Tragic Fire in Madeira
Though in some ecosystems, forest fires can be a necessary element of the ecology, fires are often devastating events that can destroy the homes of humans as well as wildlife. Tragically, Seacology's project in Madeira recently suffered the effects of a forest fire, as seen in the photos below.
Madeira is a small island in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. Formed by an underwater volcano, it was discovered by Portuguese explorers in the fourteenth century and has been under the jurisdiction of Portugal ever since. Originally covered with lush forests (Madeira means "wood" in Portuguese), much of the island was cleared for farming. Today, only a few forested areas remain. In 2001, Seacology began collaborating with the Ecological Park of Funchal, located near the island's capital city. Park officials at the 1,000-hectare park were working to reforest its highest mountain, Pico de Arreiro, which had been adversely affected by erosion and deforestation. The project solicited hundreds of volunteers to replant a 12-acre area with indigenous tree species. Tragically, this entire area has now been devastated by the fires.
Below, left, the park prior to the fire. At right, the park after being burned.
Though much of Portugal has been ravaged by wildfires this season due to heat and high winds, it is believed that the fire that affected Funchal was caused by arson. Seacology received a letter from Raimundo Quintal, President of the Association of Friends of the Ecological Park of Funchal, which described the deathly stillness that has come over the region where the majority of plants have been burned to the ground, leaving surviving animals to seek out new homes. A translated version of part of his letter from August 14, 2010 is below:
Unfortunately, between 2 and 4 in the morning the fire destroyed almost everything. The house was destroyed. Many thousands of small plants disappeared completely. The vast blanket of heather and the growing vines saw only the remaining skeletons between the blocks of black basalt. The butterflies and birds flit disoriented in a landscape where this morning hung the silence of death.
Witnessing years of effort and habitat recovery destroyed overnight is truly heartbreaking, and we can only imagine what the many staff and volunteers at Funchal are experiencing. Our thoughts are with them as they process this tragedy and begin again with a plan for recovery. The blog for the Association of Friends of the Ecological Park of Funchal can be found here, in Portuguese: http://bisbis.blogspot.com/