A rewilding project, backed by actor Leonardo DiCaprio, is working to restore the shrinking forests of Haiti.
Co-founded by DiCaprio, Re:wild and its partner, Haiti National Trust (HNT), are working to bring back the disappearing Ekman’s magnolia.
HNT, with support from Re:wild, has begun growing the critically endangered species, which is one of five magnolia species native to Hispaniola, at its nurseries in Grand Bois. Located in the southwest of Haiti, the national park was established in 2015 as a private nature reserve.
Earlier this year, the rediscovery of Magnolia emarginata, a rare northern Haiti magnolia tree, spurred hope for rewilding efforts in the country. The critically endangered species had previously been missing since scientists first discovered it in 1925.
“The chances of finding this tree were one in a million considering that so few of Haiti’s forests remain,” Eladio Fernandez, HNT’s communications director, said in a press release. “This rediscovery serves as a beacon of hope for the biodiversity of Haiti. Despite the bleak state of the country’s degraded forests, it still harbors species like this that are found nowhere else in the world, giving us the opportunity to save them.”
Rewilding Haiti’s shrinking forests
Today, only one percent of Haiti’s original forests remain. And in Grand Bois, forests are being cut down for agriculture purposes, such as building materials and charcoal.
Re:wild and HNT have led restoration efforts in the country for nearly a decade, focusing on the Grand Bois region. The work is part of Re:wild’s broader mission to restore biodiversity in the Caribbean islands.
The group’s efforts are critical to the survival of countless species, many of which reside in Grand Bois. The park, which is considered a Key Biodiversity Area, is home to dozens of threatened species, including birds, reptiles, plants, and amphibians, among others.
As part of its reforestation efforts, HNT has planted more than 30,000 seedlings and plant cuttings in the past five months. They’ve since accelerated their reforestation efforts, bumping up their goal of planting 50,000 seedlings to 60,000.
“These ecosystems cannot continue to wait, if we don’t act now, Haiti is facing mass extinction and countrywide ecologic collapse,” Anne-Isabelle Bonifassi, HNT’s executive director, said in a press release. “Our work is vital for Haiti’s health and success, so we continue to work hard to ensure our forests can thrive with native species.”
Re:wild’s conservation efforts
The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation—an environmental charity that DiCaprio founded in 1998—relaunched as Re:wild in 2021 in collaboration with the Global Wildlife Conservation.
With partners in more than 50 countries, the organization has worked to conserve more than 45 million acres of wild space and reversed the status of 835 threatened species in 2020 alone.
“To protect and restore the most irreplaceable areas on land and sea, we urgently need to bring together resources from governments, philanthropy, and companies to support coalitions of Indigenous and local communities, civil society, and government agencies,” Wes Sechrest, Re:wild’s CEO and chief scientist, said at the time. “This new alliance will help accomplish this by catalyzing on-the-ground conservation impact.”
In 2021, Re:wild joined a $5 billion fund to aid conservation efforts. Called the “Protecting our Planet Challenge,” the initiative’s goal is to protect and conserve 30 percent of the planet by 2030.
“I am thrilled today to share a record pledge of $5 billion for nature and climate over the next ten years, a joint commitment from @rewild alongside eight other philanthropic organizations – Arcadia (a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin), Bezos Earth Fund, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Nia Tero, Rainforest Trust, Wyss Foundation, and the Rob and Melani Walton Foundation,” DiCaprio shared on Instagram.
Also known as the 30×30 commitment, a total of organizations have supported the initiative—including Jeff Bezos, who pledged $1 billion on behalf of the Bezos Earth Fund. According to Re:wild, the $5 billion pledge is the largest private funding commitment ever to go towards biodiversity conservation.