Voices from the Rainforest: Messias Gomes da Silva, Rainforest Trust Conservation Guardian
To celebrate this World Ranger Day, Rainforest Trust would like to honor the important conservation work of Messias Gomes da Silva and his nephew Matheus, Rainforest Trust Conservation Guardians. Our Voices from the Rainforest series brings you news from our projects in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific — from the perspectives of those working in and for the rainforests.
Land and Family
The Lagoinha Valley in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro state is lush with Atlantic Forest, unique to South America. For generations, Messias Gomes da Silva’s family owned the entirety of the valley, inexorably linking the family’s ancestry with the rainforest. Over time, they sold the majority of the land, which they referred to as the Lagoinha Farm, to sharecroppers. When the family’s deep connection with the land was severed, the rainforest began to suffer. Cattle pastures and housing developments caused immense deforestation in the region. Messias’ family was able to keep a small portion of the land to live on. This is where he spent his childhood, learning the rich history of the property from his family.
Adulthood brought him to the city for better career opportunities, but he eventually returned to the rainforest of his youth to care for his elderly parents. Messias began farming and regularly hunting nearby animals. Brazilian conservation organization and Rainforest Trust partner Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu (REGUA) took notice of his activities and offered him a position as a ranger. They hoped he would use the skills he developed hunting to monitor their protected areas. Through his work as a ranger, Messias witnessed firsthand the devastating impact poaching has on an ecosystem, which ultimately inspired him to study protected area management.
A few years later, by pure coincidence, REGUA was offered one of the sharecropper-owned parcels of land from the Lagoinha Farm. Because of his rich family history in the area, Messias was able to provide valuable information regarding the geographical limits of the property and teach REGUA about the intricate nature of the land. This brought REGUA to focus on mapping and acquiring the remaining properties of the Lagoinha farm. Messias sold them a section of the land that his family still owned, and they sought out other owners to convince them to sell their portions.
Eventually, REGUA successfully purchased 1,062 acres of the sharecroppers’ land, which decreased anthropogenic threats to the region. REGUA partnered with Rainforest Trust in 2018 to complete two additional purchases, expanding the protected area by 225 acres. REGUA now protects the vast majority of the 2,350-acre Lagoinha Valley ecosystem, now named the REGUA reserve. The organization continues to make land purchases within the region to safeguard vital rainforest. They have installed fencing around the property and have plans to implement proven ecological restoration techniques on areas that have suffered from deforestation.
Messias currently resides outside of the Lagoinha property and still contributes to the protection of its unique habitat. He understands the importance of properly maintaining the rainforest to protect its biodiversity and ensure clean water access. The Guapiaçu watershed, which offers abundant streams of fresh water, flows within the reserve. This makes the protected area essential in guaranteeing sustainable water resources for the future. The communities of Lagoinha are beginning to understand REGUA’s objectives and are helping to secure the property.
This monumental chain of conservation efforts occurred because of Messias’ willingness to change his way of life and learn to protect the land he was raised on. He has passed down his knowledge and passion for conservation to future generations. His nephew, Matheus Gomes da Silva, is a young REGUA park ranger in the Guapiaçu Valley and Rainforest Trust Guardian. The history of the da Silva family and Lagoinha rainforest are forever intertwined. The family once owned the land, helped to fight for its protection and will now continue to ensure its survival in perpetuity.
Header image: The Lagoinha landscape. Photo by REGUA.