As climate change becomes more severe, it becomes more important than ever to restore and strengthen landscapes to be resilient to drought, floods, and extreme climate. Portugal-based company Mossy Earth is entirely dedicated to restoring and rewilding landscapes across the globe with a team of biologists and local community members. Here’s how they’re finding solutions to environmental challenges.
After years of catching waves around the globe and witnessing human-driven destruction of the land and waterways, surf aficionados Matt Davies and Duarte de Zoeten decided to do something about it. With about 300 euros between them, they co-founded Mossy Earth in 2017, focusing on reforesting the Douro Valley, which was devastated by summer wildfires.
“We arrived there a few days after the flames were extinguished, and I vividly remember the jet black ash and the 40 degree heat,” Duarte said in a YouTube video. We were in a truly desolate place, unlike anything I had ever seen. But in the following months, we put our backs into the work and spent countless hours on that mountainside trying to plant saplings in the thin layer of charred, dusty soil that was left. And bit by bit, things started to look better.”
With time and a few lucky connections, Mossy Earth received the attention and funding to obtain the trees from local nurseries. With the help of friends, families, and local organizations, they were able to plant approximately 10,000 native trees such as Four Oaks, Juniper, Wild Olive, Strawberry Tree, and Hackberry.
“To save the soil, we tried to spread some grass seeds but when the first rain came, nothing really grew, so when we actually started planting, we had lost most of the soil, which made planting hard,” Duarte said. “We were hitting rocks with every swing. Then it began raining and the dusty ash turned to mud. Planting was not easy, but bit by bit we got it done.”
In the springtime, they developed an irrigation system that came from an old reservoir on a local farm in order to help water the trees during dry summer months. This year, they visited the site to see how it’s improved in six years. They found the survivors had been planted along their irrigation system, while those without extra water died. Around 1,000 trees survived the harsh summer months.
“The last few years have been really crazy and I’m so proud of the things we have achieved,” Duarte said. “A project like this one, which was our first one, was challenging and difficult to implement, and that’s why only 10% of the trees survived, but I’m still really happy and proud of the results. But now I’m really excited for what we are doing now and for what is to come.”
Mossy Earth began solely with reforestation projects, focusing on the carbon sequestration provided by every new tree. At the end of 2018, Mossy Earth began to offer a monthly payment membership to supporters of their projects. With this new economic model, Matt and Duarte expanded the types of restoration through rewilding other land and waterscapes.
“In the sea, we are restoring coral reefs, oyster gardens, and kelp forests to provide crucial habitats for fish and other marine species to increase their resilience to future challenges,” Duarte narrates in another YouTube video. “We’re also helping existing woodlands by protecting old growth forests in places like the Carpathians or the biodiverse rich forests in the Amazon jungle. In the rivers, we are recreating rare ecosystems, such as flooded forests and wet meadows, which are crucial habitats for endangered wildlife… We have many more ideas like these in development.”
Mossy Earth maintains a number of innovative tactics to steward their 50+ projects. They keep carbon emissions low by undertaking projects within land-travel distance, limiting the use of planes whenever possible. But they also involve the local community whenever possible.
“We have recruited our own team of biologists and project managers, and over the years, they’ve developed a project design and selection methodology that essentially allows us to evaluate the most impactful rewilding opportunities, and then either set up our own projects or find the best partners to work with,” Duarte said.
Mossy Earth also utilizes different technological approaches, such as drones for seed distribution and satellite monitoring to watch their projects’ progress over time. Their transparency dashboard highlights each impacted species, action and transaction associated with projects along with a quarterly financial report, a monthly field report, and YouTube videos.
“When you decide to become a member, you'll be able to track everything in your account. We share detailed project management plans, in-depth project podcasts, 360 degree photos, detailed maps, and underground vlogs,” Duarte said. “You’ll also be able to engage directly with the team and the community by discussing project updates and casting votes on important topics. We’re not funded by huge companies or investors. We’re a small group of people that truly love wild areas. This is rewilding by the people for the people and we do our best to take you along with us on these projects.”
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