The Atlantic Forest Great Reserve, covering the same amount of area as the nation Israel, is home to an incredible diversity of landscapes and of life. More than 15,000 species of plants and 2,000 species of vertebrates make their homes here. The Great Reserve comprises a long stretch of the Serra do Mar (Brazil’s coastal mountain range). The steep topography of the coastal mountain range has helped maintain the excellent state of preservation in the reserve, also allowing the persistence of many species of wildlife that have disappeared elsewhere.

The eastern (oceanic) side still has some prehistoric forest fragments dominated by Araucaria angustifolia, the Paraná Pine, in a region of high peaks with their peculiar high elevation meadows. Blanketing these peaks are cloud forests, where tiny, colorful frogs (Brachycephalus ssp.) are endemic, with each mountain top or local group of mountains, having their own, unique species. Descending the mountains, the landscape becomes dense tropical forest, with very large trees and a grand diversity of species. The large volume of rainfall feeds the many rivers that have sculpted these mountains, with the deep forest green contrasting with the white waters and vapors of the many waterfalls.

Paraná mountain peak

Brachycephalus frog

Rainforest creek

In this vast, green carpet, the lucky visitor can still encounter some of the most emblematic mammals of the Atlantic Forest, including the Jaguar (Panthera onca), Mountain-lion or Puma (Puma concolor), Bush Dog (Speothos venaticus), South American Tapir (Tapirus terrestris) and White-lipped Peccaries (Tayassu pecari). Here the forest maintains the largest population in nature of the Southern Muriqui (Wooly Spider Monkey, Brachyteles arachnoides) and some endangered Lion Tamarins – a small population fo the Black Lion Tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysopygus) and the entire extant population of the Black-faced Lion Tamarin (Leontopithecus caissara). Bird diversity is also marvelous, where the endemic Red-tailed Parrot (Amazona brasiliensis) finds refuge, along with the Vinaceous-breasted Parrot (Amazona vinacea), the Ornate Hawk-eagle (Spizaetus ornatus). While there have been sightings of the grand Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) in other parts of the Atlantic Forest, it has not been recently sighted here, but hope springs eternal.

Several bays between long stretches of beach are also found here. The plentiful rainfall entering into the bays promotes a landscape of abundance and diversity, where mangrove forests provide breeding grounds for many species of marine life. On a boat trip through these calm waters, one can appreciate the view of the imposing Coastal Mountain range off to the west, while closer to the boat one may see the Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber), or the rarer Rufus Crab Hawk (Buteogallus aequinoctialis), or, looking out to sea, two species of Booby (Sula sp.) and the Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens). In the calm waters of the bays, the Guiana Dolphin (Sotalia guianensis) is easily and often seen. Babitona Bay, in the state of Santa Catarina, is famous for being the only Brazilian bay to have a resident population of the La Plata Dolphin, locally known as toninha (Pontoporia blainvillei). Coastal waters also have large Manta Rays (Manta birostris) and the Atlantic Giant Grouper fish (Epinephelus itajara) that can weigh in at over 400 kg (180 lbs).

Red-tailed amazon

Guiana dolphin

Bay area

Photography by Zig Koch