Brazil taking tentative steps to protect marine biodiversity
Brazil's Amazon rainforest is renowned for its biodiversity. But the Atlantic waters off its coast are also home to incalculable numbers of animals for hundreds, if not thousands, of species. In recent years, Brazil has moved to protect those animals as well.
Brazil is renowned for its biodiversity.
There’s the Amazon rainforest of course, but the Atlantic Ocean offshore from Brazil is also teeming with life. Now, marine life is getting more attention from conservation organizations and the Brazilian government.
Just three miles south of Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro are the picturesque Cagarras Islands, where tourists and locals come to scuba dive and fish.
Fernando Moraes, a marine biologist with the national museum of Brazil, says its a very popular area for recreational fishing.
"Spending the day here fishing and drinking beer of course. You can see by the shapes of the men," he said.
Samba music carries across the water as pot-bellied men in tiny Speedos stand on their boats and cast fishing lines into the choppy sea. When the sun gets too hot, people jump in for a swim.
If they’re lucky they might just spot a dolphin.
The ocean here is especially rich in tropical fish, some of them found nowhere else on earth, and sponges only recently described by science.
Flocks of birds fill the sky — brown boobies with bright blue legs — black and white frigate birds with bulbous red throats they puff out to attract a mate.
"We have an estimate of about 5,000 frigate birds nesting on these islands and more," Moraes said. "About 2,000 brown boobies."
Those numbers make the Cagarras Islands archipelago the second largest nesting area in Brazil for boobies and frigate birds.
In 2010 the six islands became Brazil’s first federally protected natural marine monument. Divers and fishermen can still come and enjoy the water but they are not allowed to catch anything within 30 feet of the islands.
People are not allowed land on the islands anymore either, leaving nesting birds in peace.
Previously, fishermen camped here and often left trash behind. Volunteers collected more than 175 pounds of garbage from one island in a single day.
Fabiana Bicudu, who monitors the islands for Brazil's government, said the proximity to Rio, presents new problems that can't be stopped simply by closing off the island.
"Organic waste that comes from the city, and also the big vessels waiting to enter the city," he said, "and we have the residual oils in the water because of these activities."
But residual oil may be the least of the islands' concern, with deepwater drilling on the horizon.
Petro Bras, the largest oil company in Brazil, is also the sole sponsor of the island conservation project. It paid for the nesting bird count and all of the scientific research related to the project.
Petro Bras invests in conservation programs like this to offset some of their environmental impacts elsewhere.
In the meantime, though, environmentalists are celebrating their successes. Fisherman no longer use poison and bombs to force fish to the surface.
"It is better because divers and visitors feel safety to be there so we have bad users coming out and good users come in," Bicudu said
The government is trying to encourage this by expanding its no-fishing radius beyond the 30-foot radius that is currently protected.
"That by itself is very important because you have a place for the fish to reproduce, and birthrates and all that, and a place where nature is allowed to develop itself without any kind of pressure," Moraes said. "It’s very important."
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