With the discovery of Brazil in 1500, the area around the city of Rio de Janeiro was the first in Brazil to be researched by foreign naturalists as early as the 17th century. Legendary natural history travellers like Spix, von Martius, Natterer, Langsdorf, Kollar, Delalande and Darwin all landed here and started their explorations of the tropics of the New World. This area stretches from coastal Rio de Janeiro state (RJ) to the historical mining areas of the colonial baroque cities of Minas Gerais state, up to the Paraiba river valley into São Paulo state.
In 1807, King João VI of Portugal fled the invading armies of Napoleon and fell in love with Brazil. In 1808 he created Rio de Janeiro Botanical Gardens for the acclimatisation of spices like nutmeg, pepper and cinnamon imported from the West Indies. After King João returned to Portugal, his son Pedro I (first emperor of Brazil) and wife Leopoldina, continued to live in Brazil and invited European artists and naturalists to document the land, its people and culture together with its flora and fauna and important works of flora and fauna were published.
The first National Parks in Brazil were created – Itatiaia in 1937, closely followed by Serra dos Órgaõs and Tijuca Forest in 1939 – all of them in Rio de Janeiro state territory (Itatiaia also extends into Minas Gerais) to protect pristine habitat. The Serra do Mar mountains, connected to the Serra dos Órgãos massif, house the second largest continuous fragment of what is left of the original Mata Atlântica. If natural areas are to be preserved for their intrinsic value, public perception needs to see a value.
Carrying out activities such as education, eco-tourism and research are permitted in permanent conservation units such as REGUA. REGUA is open to researchers in all fields of geological and natural sciences, providing logistical support and a friendly environment for working. REGUA hosts many different research and education projects and teams of visiting researchers perform field work regularly. These involve both fundamental research (mainly inventories of species groups) and applied research related to landscape ecology and how the local fauna and flora reacts to habitat fragmentation. This kind of research is critical for establishing sound management plans for REGUA’s and Brazil’s future.
Biology courses, workshops and technical courses include nature photography, assessment of fauna, environmental licensing and university field courses. These cover both graduate and post-graduate studies and are possible as the result of the rich biodiversity on the reserve.
Day visits and events are also becoming popular permitting a kind of ‘open house’ for the local municipalities, schools and faculties. State agencies also attend to investigate what makes the area of the Guapiaçu valley so important and from this we can see why knowledge of the natural resources are so important for the future of conservation.