In an area the size of Slovenia or Israel, the Atlantic Forest Great Reserve hosts a staggering diversity of landscapes and species. There are over 15.000 species of plants and more than 2.000 species of vertebrate animals. The Great Atlantic Forest Reserve accompanies a long stretch of the Serra do Mar mountain range. Not surprisingly, this rugged topography was one of the factors that allowed the vegetation to remain well-preserved and to maintain many species of wildlife that have been lost in other regions.
On its Western side, it includes some of the last remnants of the prehistoric Araucaria forests, combined with high peaks that harbor rare montane grasslands and scrublands. Sloping from the peaks, there are mysterious cloud forests that are habitat to the colorful Brachycephalus frogs, which are amongst the smallest frogs in the World, with each species being unique of one, or a few, mountaintops. On lower elevations there are real rainforests with taller trees and even higher diversity of species. Rain is abundant and thousands of rivers formed in the cradle of this great forest carve the mountains, boasting with beautiful waterfalls.
On this vast green carpet we can still see some of the largest and most charismatic mammal species of the Atlantic Forest, such as jaguars (Panthera onca), pumas (Puma concolor), bush dogs (Speothos venaticus), tapirs (Tapirus terrestris) and white-lipped peccaries (Tayassu pecari). This region also stands out for conserving the largest population of the southern muriqui monkey (Brachyteles arachnoides) and two species of endangered lion tamarins: a small population of the black lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysopygus) and the only population of the black-faced lion tamarin (Leontopithecus caissara). Bird diversity is also very high, serving as a key stronghold for the local endemic red-tailed amazon (Amazona brasiliensis), the vinaceous-breasted amazon (Amazona vinacea) or the rare and spectacular crested-eagles (Spizaetus sp.). Sadly, the presence of the massive harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) has not been reported in the region for many years.
The region holds several large bays where the encounter of marine water with the fresh discharge from the many rivers promotes a landscape of abundance and diversity, with mangroves serving as nurseries for a plethora of marine species. On a boat trip through these calm waters, one can enjoy the imposing silhouette of the Serra do Mar, with the sight of the colorful scarlet ibis (Eudocimus ruber), the rare rufous crab-hawk (Buteogallus aequinoctialis), the graceful booby (Sula sp.), and the magnificent frigatebird (Fregata magnificens). Inside the bays and on the coast it is easy to see the Guiana dolphin (Sotalia guianensis). Babitonga, in Santa Catarina, is famous for being the only bay in the World that harbors a resident population of the rare franciscana dolphin or toninha (Pontoporia blainvillei). The local coast is also inhabited by the large manta ray (Manta birostris), and groupers (Epinephelus itajara), which can exceed 400 kg and find shelter in the reefs protected by the oceanic islands.
Photography by Zig Koch