Atlantic Rainforest

Alternative name: Mata Atl5ntica
Area of Atlantic Forest 46,950 sq ml (121,600 sq km)
Elevation of Atlantic Forest: 6,600 ft (2,000 m)

When Charles Darwin disembarked at Rio de Janeiro on his epic round-the-world journey on HMS Beagle, he was greeted with his first experience of tropical rainforest. The second largest rainforest block in South America, and the third biggest biological region in Brazil, the Atlantic Coastal Rainforest covers 13 percent of the country's surface. Filled with rare and exotic species, it still thrills visitors with glorious floral and faunal displays. Sadly, this forest has decreased massively since Darwin's day and is now down to seven percent of its former self. But this remainder is vibrant, extremely diverse, and unforgettably impressive. A band some 1,550 miles (2,500 kilometers) long and 30 to 60 miles (50 to 100 kilometers) wide, it is the second most threatened rainforest ecosystem on the planet. Backed by the ancient 6,600-foot (2,000-meter) tall Serra do Mar range, this forest block has had both the altitude and latitude to evolve an enormous variety of wildlife since its isolation from Amazonia.

The Atlantic Forest hosts 261 mammal species, while Amazonia (five times as big) has 353. Not only are they numerous, they are special—if you see a living something in the Atlantic Forest, chances are it occurs nowhere else in the world. This is true for 6,000 of the 20,000 plant species, 73 of the 620 bird varieties, and for nearly all of the 280 types of frog. Among the regional highlights are the golden lion tamarin, a tiny monkey that has inspired conservation efforts not only in Brazil, but also in many other areas. Sharing its forest home is the thin-spined porcupine, the maned sloth, the red-breasted toucan, and a rainbow of birds that includes the red-tailed, blue-bellied, and violaceous parrots. The Brazilian government has nearly 200 protected zones that set aside Atlantic coastal forest for conservation. In 1999, UNESCO placed eight areas on the World Heritage List. There are also over 50 private reserves. Together these protect over 15,625 square miles (40,469 square kilometers). Fine examples of the Atlantic Forest can be found in Tijuca National Park, Superagui National Park, and Serra do Coudurd National Park.