of 20 years, Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado and his wife Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado have set a shining example for the rest of the world by restoring a dried up, barren forest to its former lush green glory. The couple pulled off the miraculous feat by diligently spending 20 years rehabilitating the desolate land with over 2 million trees they painstakingly planted and tended to.
When Salgado returned home to Minas Gerais, Brazil, with his wife in the aftermath of a traumatic assignment reporting on the Rwanda genocide in 1994, he was looking forward to finding peace in his family land; the tropical paradise of his childhood. Instead, the sight that met the couple shook them to the core. What was once covered in trees and populated by a variety of wildlife species was now devoid of almost all life. "The land was as sick as I was – everything was destroyed. Only about 0.5% of the land was covered in trees," the renowned photographer told The Guardian in a 2015 interview.
It was Lélia who then decided to do something about the bleak state of the land rather than accept its fate. "Then my wife had a fabulous idea to replant this forest. And when we began to do that, then all the insects and birds and fish returned and, thanks to this increase of the trees I, too, was reborn – this was the most important moment," Salgado revealed. The couple then founded Instituto Terra—an environmental organization working towards restoring forests and bringing wildlife back to their natural habitat—in April 1998. The non-profit civil organization managed to grow over 4 million seedlings of Atlantic Forest species in their nursery, which kick-started the restoration projects in the area.
By the year 2015, Salgado and family transformed the desolate land they found upon their arrival into a lush forest land with the planting of more than 2 million trees. In addition to helping him find a solution to climate change, this project has also served as creative inspiration. "Perhaps we have a solution. There is a single being which can transform CO2 to oxygen, which is the tree. We need to replant the forest. You need forest with native trees, and you need to gather the seeds in the same region you plant them or the serpents and the termites won’t come," said Salgado.
He added, "And if you plant forests that don’t belong, the animals don’t come there and the forest is silent. We need to listen to the words of the people on the land. Nature is the earth and it is other beings and if we don’t have some kind of spiritual return to our planet, I fear that we will be compromised." Thanks to Salgado and Lélia, the land has once again been restored to its former glory and the grave silence that once laid heavy upon the area for nearly a decade has now been replaced with the glorious sounds of wildlife.
The couple now enjoys a cacophony of birdcalls and insects buzzing around in their tropical paradise with about 172 species of birds returning to the land since Salgado and Lélia took charge of the restoration. So have almost 33 species of mammals, 15 species of reptiles, 15 species of amphibians, and 293 species of plants. "We need to listen to the words of the people on the land. Nature is the earth and it is other beings and if we don’t have some kind of spiritual return to our planet, I fear that we will be compromised," said Salgado.