International Plant Preservation

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Photo by Getty Images/FG Trade

Amazon “Forest Guardians”

Covering over 2 million miles of South American land, the Amazon rainforest is crucial in a variety of ways. The ecosystem produces roughly 6 percent of the world’s oxygen and acts as a carbon sink. The more than 40,000 total plant species provide medicine, food, and materials (such as rubber) to the world, as well as play an active role in regulating ecosystems well beyond the rainforest’s borders.

The Amazon rainforest is also home to indigenous groups. Some of these groups, such as the Guajajara tribesmen, patrol the forest to protect it from illegal logging, which not only threatens their homes, but also the critical eco-functions performed by the forest. The guardians work in relatively small groups, patrolling at night to find illegal camps and equipment, which they destroy. This may sound harsh, but these men are often the only ones working on the ground to limit illegal deforestation on Araribóia indigenous lands in the Maranhão state.

This is dangerous work, as the illegal loggers have nothing to lose by fighting back and are often well-funded by anonymous entrepreneurs.

On November 2, 2019, Paul Paulino Guajajara was killed by illegal loggers who ambushed him while he was going about daily chores for his family. He was the father of young children and was working to preserve a better way of life for them.

Amazon tribes have a lot to worry about with the pace of deforestation on their lands. Legal and illegal deforestation reached an all-time high in August 2019, and almost 3,900 square miles of forest were lost last year alone. This is an increase of 29.5 percent from the previous year, equivalent to about two football fields of clearance per minute.

The Bolsonaro administration has a poor track record of supporting indigenous peoples, claiming they want industrial agribusiness on their lands, which the Guajajaras and Yanomami people vigorously deny. Instead, what they want is self-determination to pursue sustainable opportunities that preserve the rainforest and provide income for tribes. As Paulino said to Reuters news group in his last interview, “I’m scared at times, but we have to lift up our heads and act.”

Photo by Getty Images/izhairguns

Floating Gardens

Pier 55, or “Little Island” — a floating park just off the shoreline of Chelsea in New York City — is set to open in the spring of 2021. Thomas Heatherwick has designed a landscape-like platform to be held up with 132 funnel-shaped concrete “pots” that’ll contain more than 100 different species of native trees, shrubs, and flowers, and stretch across more than 2 acres. The park will also hold outdoor performance areas. Media mogul Barry Diller and fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg are helping foot the bill for the $250 million project that’ll benefit all New Yorkers.

If you don’t want to wait until 2021, and you can zip down to Mexico, you can enjoy the chinampas on Lake Xochimilco (so-chee-MIL’-ko). These “floating gardens” were first built by the Aztecs as a way to farm swampy land and feed their large population. They’re formed by driving rectangular cane frames into the lake bed, and then filling them with layers of soil, aquatic weeds, and decayed plant material until the narrow mound rises about 3 feet above the water. An aerial view of the lake looks much like Venice, Italy, with areas of land separated by canals, which are in turn navigated by brightly colored, flat boats called trajineras. Crops, including maize, beans, squash, amaranth, tomatoes, and chili peppers, are grown on chinampas, alongside myriad flowers, just like the Aztecs grew in times past.

Across the ocean, you can see a similar wonder. In the center of Singapore, the Gardens by the Bay are made up of both floating and nonfloating gardens over 130 acres of reclaimed land. There are three major garden areas, with smaller spaces for distinct biomes and sustainable garden exploration. For example, Cloud Forest replicates the cool, misty conditions of tropical mountains and showcases epiphytes, such as orchids, ferns, and bromeliads. On the other hand, the Flower Dome — the largest glass greenhouse in the world — exhibits plants from the Mediterranean and other semi-arid regions, including olive and baobab trees.

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