TRANS-Brazil trail raises hopes for the future of Atlantic Forest.

Luiz Pedreira with other hikers beneath the Atlantic Forest's canopy in Brazil, where an 8,000 km [5,000 mile] trail stretching the full length of the country is being opened up.

He says he hopes that the creation of the trail, one of the world's biggest, will raise awareness about the fragility of the forest - long devastated by loggers and farmers, and now facing a renewed threat under President Jair Bolsonaro.

''If you don't know something, you don't value it,'' says Padreira.

Inspired by long-distance tracks such as Canada's 24,000 km Great Trail, the project will connect paths from the southern town of Chui on Brazil's border with Uruguay, to Oiapoque on its northern frontier with French Guiana.

The results will be continuous coastal corridor for humans and animals.

Work is  already underway on the trail, which  has the backing of Brazil's environment and tourism ministries, but it could take years to complete.

''If you know something, if you're always in the forest, you will value it more,'' Pedreira tells AFP as he stands near a cliff offering 180-degree views of the heavily forested mountains and granite monoliths that divide Rio de Janeiro's neighborhoods.

''It allows people to connect to the forest.''

TOURIST DRAW : Ranked by WWF as the second most diverse ecosystem on the planet after Amazon, the Atlantic Forest - or Mata Atlantica in Portuguese - is teeming with thousands of plants and animal species.

When the Portuguese first arrived in Brazil in the early 16th century, the forest covered more more than 1.3 million square kilometers [500,000 square miles] - an area roughly twice the size of France.

Since then, however, nearly 90 percent of it has disappeared - destroyed over centuries to make way for coffee plantations, sugar cane fields, mining and cattle grazing or cities.

While the rate of deforestation has slowed in recent years, according to SOS mata Atlantica Foundation, there are fears that Bolsonaro's anti environment rhetoric will reverse the trend.

Deforestation in the Amazon - a rainforest seen as crucial to keeping climate change in check - soared 278 percent year-on-year in July, according to the National Institute for Space Research INPE chief Ricardo Galvao.

''Unfortunately, the government isn't very good for environment,'' French businessman and long-time Rio resident Yves Lahure told AFP after finishing a  six-hour hike on a trail that will form part of the coastal track.

But history shows the forest can be revived.

Much of the Atlantic Forest that envelops Rio was felled for coffee plantations in the 19th-century, says Horacio Regucci, president of the Brazilian Excursionist Center, as he leads a group along a dirt path made by slaves.

A water crisis forced then Brazilian emperor Dom Pedro II to seize the land and reforest it, creating what is today Tijaca National Park. [Agencies]


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