One tree at a time

Claudia Macedo is making a difference in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest.


Some might argue that the “one person can change the world” theory is simply wishful thinking, but Islander Claudia Macedo is proving them wrong. Macedo is stepping up in a big way, making significant strides in forest restoration in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. According to, tropical rainforests cover around 8 percent of the world’s land surface, and are home to nearly half of the earth’s animal and plant species. In just one century, however, half of the world’s rainforests have been destroyed. To put this into perspective, it’s possible that in our lifetime, we will watch them vanish.

Macedo was born in Brazil, and moved to the U.S. to pursue a career in the health field. Currently, she works in the rehab and wellness department at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, and spends six months a year on the Island and six months in Brazil. “My journey into the world of conservation and restoration began 24 years ago,” Macedo said. “My husband and I purchased a piece of land deep inside the rainforest in Brazil.”

Love for the countryside inspired Macedo to dive into environmental work. “I was regularly exposed to the smells and colors of the natural world while growing up,” she said. “Because of this early exposure to nature, I felt very comfortable with the idea of building a homestead in a forest.”

Macedo’s house is located in Bananal, São Paulo. The area comprises 2,000 acres of forest, with hundreds of plant species, and a variety of animals in residence. “We wanted a place where nature was the main protagonist in our lives and made us feel part of everything,” Macedo shared.

The land surrounding Macedo’s beloved home is rapidly changing, however, as the Atlantic Forest ecosystem is teetering on extinction, making Macedo’s solicitude for reforestation timely and important. “I fell in love with the jungle, and began to understand its cycles and sounds,” Macedo said. “I found myself caring very deeply for it, and felt responsible for doing whatever I could to recover deforested areas.”

With colonization by the Portuguese, and all the other phases in Brazil’s economic development, the jungle was cut down to near extinction. According to Macedo and the Nature Conservancy, at one time, the Brazilian Atlantic Forest covered 330 million acres of Brazil’s eastern territory, and extended into Argentina and Paraguay. Currently, about 12 percent of the forest remains, while only 8 percent of it is intact in fragments greater than 247.105 acres. These larger areas are almost all located on private land, and due to real estate pressures, are in danger of disappearing.

“To further help with jungle recovery, my husband and I decided to start reforesting a few areas inside our property, which for decades had been used to raise cattle,” Macedo said. “We began by planting 2,000 native species inside the property in 2003. That initial reforestation site is now a beautiful fragment of forest, with an abundance of new water springs.”

In 2013, Macedo and her neighbors started a pro-reforestation movement in the surrounding area by planting trees in their unused pastures. “Using tree saplings we produced ourselves, and later with donated tree saplings from larger groups, we focused efforts on rebuilding riparian forests, because the water produced in our rivers is crucial for water supply to major cities below us,” Macedo said.

Macedo took it upon herself to look for international grant opportunities, and discovered the Vermont-based nonprofit One Tree Planted ( Macedo convinced One Tree Planted founder Matt Hill to donate money to a small reforestation project, consisting of 3,000 trees. “From that point on, my neighborhood group and I were able to count on One Tree Planted to help us with several small projects,” Macedo said.

Though she started out as a one-woman show, she has surrounded herself with people who not only care about the work she’s doing, but support her in many ways. During the initial effort to reforest the region with friends, Macedo was able to assist with planting about 13,000 trees in the Serra da Bocaina. In 2020, she created a pilot project called Donate a Forest, and received strong support from her coworkers on Martha’s Vineyard.

“Over the years, I’ve received donations from my coworkers and Island friends that have added up to about $2,500,” Macedo said. “These funds went to the building of a forest fragment with 650 trees.”

“It’s amazing what Claudia is doing,” Gregory Mathis, communications manager at the hospital, said. “The area where Claudia is working is impoverished, and she’s using her work in reforestation as an educational tool, teaching the kids about the environment and how important it is.”

Apart from planting trees, in 2022 Macedo created a pilot program called Collaborative Family Farming, where vegetable gardens were built in the backyards of poverty-stricken families. “Our community has many descendants of enslaved African nationals, who constitute the majority of the poor in Brazil,” Macedo explained. “Many families still struggle to put food on the table. I have only helped a handful of families so far, but will continue to expand the project as a meaningful tool against hunger.”

Though Macedo has taught her Brazilian community about the importance of ecosystems and forest restoration, she’s also learned a great deal from them. “The children in our community have hopes for the future, and are eager to participate in the building of a healthier world,” she said. “They have shown a lot of excitement and willingness to participate in our reforestation projects. This tells me that we must continue our work, and not miss the opportunity to plant positive seeds of change in the fight for forest recovery and protection.”

As is often the case with small grassroots organizations, the biggest challenge for Macedo is funding. “All the projects I’m involved with depend on small donations from friends and family members in order to be executed,” she said.

Macedo continues her effort to access more funding. In line with that vision, she helped create a nonprofit called Instituto Biosfera (IBIOS) in 2023, and became its vice president. IBIOS focuses on ecosystem preservation, restoration, and uplifting community projects. “We’re working on finding large-scale grants to purchase areas with substantial forest fragments, and place them into legal permanent preservation status,” she said. “We’re looking for reforestation grants, community education grants, and family agriculture funding.”

In the future, IBIOS hopes to be a force in social-ecological projects in Brazil, and assist in recovering large areas of the Atlantic Forest. It’s also trying to find ways for communities to live harmoniously with the jungle, and to create job opportunities through reforestation and conservation work. Since this is in the beginning stages, IBIOS lacks the seed money needed to go beyond volunteer work, which makes organizing the search and paperwork related to grants challenging.

“In spite of the hardships, we’re moved by the knowledge that we’re running against time, and that we’re at risk of losing the Atlantic Forest in our region to real estate development,” Macedo said. “Therefore our resolve is strong, and we will continue the work in any way possible, until we somehow find the breakthrough we need to make a real difference in Brazil.”

To learn more about Claudia Macedo, or to message her, visit her LinkedIn page,, or her instagram account,

To donate to Macedo’s nonprofit through Paypal: Institute Biosfera – IBIOS, or through PIX to the key: